Sunday, 4 March 2012

Why do we need emotions anyway?

Before fully engaging in therapy, I honestly thought that if I could just 'turn off' my emotions, then all would be fine. This is seemingly a very common request with BPD sufferers according to my group facilitator. Greenberg and Paivio (1997) capture nicely the generally agreed upon functions of emotions, which are that they;

      1. Prompt and organize us for action
  1. Give us important information about whats going on in a given situation
  2. Are for motivating
  3. Are for communicating to others
  4. Are fundamentally adaptive
So I now realize that my emotions are like a motion-detection or warning system telling me that something is happening that I should know about. Another important lesson I have resonantly grasped is that my emotions never last forever, even though some may last longer than others and I tend to be more sensitive than my peers to emotional stimuli. It also depends on my current level of skillfulness in handling emotion and other factors such as sleep, health, stress, and support.

As Marsha Linehan explains so wonderfully in her book; 
'Emotions are like tides of the ocean, they ebb and flow, they come and go; they're transitory.'
When I forget this simple piece of advise, I am more inclined to act impulsively when in the throws of an intense emotion. But when I can tell myself calmly in the heat of the moment 'This too will pass' I am so much more able to open up a variety of options and not feel so helpless.

When emotions do what they are supposed to do, they are called PRIMARY EMOTION. They are unlearned and fundamental to human functioning. When you hear a loud noise, you jump, you feel afraid. Its a perfectly normal response. They are helpful. 

The problem lies in what are called SECONDARY EMOTIONS. These are complicated, non adaptive patterns of emotions about emotion. You feel shame for jumping and feeling afraid at the loud noise. 

When I learned about the different levels of emotion, I felt relived. It all started to make sense. I had never understood why I felt such random emotions in reaction to a situation. My secondary emotions were very often generated and intensified by judgments I had about how I was supposed to feel rather than how I actually felt.

My 'Judgement' Counter
The best thing I did to help me OBSERVE the judgments which lead to SECONDARY EMOTION was to get a counter. I found one in my local knitting shop, and its actually a stitch/row counter. A tally counter can also be used. I carry it in my pocket and click it every time I realize I am having a judgement. I observed how critical I can be of myself when i catch my reflection and I noticed how cruel I am with my self talk.

Try it out for yourself. I bet you will be surprised at the results of you judgement monitoring.


  1. I love this post!! I love the idea of realizing how often we are judgmental of ourselves, observing it, and changing it! This goes perfectly with the post I have drafted (and will hopefully publish soon) and you gave me a lot of insight! Thanks!

    1. Hey Jadey. Thank you for reading my post and I am so glad you found it useful. I look forward to reading your post! xxx