Simply put, from just 3 colors we get all colors; from just 7 notes, we get all the music; from just 6 emotions, we get all the different feelings. Isn’t interesting how a vast variety of things can result from the combinations of just a few elements? And how can this point us to the importance of working on our emotions?
As a therapist, sometimes with skepticism, I often get asked: “Why do you, or therapists in general, focus so much on emotions?” And I understand the question because, at first glance, it would seem like we all operate from reasonable and logical places. But do we really? How many times have you heard or thought to yourself things like: “it does not make sense, but…” or “in my head I know that, yet I feel…” I have come to think of emotions as the base, the foundations of our essence, that when paired with reason, give birth to the endless possibilities of human behavior. Allow me to use an illustration that explains better what I mean.
Where do builders begin the construction of a building? The foundations or the 20th floor? I think (and hope!) that any building gets built from the bottom up. There are similarities between the construction of a building and the development of our nervous systems. The earliest human beings did not think about complex philosophical questions or technological advancements, yet they already felt basic emotions such as fear, anger, or joy. This means that, evolutionarily speaking, it was the emotions that largely gave way to our ability to think and progressively get to where we are today. Thus, the evolution of brain structures and the construction of a building are similar. The most elementary and basic functions, our emotions, appeared in our species like the ground floor of a building. Only later we developed new brain structures that added more complex functions, or floors to the building.
Continuing with this metaphor, just like destroying the ground floor can demolish an entire building, emotional disturbances and inability to identify, connect, and respond well to our emotions can (and in my opinion will) destroy all rational efforts to achieve well-being.
So, bringing back the original question, namely why do I focus so much on emotions as a therapist? My answer is simply because it is not possible to be a healthy balanced adult without knowing how to interact healthily with our emotions. Does that mean that reason is unimportant? Absolutely not! If anything, I hope for growth, for taller buildings (using the illustration above), but without solid emotional foundations, it can all fall apart quickly, regardless of how intellectual and rational we strive to be.
How do you feel today? Do you feel calm, connected, curious, compassionate, clear, creative, confident, and courageous? How comfortable do you feel with sharing, sitting with, and talking about your emotions, such as your fears or joys? Do you know what angers you and what to do with it? How do you do intimacy? Do you act from a healthy balanced adult place or from a wounded part of yourself?
In a world where reason and logic can be the center of attention for many of us, let us remember that, as important as these are, they alone do not seem to put us in the path to well-being. Let’s continue to grow, to build ourselves up, not merely focusing on the intellectual intelligence (IQ), but the other intelligence that is at the base of how we function: our emotional intelligence (EQ). After all, look at how far we have come and how diverse we can be from just 6 basic emotions!
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