The Importance of Understanding Emotions

The Importance of Understanding Emotions

In our fast-paced lives, we often find ourselves on autopilot, moving through the day without truly understanding the emotions that influence our actions. This lack of awareness can lead to regrettable behaviors and indecisiveness. However, delving into our feelings can provide invaluable insights into our desires, motivations, and interactions with others. In a recent episode of Brene Brown’s podcast which I often share with clients, Marc Brackett shared compelling perspectives on the significance of understanding emotions.

The Power of Emotional Awareness

Brackett emphasizes that being in touch with our feelings is not only essential for self-awareness but also for understanding others. Our emotional states can be contagious, offering valuable clues about the emotions of those around us. Moreover, recognizing and accepting our feelings allows us to make decisions from a place of self-examination rather than reacting impulsively.

Emotional Maturity and Self-Control

Drawing parallels between adult reactions and toddler tantrums, Brackett highlights the importance of emotional maturity. While it’s natural to experience strong emotions, maturity lies in acknowledging these feelings without necessarily acting on them. This ability to control impulses and consider the underlying messages of our emotions is crucial for personal growth and healthy relationships.

Overcoming Disconnection from Feelings

Brackett identifies trauma and cultural norms as factors contributing to disconnection from emotions. In many societies, certain feelings are stigmatized or deemed unacceptable, leading individuals to suppress or ignore them. However, embracing all emotions as valid sources of information enables us to navigate life more authentically.

Embracing Vulnerability and Boundaries

While open communication about feelings is encouraged, it’s also important to setting boundaries. Sharing vulnerable emotions requires trust and discernment, as not everyone may respond empathetically. Vulnerability without boundaries is risky and not recommended.

The Neuroscience of Emotion: Insights from Antonio Damasio

Supporting Brackett’s perspective, neuroscientist Antonio Damasio wrote a book called Descartes Error about the vital role of emotions in decision-making and prioritization, as well as social behavior. Studies have shown that individuals with damage to emotional centers of the brain struggle with indecision, and poor decision making in general, highlighting the interconnectedness of rationality and emotion.

Rethinking Rationality and Emotion

Historically, Western philosophies have prioritized detached reasoning, overlooking the essential contributions of emotions to cognitive processes. However, scientific evidence now underscores the integral role of emotions in our understanding of the world. Damasio challenges the notion that true rationality necessitates the exclusion of emotions.

Tips for Increasing Emotional Awareness

Many people struggle to identify what they are feeling and to put their feelings into words rather than behaviors. Therapy is one way to work your emotional muscles and understand yourself and others more deeply. Here are a few other helpful resources:

Focusing, by Eugene Gendlin: Gendlin shares a method for focusing your attention on your body and somatic experience in order to help you identify what you’re feeling, and what your feelings are telling you about what you want and need. This method is particularly helpful if you’re struggling with ambivalence about an important decision. Tuning into your bodies’ messages can help you gain clarity and confidence about your choice.

Radical Acceptance, by Tara Brach: Brach takes a Buddhist perspective on emotions while sharing many helpful tips and anecdotes about how to radically accept what you feel without trying to fix or change it right away. Many people avoid discomfort, but leaning into uncomfortable feelings like sadness or anger can actually provide a lot of helpful information and move you forward on your path towards emotional maturity.

Mindfulness of Emotions meditations: This commonly used style of mindfulness meditation allows you to sit with and non-judgmentally observe your feelings, whatever they are, as they come up, without getting stuck or clinging to them. As important as emotions are, we also need to be able to let go of them. Often, a negative story we tell in our minds keeps us mired in whatever uncomfortable emotion has come up. Letting go of that story and just letting ourselves process the emotions can help. You can access free guided mindfulness meditations through the UCLA Mindfulness Center website.


Understanding emotions is not merely a matter of introspection but a fundamental aspect of human experience. Through insights from experts like Marc Brackett and Antonio Damasio, we gain a deeper appreciation for the multifaceted nature of emotions and their profound impact on our lives. By cultivating emotional awareness and embracing vulnerability with discernment, we can navigate relationships, make informed decisions, and lead more fulfilling lives.

Therapy can assist in growing your awareness of your emotional landscape and how to relate to others. Feel free to reach out for a free  consultation.


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