What Do Emotions Do For Us?

Emotions may feel irritating and annoying and quite frankly troublesome but they do serve a purpose for us. Emotions motivate our behaviour and organise us for action and the action urge of a specific emotion is often hard-wired in biology, for example the fight or flight response which has evolutionary value. Emotions can save time and get us to act lightening fast in some situations, for example when crossing the road and accidentally stepping out in front of a car and reacting quickly so that we do not get knocked down. Emotions are specifically important when we do not have time to think things through. Strong emotions can actually be helpful because they can help us overcome the obstacles that are in both our minds and our environments.

Emotions are helpful in terms of our communication with other people. Facial expressions can often communicate our emotions faster than words and whether you like it or not our body language and tone of voice often communicate our emotions to others. When it is very important to communicate with others it can be very hard to change our emotions, for example if we are very excited by something or very saddened by something. The communication of our emotion influences others and their behaviours.

Emotions also communicate things to ourselves. Emotional reactions give us important information about situations, they can be signals or alarms that something is happening and gut feelings can be like intuition which can be helpful if our emotions get us to check the facts of an important situation.

Sometimes we treat our emotions like they are facts about the world and often the stronger the emotions, the stronger our belief that this emotion is based on fact but this is not true. A feeling is just that, a feeling.

Research shows that all primary emotions cause a common reaction in all humans and in some ways all human beings are the same in the way they both feel and express basic emotion but it is also important to remember that every person is unique. One person may feel anger in a certain part of their body but another person may feel the tension somewhere else. Wherever you feel the tension and how you express this tension is unique to you.

Urges go hand in hand with emotion. Emotions may give someone the urge to run away and another the urge to fight and argue but we must remember that we do not have to act on these urges, sometimes acting on an urge can be helpful but many people who struggle with eating disorders or self harm will often find that they struggle with unhelpful and destructive urges,


I know what it’s like to feel like you HAVE to do something, like there is nothing else in the world that you can focus on and it feels like unless you do that one thing then the urge is never going to disappear and it will just become more and more unbearable. I know how that feels but I also know that feeling is not a fact, there is no truth it in. It may feel like the urge will never go away but that isn’t true. Urges do reduce and eventually disappear without having to act on them.

Often the things we get urges to do negatively impact us in either the short-term or long-term. Urges may include wanting to argue with someone, self-harming, binging, responding in a rude manner to someone. I remember people used to tell me to distract myself and it would annoy me because I would think, “What am I meant to do, distract myself for the rest of my life?!” because I didn’t trust that the urge would go. For example when I was battling bulimia, I would get the urge to binge and then I would end up binging and purging. The next day the same thing would happen, and the day after and then the day after that. The urge was always there. I didn’t realise at the time but by binging and purging I was feeding the urge. The urge would disappear for a very short amount of time but then it would come back because I hadn’t managed the urge, I had given into it.

I managed an urge once, I didn’t retaliate to a negative situation and it took days for the urge to disappear and I must have thought a hundred times over “I mustn’t reply to that message” but the urge reduced, fizzled out and became nothing and there was no longer any part of me that wanted to reply to that message, I was no longer in the moment and it didn’t matter to me anymore. I could have replied to it and added fuel to the fire and ending up arguing and putting my opportunities at risk, I didn’t. I didn’t make the situation worse. Managing that urge meant a great deal to me, it made me trust that urges do disappear. The uncomfortable fullness after eating a meal won’t matter in a weeks time. It might take days and a lot of thinking the same thought over and over but urges can be managed and can disappear without you acting on them.

When an urge strikes allow yourself time before you act on it, think about the negative impacts of acting on that urge and learn to trust that it will become bearable and then disappear. Often by acting on the urge you keep the urges going.