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Our emotions are meaningful

The very nature of emotion is perfectly illustrated by its etymology: coming from the Latin ex movere meaning "movement towards the outside", an emotion translates the physiological and psychic reaction we have to an external situation we experience, whether it is pleasant or not.

photo credit : J. Dantinne (unsplash)

When we are moved by an emotion, our body sets in motion a fine and complex mechanism from the processing of the information (event) at the origin of the reaction to the response itself (movement) and its integration by the experience (feeling). It is a spontaneous and natural movement of the body. But what is its purpose?

It would in fact reveal our capacity to adapt to each situation in our life by naturally pushing us to act, to react to the situation encountered, in a logic of preservation of our evolution. This point of view presents emotion as a means of enabling us to get through the situation "as well as possible" and helps us a posteriori by indicating the deep needs to be protected or satisfied, with universal values, i.e. those shared by all cultures: the need for security, to feel considered, to feel connected to others, the need for freedom, autonomy, to feel loved and authorised to love, for recognition and self-expression, to have a place in the world, to feel capable of expressing one's own wisdom, etc.

To resume, when our needs are met, joy predominates. When they are not, joy gives way to anger, sadness or fear. It is the expression of the Self through the body, a movement from the inside to the outside world, with messages about ourselves.

Fear, anger, sadness and joy are the four primary emotions that drive us. Sometimes they reveal themselves in other, more elaborate and mixed forms. For example, contempt: a combination of anger and the fear of expressing it. They are expressed in different ways, but we can always go back to these four basic emotions to understand what is going on inside us:

  • Fear is an emotional response based on the flight part of the fight-flight reflex. It allows us to protect ourselves from a danger, a present or imminent threat by activating the state of alertness in us;

  • Anger, on the other hand, is the emotional response based on the fight part of the flight-to-fight reflex. It serves to defend, to preserve our needs, our positions or our place in this world, our achievements;

  • Sadness is the emotional response expressing the recognition of the loss of something or someone important to us, the sign that we are suffering from a lack and it somehow helps us to accept it;

  • Joy is expressed when our needs are globally satisfied. It is a clear indication of what is deeply satisfying to us, what makes us happy.

Unfortunately, it is still a common practice to label emotions as negative or positive (joy would be "positive", the others not). Reasoning like this feeds the collective belief that some emotions are acceptable and others less so, or not at all. This belief has long been nourished by our Western history, education and religion, and reinforced by a society that is very attached to performance and self-control ("what is good versus bad", "hold on, at the risk of suffering", being "strong", "keeping control"). This has a knock-on effect on our individual belief system by limiting our expression and authenticity: "I don't have the right to be angry...".

What is the risk of this? Not allowing ourselves to live fully what is, not saying what we feel, therefore physically and psychically repressing this part of ourselves which expresses itself and which informs us about ourselves. Not listening to oneself is a way of denying oneself, behind the masks of control and self-mastery which are sources of great inner tension in the long run. A strategy to protect oneself in appearance certainly, but which closes the door to a greater richness if one allows oneself to leave the rigid posture of control: why does the emotion arise and what is the need to be satisfied behind it? Who is it for? How can I express what I really feel? How can I let the other person know what would really help me in this or that situation?

Being able to live in harmony with our emotions is necessary for our physical and psychological balance. Each emotion has a value in itself and is a precious indicator of our inner state at the time, guiding us towards the satisfaction of our deepest needs. But understanding the meaning of our emotions, the "what?" or the "why?" is not everything!

It is also important to ask ourselves the question "how?", i.e. how to live them, how to express them in the best way, for oneself and for others? And it opens up a much broader question: how can we learn to satisfy and protect our deepest needs, in a way that is respectful of ourselves and those around us?

Philippe Bien

Body psychotherapy through touch practitioner (Relation d'Aide par le Toucher®)


Feldenkrais™ method practitioner

To find out more about my support offers, go to : click here

To learn more about this same thematic, see the following articles :

  • Body psychotherapy: a method where the body has a say (blog). Go to the article : click-here

  • Feeling better thanks to body psychotherapy through touch (blog). Go to the article click here

The statements, techniques and methods presented in this publication are part of a wellness approach, complementary to conventional care. They are not a substitute for ongoing medical treatment and do not exempt you from consulting a doctor whenever necessary.

Sources :

À quoi servent les émotions ?, par Jean Garneau, psychologue dans La lettre du psy" Volume 1, No 2 (Octobre 1997) clic-ici

Peut-on gérer ses émotions ? par Christophe André dans Sciences Humaines (mai 2006)

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