How should you deal with emotions? You don't always have to talk about your feelings, says psychotherapist

Emotions are important clues, but bad advice. During Mental Health Week, we talk to Matti Isosävi, psychologist and psychotherapist at Terveystalo, about feelings - even if you don't always need to talk about them.

Terveystalon psykologi juttelee tunteista asiakkaan kanssa verkkotapaamisessa


Emotions are automatic processes that have evolved through the evolution of species, which aim to ensure at least survival, reproduction and human well-being, says psychologist and psychotherapist Matti Isosävi from Terveystalo.

According to the study, there are seven emotions common to all people, regardless of culture: joy, anger, sadness, surprise, contempt, fear and disgust. These are called the basic emotions.

Personal history also plays a role in how emotions develop: because of past experiences and our innate temperament, we may be sensitive to feeling something under certain circumstances.

Emotions energise the body and mind: listen and you'll learn from them

Emotions are a kind of signalling system: they tell us that something meaningful to us is about to happen. 

– The information that emotions provide should not be ignored. Compare, for example, the situation when your leg starts to hurt while you are jogging. The ache tells you that something significant is happening in your body and maybe you are slowing down. You can do the same with emotions: it's always worth paying attention to them and stopping for the information they provide. What's relevant now? What am I reacting to? How does my emotional reaction affect me?

Strong emotions can narrow perspectives and perceptions

Emotions should be seen as cues - not as a true picture of the situation. In fact, strong emotions have a significant impact on perception and thoughts.

– Experiences and thoughts about things or people can differ greatly from our perceptions when we are not in the midst of strong emotions. A strong emotion can be a kind of distorting lens that simplifies experiences and divides the world into categories that do not exist, for example in black and white," Isosävi explains.

The only way to influence the distortions of tunnel vision is to be aware of them and take the effects of emotions into account.

– You can think of emotions as the platform on which you move. If you ignore the asphalt turning into an uprooted path, you're likely to suffer from this. Likewise, if you ignore the impact of emotions, you will suffer. Good decision-making and problem-solving skills are based on paying attention to your emotional state.

Emotional control is an illusion: good emotional skills are curiosity and compassion

Good emotional skills and their regulation are based on curiosity, tolerance and compassion for one's own experience. Why do I feel anger? Am I overloaded? Should I make changes in my daily life? Emotions help you to access information in your mind that is otherwise difficult to access - and thus find solutions," says Isosävi.

Emotional control, on the other hand, is a very alien idea to Isosävi. You cannot control emotions, but you can try to regulate them.

– The emergence of emotions is an automatic process, but the behaviour that emerges from them can be influenced. Here too, a humble attitude towards emotions helps: no one is above them and sometimes they spill over. But when you do feel anger, for example, it is at least possible to try to influence it.

It is not always necessary to talk about feelings

Isosävi also wants to challenge the notion that talking about feelings is an end in itself.

Emotions evoke emotions, which is why emotional speech can be challenging to receive. There are many situations in which talking about feelings themselves is not the most meaningful way to move things forward, so that one's own needs are heard in the best possible way. Sometimes a neutral way of simply stating an issue is an easier way to be heard.

In close relationships, on the other hand, the opportunity to talk about one's own experiences and feelings is often an intrinsic value and very important.

– A relationship in which you can also express more difficult feelings is very important for your well-being. A relationship in which you can be yourself, even with your most unpleasant feelings, is a source of strength and creates a basic sense of security.

Don't be left alone with overwhelmingly difficult emotions

Sometimes strong emotions last for a long time and can even become overwhelming. This is when emotions can begin to define your experience of yourself and others.

– There may even be a permanent sense of being fundamentally bad and there is nothing you can do about it. It may even be impossible to try to resolve such situations alone and we need other people's perspectives so that we do not become prisoners of our own emotions. If a close support network is not enough, it is a good idea to give yourself the opportunity to talk to a professional.

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