Published on August 1st, 2013 | by Becky Castle Miller

Letter from the Editor: What Are Emotions?


In this issue, we’re going to talk about Emotions and how to handle them in healthy ways. The main point I hope to communicate to you is that your emotions are neither good nor bad…they just ARE.

I and many of my friends somehow learned as kids that emotions themselves can be bad. We came to understand, then, that our feelings should be tightly controlled and resisted, especially “negative” emotions like anger and sadness. Now I realize this perspective is untrue and damaging. Our reactions to our emotions can be healthy or unhealthy, but emotions themselves are morally neutral.

Learning to freely experience our emotions is a vital part of human development. So is learning to wisely choose our resulting actions. We’ll explore both of those ideas in this issue.

What are emotions?

If we ask the wordsmiths via the dictionary (which my mom would tell you to do…whenever I asked her what a word meant, she handed me a dictionary and said, “Look it up!”), Merriam-Webster answers, “a conscious mental reaction subjectively experienced as strong feeling usually directed toward a specific object and typically accompanied by physiological and behavioral changes in the body.”

If we ask science, we get two main theories about what emotions are. The cognitive appraisal theory says that emotions are our evaluations about how experiences meet or don’t meet our goals. So I feel sadness when my hoped-for goal isn’t reached.

The physiological perception theory says that emotions are simply our analyses of our physical reactions. So I name “sadness” when I experience a heaviness in my chest and tears in my eyes.

A theory that blends those two ideas is the EMOCON model of emotional consciousness. In that model, sadness is both my judgement that my goal is thwarted and my noticing that my body is reacting to that event.

Behavioral scientists have developed different classification systems for emotions. Some emotions are repeated across many of the models—the most commonly occurring are fear, anger, and disgust. Some emotions appear on different lists under synonymous names, like anger and rage; fear and terror; happiness and joy.

Many emotions are universal; feelings that are experienced similarly by people in many cultures around the world. Throughout this issue, I hope you’ll find comfort and freedom in the idea that you’re not alone in your emotions.

The cover images for this issue were shot by Toby Keathley for Wyn Magazine with model Lasha Harris.

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