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Importance of Listening to your Emotions

Decades of research has proven that emotions are universal.  The idea that emotions are experienced universally suggests that regardless of where in the world you are born, or what culture you are raised in, you are born with the innate ability to feel and express certain emotions in the same way as someone born and raised at the other end of the planet.  Need proof? Get on a plane, fly over to Mogadishu, pick up an infant and rattle your keys in front of him/her.  The infant’s response will likely be similar to that of one in Calgary.


As babies, our first attempts at communicating with the world are through our expressions of emotions.  Whether we’re raising eyebrows to show we are intrigued, crunching our face to show we are uncomfortable, or grinning from ear to ear to show we are happy.  How we communicate our needs is, at large, through the use of our emotions.  As we develop our cognitive abilities, we learn other ways to communicate, such as with words.  Somewhere along that developmental process, our words begin to hold more importance than our emotions.  Our cognitive mind takes over the emotional mind instead of working hand in hand with it in order to more clearly express our needs.


We spend years of our lives in school to train and develop our cognitive abilities such as problem solving, reasoning, planning, and logic. Very little time is devoted to developing our emotional abilities – which is at the very core of how we express our wants and needs. For some people, their emotions then get neglected.


Some years ago, a study was conducted with mothers and their infants to understand how these infants respond to their mothers’ facial cues and gestures.  The experiment starts with the mother playing, laughing, and talking to her baby using soothing and playful tones.  As you can imagine, the infant responds fondly and enjoys this encounter with her mother.  A few minutes later, the researcher instructs the mother not to respond to her baby and instead to keep a blank face.  Very quickly, the infant begins to feel uncomfortable and proceeds to use different modes to try and get her mother’s attention by gesturing with her hand, making loud sounds, etc. After only a few seconds of being neglected, the baby starts to cry.  Just as this infant felt uncomfortable when she was neglected, so does your body when you do not listen and respond to your emotions.


When you neglect your emotions, they can become louder and stronger.  Sometimes they manifest in troubling and hard to manage responses. Some of these include:


  • lashing out at the people around you
  • feeling increasingly irritable
  • having nightmares
  • having difficulty concentrating
  • showing physiological stress responses such as a racing heartbeat, sweaty palms, muscle tension, shivering or hot flashes, feeling lethargic, etc.
  • having negative thoughts about yourself and the world


These responses are some ways that your body may be telling you that something is not quite right and thus, it is important to use these responses as cues to listen and pay attention.  If these responses are ignored, further symptoms may appear or existing symptoms may become exacerbated. Just as the infant from the research experiment screeched in discomfort in order to get her mother’s attention, your emotions can also become louder in order to grab your attention to listen and make a change.


If you are experiencing any of these difficult responses mentioned above, you may benefit from speaking to a counsellor to better understand what your emotions may be trying to tell you.  Just as you would seek assistance from a physician if you were experiencing problematic physical symptoms, it may be worthwhile to give your emotional experience the same right.


Stay tuned for the next segment on How to Listen to Your Emotions.


Shezlina Haji, MA, has extensive experience in the area of emotional regulation, personal growth, plus many more. For more information on Shezlina and her work, click here to link to her full bio page.