Affects and emotions tend to be present in all moments and aspects of our lives. They guide or even sometimes misguide us into certain paths and choices, even if we are not aware of them. Since affects and emotions are inseparable from our experiences, it is necessary to pay more attention to them, be aware of them, and be able to manage them. But before we delve deeper into the 9 basic emotions and affects, we need to establish the difference between the two, as they are not the same.
Emotion vs Affect
Emotions are created and felt within while affects are the reactions to those emotions. We are not in control of our emotions (at least not completely), but we can choose how to react to the event or incident that led to the excitement of a certain emotion. In other words, emotions are not visible to others, and are experienced only by the individual; on the other hand, affects are the visible and audible emotional reactions of the individual in response to internal or external incidents.
Emotions are deeply rooted in our bodies and excite various systems which lead to automatic reactions. For instance, when we experience fear, our body activates the fight or flight response and we can feel the elevated heart rate. Similarly, all emotions can activate various automatic responses. Nevertheless, it is possible to manipulate and change these reactions –even though they are called automatic reactions – through awareness and practice. Other reactions to emotions may be changes in posture, gesture, facial expressions, tone of voice, speech rate, and choice of words. The less aware you are of your emotions, the less in control you will be when it comes to these reactions.
What difference does this make?
Knowledge of basic emotions in addition to being able to recognize and name them can help better regulate them. Knowledge of emotions and affects serves to improve skills related to one of the components of emotional intelligence: self-awareness. The moment we become aware of our emotions, they tend to become manageable. In cases where emotions spike uncontrollably, automatic systems interfere to create the fight or flight response and get ready for reactions that are deeply instilled in our genetics or even memories. Everything that has been done so far, will be replicated, which means the brain looks for similar experiences and copies the responses previously produced, even if they are not appropriate or effective.
Do you want to be in control?
An effective technique that can help recognize and feel emotions before they get the hold of you is to regularly ask “How do I feel right now?” or “How do I feel about this?”. You might not be able to do this successfully before you begin to show reactions to experiences, yet it will become easier after a while. The moment you begin to think about the answer to these questions and name the emotion, the whirl of emotion you are experiencing begins to slow down. Then, instead of all the automatic reactions, you become in control of what you show in response to a certain experience. This means that you will have the freedom to choose your affect.
After a month or two of regular practice of asking the questions “How do I feel right now?” or “How do I feel about this?”, you will realize that you have improved your skills in the second component of emotional intelligence: self-management. Awareness and ability to regulate emotions and affects can significantly improve mental health state and resilience. It can even improve your understanding of other people’s state of emotion and positively impact your relationships.
You need to become aware of your emotions if you do not wish to be controlled by them. Most of our regrets come from experiences where we failed to react more effectively and appropriately in certain situations. Free roaming emotions can be detrimental to your health as well as your relationships, therefore, learning to recognize and analyze them can mitigate the risks of letting emotions run wild. All you need to do is ask one question, or maybe two.
1. Can you name three emotions that you experience frequently?
2.How does this affect your body, your day, and your relationships?
inspired by Otmer & Otmer’s The Clinical Interview Using DSM-5