Where do emotions come from and why do we have them?

I wrote an articles What can we do to ensure our responses are appropriate, empowering, skilful and characterful? which certainly fired up some debate around emotions.


This article takes a closer look at where emotions come from and why we have them.


So let’s be clear to start, emotions have a chequered past. From our anger driven war like ancestors who were predominantly male, to the hystericals who were predominantly women. From the hate that has driven many a religious, territorial and familial dispute. And the fear and loathing that drives all kinds of acts of blaming, discrimination and scapegoating.


But what of love, joy and happiness? I hear you ask, which surely brings great benefits to us all.


Well, let’s look at where these things, emotions, come from first and why we have them.


Emotions are a hang-over from our hunter-gatherer days when life had major life threatening events just waiting outside your cave door. They were part of our fight-flight mechanism that kept us safe.


But in today’s world we have less immediately life threatening encounters. However, our emotions do not delineate between what was life threatening (a big sabre toothed tiger is about to attack and devour you) and what is not (I will just die if I’m attacked in print over this article).


Emotions are a fantastic guidance system for our ‘state’. And it is our state that drives our responses.


I feel fear. I’ll fight, flight (or indeed freeze). Our emotions set the stage from which we respond. But the stage (state) we find ourselves in tends to lead to default responses.  Which are not really responses at all but rather mere reactions.


For new and so more appropriate responses we need to intervene between the emotion and the default reaction. We do this by using awareness, reflection, decision making and redirection (or refocussing) to change our state.


We therefore need to raise our levels of awareness, develop our reflective practices, our positive decision making and our refocussing abilities.


The question therefore is how. How do we raise and develop these aspects?




  • Positive decision making – to start making positive and productive decisions you must first understand why you might not yet be doing this. See my article The 6 main reasons for indecision


  • Refocussing – this is a way to shift up the emotional ladder, eg, if you are feeling ‘angry’ you can reflect and decide to call this ‘disenchanted’, by doing so you are already lowering the intensity of your state, which in all likelihood was exaggerated through your default fight response anyway. This is a similar mechanism to the stepping stone approach used in reframing (see my article How to improve…), but specifically for emotions.


Bringing it all together


Emotions are natural reactions to our environment, but they are based on a fight-flight response that is not always appropriate and can lead to extremes. For a more tailored and appropriate response system you need to establish various personal development practices that will support you towards that state of love, joy and happiness that truly empowers growth.


A good tool to help you through this process is my ebooklet How to become unstuck



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See my complimentary Online Course Curious to become unstuck? which will support developing an enquiring emotional state. My course on decision making is currently in development.