What exactly does it mean to be human? There are many unique characteristics our species possesses: we walk on two legs instead of the traditional four, we learn to read and write as a way to communicate, and we have active imaginations, coming up with tiktok dances, greek mythology, and fairy tales about gingerbread men. While all of this is neat, having emotions is a defining characteristic of our human existence, and is far more prevalent in our daily lives than some of our other special qualities. From the most elated of happinesses to the darkest of depressions, our emotions are instrumental in guiding each and every one of our actions. They can seem like some sort of intangible part of us that fluctuates with our experiences. However, unlike other natural monitors of our existence – pulse rate, blood pressure, etc. – our emotions are quite special in that they themselves are an experience, just like scoring a basket or earning your diploma. Unsurprisingly, these physical experiences are often tied with internal emotional experiences: missing the game-winning shot brings disappointment and grief while smiling on stage with your hard-earned certificate brings pride and glee.
I’ve recently come to terms with the fact that this link between external and internal experiences is in the essence of humanity. I’d even go as far as to say that every Homo sapien that has ever walked earth has felt most of the emotions that you and I have felt (and will ever feel) in our lives. Just to different degrees in response to different things. A gazillion years ago, when some human decided to create some of the first art by painting on a cave wall, they probably felt insightful or prophetic. Now, that same kind of feeling could come from predicting the revival of Silly Bandz as a fashion trend. Similar emotional responses can be garnered from very different things. Conversely, very similar things can give way to quite different responses, all just depending on the person and their circumstances. I think that goes to show just how important it is to not judge emotional experiences. Especially in ourselves, but with others as well.
A few days ago I was talking to my friend about making some spring break plans. They mentioned that some of our friends were visiting the beach… without me. In the blink of an eye, FOMO took the reigns and I was overthinking all the reasons why I might not have been invited. I questioned myself, doubting if I was interesting, cool, or nice enough in the eyes of my friends. Then what followed was some judgemental self-talk: Where’s your self respect?! You don’t need their validation, you dummy. Why are you even sad?! You can have fun all on your own! My friend soon pointed out how silly I was being. The negative emotions I judged myself for are in fact totally valid. Of course I’d feel sad if my friends hung out without me. Who wouldn’t!
Having a response to a stimuli, positive or negative, is very human, regardless of what that response actually is. No matter what, the emotional experience you observe in yourself is totally valid. Again… all your emotions are valid. Emotions aren’t something you can easily control, and in some ways, society has conditioned us to even feel guilty for having certain feelings. One which quickly comes to mind is jealousy. Sure, everyone might be happier if nobody got jealous, but quite frankly, it’s not a whole lot of fun to see someone with something you want. Jealousy is human, anger is human, and happiness is human.
It’s essential to not be judged for the emotions you feel, be it by yourself or by those around you. I’ve found that having empathy towards oneself is key to “successfully” experiencing emotions. It makes the less pleasant ones more bearable and the enjoyable ones more awesome. It has intimate ties with acceptance and understanding, and reminds that there’s nothing wrong with us, as any experience, good or bad, is just part of being a person. It’s only when one accepts the experiences they undergo as part of being human that they can truly remove self-judgement and be liberated from any tension emotions bring us.