The Language Of Emotions

Language of emotions

Almost all people, including experts and scientists, classify emotions into two large groups: negative emotions and positive emotions

This has a logical explanation and meaning. Basically, some make us feel good and the others bad. That is, it is a classification that responds to what in psychology is called affective valence, which refers to the pleasant or unpleasant subjective sensations that emotions generate in us.

An alternative classification of emotions

Language is a very powerful tool and conditions thinking and, ultimately, behavior and the way in which we interpret reality. Therefore, by calling some emotions positive and others negative, We are also implicitly saying that the first are good and the second are bad, since, as a general rule, the positive is considered something good and the negative something bad. Or at least that is how it is conceived in most cultures and societies in the world today.

For this reason, at Happiens we prefer to talk about pleasant and unpleasant emotions, and adaptive and maladaptive emotions.

The first classification is more faithful to the sensation that an emotion produces in us, that is, to its affective valence, but eliminating the judgment about the goodness or badness of said emotion. It consists of grouping them solely based on the subjective experience that it generates in us.

The second classification refers to the function that an emotion plays in our lives: if it serves us and helps us (adaptive) or limits and conditions us (maladaptive). All emotions initially fulfill an adaptive function, that is, they serve a purpose and help us relate to the environment, with others and with ourselves. However, the way we manage an emotion makes its consequences and uses very different, and it can become maladaptive and limiting.

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The importance of meaning

Peter J. Lang, psychologist and professor at the Center for the Study of Emotion and Attention at the University of Florida (USA), is one of the leading representatives in the study of emotions. His work reveals that There are no significant differences between the emotional response of people of different genders, countries and cultures This allows us to affirm that emotions are something universal, something that characterizes human beings as a species.

What does vary is the meaning given to each emotion in different countries and cultures, which in turn has an impact on the situations or behaviors that trigger them.

For example, if we miss a burp at a meal in Spain, we will surely feel embarrassed, because we interpret it as something that is not appropriate for the situation. However, in countries like China or India we would feel good doing it since there it means that we liked the food and it is something that the rest of the diners would also interpret positively.

As we see, In each culture, the same event has different meanings, which in turn generates different emotions

Expression of emotions

The three forms of manifestation of emotions

Another of Professor Lang’s great contributions is the so-called triple response system of emotions ; a theory formulated in 1968 that explains how emotions are manifested through a cognitive response, another physiological response, and a third at a behavioral level. Thanks to this model, it is easier to understand how emotions work, their consequences and how we can learn to manage them.

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There is an important debate regarding the order of appearance of these three emotional responses: there are those who defend that physiological changes occur first, and that generates specific thoughts and actions; Others affirm that thought is the first thing that appears when interpreting and meaning a situation and, from there, changes occur in the body and behaviors; others believe that…

The truth is that it is a quite interesting and extensive debate, but without much importance for the purpose of this text. Furthermore, temporal differences in responses can sometimes be milliseconds and other times hours. The truth is that these times will vary greatly depending on the emotion and its intensity, the situation and the person. The important thing, at the end of the day, is to be aware that each emotion manifests itself through these three ways, since that will help us improve our emotional management. Let’s look at an example with sadness and how it would manifest with three types of response:

1. Cognitive response to sadness

They are the thoughts one has when one is sad. They could be something like “I don’t like my life”, “I’m never able to do this well”, “I don’t feel loved”… These thoughts come from our interpretation of reality so we could work to replace them with others and interpret reality from another point of view.

On the other hand, at a cognitive level, changes also occur in processes such as attention, memory, concentration or decision making. When we are sad, our attention usually focuses on elements consistent with that mood and our memory works worse. And the same thing happens with the other emotions, each one acting in a different way in cognitive processes and thoughts.

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2. Physiological response

Are the physical changes that occur in the body in variables such as muscle tension, blood pressure and pressure, heart rate, breathing, skin conductance, digestive system, etc. In the case of sadness, responses such as crying, increased or decreased appetite, low energy or vitality, fatigue, lowered gaze, a dejected face or expression, etc. are most likely to occur.

3. Behavioral response

They are behaviors, what we do (or don’t do) and say when feeling an emotion In the case of sadness, behaviors such as staying at home without doing anything, canceling plans, doing things with reluctance, speaking in a dull tone of voice, etc. could appear.


As we see, emotions have a language, a way of communicating with ourselves and with others which we must listen to and understand if we want to improve our emotional intelligence and, ultimately, our well-being and happiness, and that of the people with whom we interact.

To finish, we would like to highlight the idea that, although all people manifest emotions through this triple system, with very common and repeated responses, in reality each person is a world and develops their own forms of response, which do not They are neither better nor worse, just different. The important thing is to understand and listen to the emotion behind each case and remember that there are no good or bad emotions, but only pleasant and unpleasant, or adaptive and maladaptive.