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The Need to Express Emotion


Explanations > Needs > The Need to Express Emotion

Need | Example | Related to | Discussion |  So what?




We need to express what we feel, letting out the emotions through words, action and movement.


A person is upset. They cannot stop themselves from crying.

I hear a joke. I burst out in spontaneous laughter.

Related to


Part of Related to
Arousal Control, Belonging, Affection



When we feel emotions, our ability to think rationally is reduced, which is why people say things they later regret when they are in an emotional state. We cannot help but express what we feel. This makes emotions a powerful force.

When we express emotions, we may experience a control conflict. While being joyful or angry can feel powerful at the time, we later realize we had lost conscious control of our actions. For this reason and to sustain social harmony we often hold back or repress emotions. Rather than just quietly going away, these can increase internal tension and find different ways of leaking out, for example through displacement activity.

When we communicate with others, we give them not just our thoughts but our feelings too. Much body language and voice tone is pure expression and is often produced unconsciously.

Animals think less and emote more. Without words, they emote and communicate solely through signals. Evolution has give us language but has not released us from the need to express emotion. In civilized society we try to hold in emotions, to avoid distressing others or in fear of reprisals. This repression causes stress and can leak in other situations.

So what?

Movies and stories are often designed to elicit emotions, for example creating fear or tugging on the heart-strings. While some persuasion methods are primarily cognitive, asking people to think and consider reason and logic, many others are based in emotion.

Persuasion makes significant use of tension and closure, which is the release of tension. Tension stimulates emotions such as desire and fear. Closure leads to feelings such as relief and delight. In persuading, you can see where people are by the emotions they express and can deliberately elicit and legitimize appropriate feelings for the stage they are at, for example by encouraging the release of closure.

See also

Evolution, Emotions, The Arousal Rollercoaster

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