Humans may well be the only species with language for our emotions. As one of the founders of the science of emotions, Paul Ekman, observes, this means that humans have the ability to do more than just feel emotions as we experience them. We can talk about those emotions after they’re gone and before they come back.
The ability to talk about emotions with the memory of what the emotion feels like, but without actually being caught up in it in that moment, creates distance and perspective. It makes it possible for us to “have” emotions, which is different from the common experience of emotions “having” us.
While it is through storytelling that we find our identity, it’s also true that, as we learn to interpret and control the emotional content of those stories, we can shape not only who we are, but how we are.
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