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Expat Psychologist – Why Are Emotions So Complicated? – Emotional Struggles

Written by: Taisia Slobodjaniuk, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


The Expat Psychologist organization is a Private International Psychological Practice with different sites in the Netherlands, The Hague, Amsterdam, Leiden, and Geneva, Switzerland. Being an international practice allows us to work with people of many different cultures and backgrounds, each with their own values. One of the most typical clients’ struggles, regardless of all these differences, is emotions. People struggle with identifying, managing, and successfully dealing with negative emotions. When we learn more about something, it seems less threatening. This is also true for negative emotions: the more we learn about them, the less afraid and more welcoming we can be towards the negative and scary ones. This will allow us to live a more satisfying and fulfilling life. Therefore, we focus on this essential yet challenging topic, emotions.

The most common questions about emotions are the following:

Why do people have emotions, and are emotions essential for survival?

Well, many theories try to explain these questions, from philosophical to biological and psychological perspectives. Of course, there is no correct or wrong theory. Each of them describes different perspectives and realities of the topic. In general, emotions are seen as something special to improve our access to our reason. They carry important information about how a situation is being evaluated. They warn us about events that might be relevant to our values and concerns. Emotions help shape our interpretations and allow us to remember essential things. They help us to have particular considerations in certain circumstances that we otherwise would not have. At this point, you wonder why? It is because emotions have control over our perceptions, interpretations, and memories, and they come with us wherever we go. Every aspect of our lives, from cognition to behaviour and social organization, is driven by emotions.

Humans are the animals with the highest use of emotions. Psychologists and researchers sustain that emotions are essential for survival because they allow us to facilitate our planning agency. They have a role in our ability to plan our goals and create a list of priorities each time we need to decide. Indeed, people with neurological damage in the affective areas of the brain have more difficulties with planning and take rational decisions every day. Emotions allow us also to attach specific targets, of positive or negative valence, to the courses of action. This is why we are more oriented to repeating the actions that lead to positive outcomes together with positive emotions than negative ones. Therefore, emotions are also connected to our actions. They facilitate our choices, helping us to choose the most appropriate action in different situations.

How are our emotions connected to our actions?

For so long time, emotions were neglected, thinking they were irrational, passive, and insignificant. But if this is true, why do we hold a person responsible if they have inappropriate emotions in certain circumstances? Because, indeed, we have the responsibility for how we express our emotions. Emotions continuously influence our bodies, brains, hearts, and social interactions, and they have a huge impact on others’ lives. We love and hate; we experience moments of extreme joy and ecstasy, shame, guilt, and embarrassment. All these emotions prime and motivate our bodies towards the decision to act. For example, when we are angry, we tend to be more aggressive. We may feel the urge to react toward a target or prepare ourselves to escape and run away from the danger. When we are in an emotional state, like joy, embarrassment, or depression, our action decisions may differ from one to another. Indeed, emotion regulation research has grown over the past years. Researchers want to understand how emotions develop and how we control them to have a satisfying and fulfilling life.

Then how do we deal with negative emotions?

Studies show that focusing on changing negative emotions or avoiding them might impair our control of the present task. Another example is the suppressing technique, where we try to decrease the emotion intensity or frequency we do not want to experience. Suppressing emotions requires a lot of energy, and this energy is subtracted from the task we need to perform. Suppressing emotions requires a lot of energy, and this energy is subtracted from the task we need to perform. On the contrary, if we accept these emotions and the experiences they bring, we change our relationship with them. We become willing to stay in contact with uncomfortable emotions without reacting. With time we become more tolerant of negative emotions. We learn to recognize and accept them, leading us to use less energy on emotions and more energy on our performance.

How do we learn to accept negative emotions?

The Expat Psychologist gives a few tips. First, the most critical step is to look at our triggers and ask ourselves, "What made me so sad, angry, scared, embarrassed (and so on)?" And second, “How did I interpret the situation? Could it be interpreted differently?". This is because the type of interpretation we give to an event might alter our experience of it. We can reappraise the situation one more time, being more compassionate and optimistic, seeing things we could not notice before.

When we understand better where these emotions are coming from, it becomes easier to take steps toward the problem. This means cutting down sources of stress, reducing work, or spending more time with things that we actually enjoy. Second, if we acknowledge that we are feeling sad, angry, or frustrated, let's allow them to exist without trying to dwell on them. If they are too much to handle, it is always helpful to express your emotions to others and let them know what you are going through.

Third, if you are unable to recognize the uncomfortable emotions at the moment they appear, do not fixate and ruminate on them but move on to more clear emotions. It is essential to reach some clarity before diving into them again. Everyone goes through and struggles with negative emotions from time to time, and it is not a one-time thing. Even if we wish it were! They can always come back and make us feel uncomfortable. However, we must remember that emotions, as well as thoughts or bodily reactions, are only transient, not permanent. Allow them to exist, be in contact with them, and embrace them!

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Taisia Slobodjaniuk, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Started out in Ukraine as an orphan, today Taya is a successful businesswoman leading several expat-focused psychology practices around Europe. As an orphan, she faced a diverse set of challenges in being uprooted from familiarity, a sense of isolation, and the need for connection all of which she observed within other expats who move to a new country. So, after arriving in the Netherlands over a decade ago, she was surprised to find that there was no one who could deeply understand these challenges. Using her experiences living in different countries, and her broad education in psychology, she set up her own practice in The Hague to help expats work through their hardships.



  • Alberts, H. J. E. M., Schneider, F., & Martijn, C. (2012). Dealing efficiently with emotions: acceptance-based coping with negative emotions requires fewer resources than suppression. Cognition & Emotion, 26(5), 863–70.

  • Faucher, L., & Tappolet, C. (2008). The modularity of emotions (Ser. Canadian journal of philosophy. Supplementary volume, 32). University of Calgary Press.

  • Kringelbach, M. L., & Phillips, H. (2014). Emotion : pleasure and pain in the brain. Oxford University Press.

  • Turner, J. H. (2007). Human emotions: a sociological theory. Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.

  • Zhu, J., & Thagard, P. (2002). Emotion and action. Philosophical Psychology, 15(1), 19–36.



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