When we get a promotion at work, get engaged, or buy ourselves a new outfit we are quick to share the exciting and happy news with our loved ones and friends. Conversely, we share life events that cause us sadness or make us upset. Whether we share negative or positive emotions, as social beings we have a need to share our feelings and stories with those around us.
This is universal. This process operates at an automatic level, and is embedded in most of our social interactions irrespective of the context. But why do we share our emotions? What function and purpose does this sharing process serve us? What motivates us to share? Here are the seven reasons why we socially share our emotions as outlined by Rime (2007):
“Get it off your chest” is a common expression. Venting can be healthy and adaptive. In psychoanalytic terms, venting is known as catharsis. Venting is motivated by our need to find emotional relief, and alleviate any sort of suffering we are currently experiencing. Keeping emotions bottled up for too long can lead to many difficulties and as you will see below, can rob us of both personal and social benefits.
2. Support and Guidance
Sharing emotions with others can be motivated by our need for social support. Social support comes in the form of a) being listened to by others, and b) receiving support and help. We always appreciate friends who give good advice, and those that listen to us whenever we have our meltdowns. Similarly, this is what makes psychotherapy effective: having an individual effectively listen to you and your concerns. Additionally, sometimes being able to share emotions with others, and to be heard, provides a sense of understanding, clarity, and validation. Being heard by an attentive friend for example, legitimizes our feelings (Nils, Delfosse, & Rime 2005).
3. Clarification and Meaning
What do all of my feelings mean? How do I make sense of all of this? What just happened? These are some of the questions that run through our minds when we are faced with emotionally arousing situations and experiences. Sharing then helps us find meaning in an experience. Meaning is a powerful force in our lives. Without meaning, it can be very hard for us to cope with painful life experiences. When we are able to make sense of our emotions and find meaning in our experiences, we are able to find the motivation and resiliency to overcome situations.
4. Advice and Solutions
What do I do now? How can I improve this situation? What would you do if you were me? These questions are motivated by the hopes that our sharing partners can help us cope. Besides, the cathartic motivation to get it off one’s chest, we share our emotions because we seek the advice, solutions, suggestions, and feedback of other individuals we trust.
Sharing your emotions and life experiences is the hallmark of any good friendship or relationship. It is what bonds us to others, maintaining and strengthening our social links and connections. Also, through this process, we are able to elicit empathy from important people in our lives, and they, through your sharing of emotions, feel important and valued. This reciprocal benefit for both individuals leads to a greater sense of connection and closeness.
People share emotions because it can be entertaining! Nobody wants to just talk about mundane things like what you had for dinner or the specific tasks you completed at work. We like to hear stories that are emotionally charged. As in any form of communication, there is a sender and a listener. As the sharer of information, we seek the attention, validation, and interest from others (listeners). But does the person with whom you share emotional content with actually want to hear it? The answer is yes.
Humans are fascinated by emotional material. We are intrigued by car accidents, natural disasters, and tragic events (i.e. terror attacks) and other emotional stories through various mediums such as TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, books, art, and music (Rime, Delfosse, & Corsini, 2005). As such, when others tell us emotional stories, as listeners, we become more engaged in the conversation.
7. Informing Others
Emotions are powerful sources of information. They guide our thinking and our actions in situations. They serve as reminders as to whether a situation or interaction is good or bad for us. Sharing our experiences with others gives can provide them with information, and a perspective on a particular action/situation. For example, how often have you shared a negative experience at a restaurant you ate at where the food made you feel sick, and the service was so terrible you were angry and disgusted and vowed to never go there again? By sharing this experience with others we hope to save our loved ones from a similarly negative experience.
We share emotions for a variety of reasons that are beneficial to our own personal well being including venting, finding meaning, and gathering support and advice from others. Just as important as this is the fact that through social sharing we are able to establish, maintain, and enhance our social connections and closeness to those around us. At the end of the day this is what makes us human: our ability to share the emotional narratives we experience with others.
Rime, B. (2007). Interpersonal emotion regulation. In J.J. Cross (Ed.), The Handbook of Emotion Regulation, 466-487. New York: The Guilford Press.
Rime, B., Delfosse, C. & Corsini, S. (2005). Emotional fascination: Responses elicited by viewing pictures of September 11 attack. Cognition and Emotion, 19, 923-932.