*Part two, see Part One here*
Knowing how to process and cope with emotions
It’s so natural to say “control your emotions” but there is so much more power in learning to understand, interpret and express emotions instead. Emotions aren’t our enemy. They’re not some annoying thing to control or hide or defeat. We can’t pick and choose which emotions we want to feel and which we want to cast aside.
I used to say that I wish I didn’t care anymore. As a highly sensitive, emotional person, my emotions can feel like a burden at times. I’d try to switch them off “like others do” and finally be free. But alas, that did not happen.
Because emotions are a key part of the human experience. We all want to experience joy, but to choose joy is to choose all the other emotions too.
So, we now know that we don’t want to suppress or defeat or control emotions, instead interpret and process them, but how do we do it?
Explore emotions, says Brene Brown. Recognise that emotions have come up and get curious about them.
“What am I feeling? What’s going on here? What do I need to know more about?” – Brene Brown
Emotions, as said in part one, are a signal from the mind that something has happened. That a situation, event, or interaction has caused you to feel something. And that something could be a plethora of things (one of the 27 emotions, discussed in part one).
I think the first thing we need to do is be able to just stop. Take a step back and witness the emotional reactions. “I’m feeling something.” This part is often skipped over. People simply react or sit in the emotion, without even taking a moment to mindfully witness, “I’m having an emotional reaction here.”
Saying this can be a great way to get used to witnessing emotions if you’re a beginner.
The next thing to do is to do as Brene says, get curious. What could the emotion be telling you? What triggered it? Can you name the emotion? If so, why that emotion, do you think?
I believe that simply being able to find and name (even roughly) an emotion is the most powerful part of being able to process them. It’s like witnessing a crime and naming the perpetrator; all you need to do then is get their motive out of them!
Why are you here? What do I need? What is this about? What can I do going forwards?
The most important step in coping with emotions is not being reactive or reckless or a victim of it. Taking a breath, pausing, and looking within before acting.
Daniel Goleman, “Mindful meditation has been discovered to foster the ability to inhibit those very quick emotional impulses.”
Behaviours, Actions, Reactions
“Emotions and feelings can lead us to do things in the heat of the moment, but if we make an effort to identify and differentiate them, they become easier to modify,” Goleman, 1996
Emotions and Feelings are different:
- Emotions are neurological reactions to an emotional stimulus.
- Feelings are sparked by emotions and coloured by personal experiences, beliefs, memories, and thoughts linked to that particular emotion.
- A feeling is the side product of your brain perceiving an emotion and assigning a certain meaning to it.
FUN FACT: Emotional memories are usually perceived stronger and long-lasting.
- Feelings cause us to pay attention and react to the perceived threats or opportunities. We’re acting on emotional data.
- Feelings result from abstract thinking. But emotions are innate.
- Feelings originate from our interpretation of events and sensations.
- Emotions represent the body’s alarm and survival system.
- In order to have a feeling, it’s necessary to think about what has happened (value the emotion), reflect on how we behaved, and thus begin to elaborate on it psychologically.*
- The basic and universal emotions always move us to either act or stop acting.
- In the movie Inside Out, for example, Sadness makes us distance ourselves from others.
- However, feelings are much more varied and slow. They lead us to reflect on what we can do to stop feeling uncomfortable or unpleasant.
This helps me to understand something that I didn’t before about emotions. Emotions are the physiological reactions to a stimulus, while the identification of it and the meaning behind it is a Feeling. Very interesting!
So, when we act from our emotions, it’s fair to say that little thought has gone into it. It’s instinctual. Primal. Reactive. Think of an animal backed into a corner, lashing out in fear. This is what happens when we act from fast emotions without taking the time to identify, process, and feel them.
Simply turning the emotion into a feeling, can help us to take their power away. Not in a negative sense, but I mean we disallow the emotion to cause us to do something rash. Instead, emotions need a little help. They need cognition; thought.
This is how we get our power back.
When thought and emotion come together, we get feeling, and with feeling we can know what is happening and make better choices on how to progress in any given situation.
ExploringYourMind, “While emotions require disconnection (for example, to avoid increasing anger and losing control), feelings need to be heard and redirected.”
Behaviours, actions, reactions, they can all be better organised and used when we act from understood feelings rather than premature emotions.
For me, this is identifying where the emotion came from and vocalising it:
- Shame – I’m ashamed of myself for not exercising so I get defensive and angry at my mom when she comments on my clothes.
- Judgement – I feel judged for having chosen to follow my dream of being a farmer and so I feel contempt in my body when with my family.
- Criticism – I feel criticised for having written that blog post poorly and that made me feel stupid, not enough, and ashamed of my work which manifested as anger, sadness, and fear.
- Not enough-ness – I don’t feel good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, cool enough to be here or do that, and this made me feel sad, angry, envious, contemptuous, disgusted, confused, anxious…
- Fear – I got angry and my stomach churned because I’m afraid to be in this vulnerable moment right now.
- Comparison – I’m jealous of what that girl has on Instagram and that made me envious which felt like sadness and anger and disgust in myself.
- Self-righteousness – I think I’m better than him and that’s why I got angry when he proved me wrong and shame washed over me.
The power of words here is astonishing! Recognising what’s beneath the surface causing the emotions, and then turning them into processible and understandable feelings means we have the information needed to cope.
The Emotions of others
VeryWellMind says, “A large part of emotional intelligence is being able to think about and empathize with how other people are feeling. This often involves considering how you would respond if you were in the same situation.”
This is so beautiful and necessary and often missing from our society. Empathy is wonderful. It’s one of my superpowers!
Being able to take a step back from a situation, think about it from another’s point of view, and then change the way you treat them because of it, is a courageous and compassionate thing. It can create and saviour relationships. It builds connection. It takes the pain away. It kills hard emotions like shame.
When learning about your own emotions, don’t forget to use this new found information when interacting with others, too.
For example, my mom came downstairs to me and asked for my advice. I get annoyed at her for this, as I feel she asks for my advice too often. With my newfound learnings, I breathed through my emotional reaction of frustration/annoyance and instead found compassion.
I looked at it from her perspective: She was feeling insecure about her hair and wanted help through that. I then gave my advice with a smile and kindness that she clearly didn’t expect at first but greatly appreciated in the end.
Emotions are tied to most things in life
- Energy levels
So, if you don’t understand, recognise, or process your emotions, then you aren’t really paying attention to life as a whole and what it means for you on a personal level.
You love that TV show but why? I know I love shows like Friends and HIMYM and Brooklyn 99 and Parks and Rec because I love the friendships and camaraderie shown in them, because I want that for myself and my own life.
Knowledge is power. Self-knowledge is empowering.
Learning about your emotions and feelings is a pathway to learning about yourself, the world around you, why you do what you do, what you want or need, how you love, why you have certain habits, and so much more. It really is life-changing…
Take the time to explore your emotions. Read up on emotional intelligence, like I am, if you want to better experience life.
If you read to the end of both these posts on emotions, then thank you!
I know they were very rough, as I’m just learning about emotions and their depth for myself. But I wanted to share my thoughts so far, to encourage more people to get curious about their emotions and what role they’re playing in their lives.
I’m sure more is to come on this topic!