I had a client this week who felt like his intellectual side, not his emotional side, was leading his day-to-day life. He had a burden on his shoulders, trying to understand why he couldn’t express his emotions. How could he maintain healthy relationships if he felt apathetic and lacked feelings?
After I asked him a lot of questions to understand the outcome he desired, I shared some tools to empower him. He walked away from our session very slowly, deep in thought. He was probably thinking, “I have a lot of work to do.”
In my follow-up call less than a week later, we talked about how he digested the information and applied it to life. One of the biggest take-aways is that he realized that his emotions are just information. They are neither good nor bad.
Brené Brown stated that “human emotions and experiences are layers of biology, biography, behavior, and backstory.”
Labeling our Emotions
Emotions help us manage ourselves, understand our surroundings, and respond to others. Being able to distinguish between a range of emotions helps us manage these emotions better. The ability to label emotions is referred to as having emotional granularity. If our vocabulary to describe our emotions is lacking, it is more difficult to communicate what we need from others and accept their support.
Understanding our Emotions
To help my client, I used the metaphor of passengers on bus. If you’re driving a bus, you will feel empowered by knowing the kids’ names and personalities and your bus route. The passengers are like your emotions, thoughts and experiences.
Emotions are temporary. Just because you drive a busload of children, it doesn’t mean the kids are with you permanently. For example, they are not going to accompany you home and eat dinner with you. The same goes for emotions. Emotions do not last forever.
Emotions are information, and turning the information into a knowledge is power. The more you recognize and feel the sensations in your body, the more you can understand how they communicate a message to you.
Accepting our Emotions
Accept your emotions. Our job is to get curious about emotions– and judgment is the opposite of curiosity. Back to the bus metaphor, if a child is loud, you can judge the child and label him or her as a bad kid. You can react to their noise and be upset. You might even be so upset that you crash the bus and hurt other people. Or you can address the needs of that child, not judge the child. You can tell yourself that their loud behavior is neither good nor bad. It is just is. By being curious about their needs and addressing them, you’ll reduce your angriness and stress.
Similarly, you can address your emotions by naming them, knowing their needs, and taking them where they are intended.
If you felt discomfort in your body and you recognize that you are feeling envy, you might name it as a bad emotion. Maybe you feel disappointment in yourself for not being able to have what the other person has, then judge yourself for experiencing this feeling as you might think it is bad of me to envy others.
However, If you name these emotions and consider their message by having a curious mind, you would learn how this shows up in your body. Moreover, you will realize you feel this way because you admire what they have. So, you will understand the backstory, your behavior, and respond to this message accordingly. You have an opportunity to try to improve yourself in this area. You could possibly feel happy for the person and happy that you have a talented person that you can learn from.Judging our emotions as good or bad could lead us to resistance, while getting curious about emotions can help us understand ourselves.
Struggling with Emotions
I repeat, emotions are just information trying to tell us that something is going on. Here’s what I tell clients who are struggling with countless emotions or a lack of emotion:
- Realize that emotions are temporally showing up to communicate something.
- Take the power from the emotions by naming them and accepting the way they are.
- Feel the emotions in your body and understand how they show up in your body. What biological change happens to you?
- Acknowledge the emotions by thanking them for coming to help you.
- Do not shoot the messenger. Emotions are just coming to you as physiological changes to tell you something.
- Know that the intensity of emotions will fade, emotions are not you, watch it leaving you.
- You are not your emotions. Use the phrase “I feel” vs. “I am.”
- Allow your higher self to respond accordingly.
- Practice self compassion. Celebrate and be gentle with yourself if it took you longer than you wished.
Learning from Emotions
Encountering emotion is a learning opportunity. Learn behaviors that are associated with this emotion, and learn to stop the unwanted behaviors. Emotions make you pause and say to yourself, “I care about this information, and this is relevant to me right now. This is how I want to respond.”
This is called “relevance realization.” We’re aware of the emotions and their relevance. Instead of cold calculation, relevance realization is thoughtful understanding.
Think about a scenario in which you’re angry. When you respond in anger, you might assume the identity of someone who’s a victim facing a villain or a hero facing a monster. Think about the same scenario, but this time instead of feeling angry, you’re sad. You might assume the identity of someone who feels abandoned or unloved. In both scenarios, it’s best to identify the feeling you have, acknowledge it’s there, experience the sensations it’s causing in your body, and then respond.
Numbing Your Emotions
When we stop numbing our emotions, we have a chance to re-evaluate our lives. We can learn how to love ourselves and not just behave in ways that make other people feel comfortable. If we turn to food, alcohol, work, or something else to numb ourvulnerability and escape our emotions, our lives will be marked by pain and suffering. If instead, we lean in and deal with our feelings, we’ll understand ourselves, our self-worth, and our feelings better.
Ruminating Over Emotions
While feeling our emotions is healthy, overthinking and overanalyzing emotions can be unhealthy. The fastest tip I can give you is this: If you paused and felt worst, stop and do something else. It means you are ruminating. The goal is not to feel worse, but to feel better and empower ourselves.
Emotions are tricky, whether you see yourself as overly emotional or not emotional enough. Sometimes, it helps to sit down with a coach like me to help you sort through these emotions and move from Point A to Point B in your life. Contact me to get started.