How to Understand your Emotions
“When we deny our emotion, it owns us”
- Brené Brown
Have you been emotional lately?
We write regularly about the cognitive behavioural cycle. If you are a reader of our articles you will recognise emotions as being one of the three key components of the cognitive cycles that run unconsciously throughout human experiences, keeping us alive and allowing for our conscious Selves to be focussed on more cerebral tasks – but unconsciously manifesting outcomes just the same.
As we have illustrated many times before, thoughts, emotions and behaviours are all intrinsically linked. The nature of each of these is driven by our conditioning and unique model of the world – the individual lens through which each of us views every situation. The playing out of these cycles influences the world around us, for example, in the ways that people respond to us and in the gaining and losing of opportunities through our actions. When the cycles are unconscious, we feel that we are at the mercy of our external environment, however, when we become aware of what is going on with us, we realise that we can choose and change everything!
This week we have chosen to focus on the part of the cycle that involves emotion.
According to knowledgeburrow.com ‘emotions come from the arousal of the nervous system. Neurotransmitters and hormones, such as dopamine and serotonin, are chemicals that are involved in the process of feeling emotions.’ We know there many others are involved too.
We do not think our emotions – we feel them kinaesthetically in our bodies.
They may present as a churning stomach, a tight chest, a pounding head, a creeping feeling in the skin or a feeling of fullness in the heart.
Emotions are body experiences that arise from chemical changes. This may or may not come about because of thought or experience. When the changes are felt, we give the experience meaning. We recognise it as emotion such as sadness, joy, rage, irritation, pride, disappointment, despair or love. If those changes are felt without apparent cause, we may even seek to attribute a reason for them to help us to make sense of our experience.
What do emotions do for us?
If I am walking down a dark alleyway with my phone and handbag exposed and I hear the sound of footsteps behind me, I may automatically quicken my pace. This is because the unconscious cognitive behavioural cycle of the thought of being attacked provoking a feeling of terror in my whole body has prompted the action of speeding up. The emotion of terror has served as part of a mechanism which has kept me safe. The cycles are also at play in helping us to remove things that annoy us, to defend ourselves when we feel threatened and to attract towards us more of the things that we like.
Emotions are the driving force of unconscious behaviours. They are evident in our communication towards others whether we want them to be or not - and so – we are wise if we bring them into our awareness to that we can choose whether or not to let them run. Better still, we can ask ourselves what they can do for us.
Understanding our emotions can be an exceptionally valuable skill in Self-mastery.
Emotions give us valuable information about what is going on for us in any given situation and from that we can learn to process and move through it and forwards.
One of our clients once told us with enormous exasperation that she was extremely fatigued and could not go one more step forward through her life. Once she had moved into an awareness of the immense amount of energy she showed in her frustration, she could see the strength and level of importance of the message that she was receiving – to slow down and tend to her own needs before those of others.
The strength of an emotion can indicate the level of gravity with which the message should be heeded. Perhaps it is a message which has already been expressed many times but repeatedly ignored.
What might your emotions be telling you?
Anger may indicate that you have slipped up in checking your boundaries and been taken advantage of. It might suggest a readjustment.
Envy might indicate that you are coming to know your worth but that your negative core beliefs about Self are getting in the way of you receiving what is yours.
Disappointment is another indication of your appreciating your own worth but might point towards your examining your expectations of others.
Love in all its forms indicates that you appreciate the divine aspects of yourself in others and the resulting behaviours hopefully perpetuate the comfort of mutual supportive lasting relationships – unless you are getting in your own way.
Set the intention to become fully conscious of your emotions as your own personal tool for understanding what is going on with you.
When we are not conscious of our emotions, they leak into all our communications and affect the environment and those around us.
The next time you are in a situation where negative emotions are running high begin stepping back and behaving as your Observer Self. This is the part of you that can describe how you feel, without doing the feeling. When you observe the emotion rather than being consumed by it, you can communicate with clarity. You can talk in weights and measures without being clouded by emotion and you can, with gratitude, register the emotion as a personal signpost.
One of our delegates recently expressed concern at being asked to suppress emotion, but in fact that is not what we are suggesting at all.
Once the situation has passed you can then choose to process it.
You can ask yourself the following:
What emotion did I feel during that interaction?
What was the strength of it?
What was the message in it for me?
Where in my life have I felt like this before?
What unconscious beliefs do I hold about myself that might have produced this response?
Are those beliefs really true for me now?
Can I reframe them?
This is the inner work.
In her book Radical Compassion Tara Brach outlines such work with the acronym R.A.I.N.
She teaches us to:
Recognise the emotion that we have felt. To name it. To take time out for the process.
Allow it. To sit with it and to let everything come up to the surface and be felt. To let ourselves be heard.
Investigate where it comes from. The reason that you were triggered will have its roots in earlier experience and so we can gently follow the feelings back to their source – only if it feels safe to do so.
Nurture. Establish what it is that we need then to feel better. To talk it through? To connect with friends? A positive nurturing mantra? Meditation? Quiet stillness?
There are many ways of doing the inner work once we have understood ourselves to have been triggered into unconsciousness. The above are only two. What is essential to wellbeing is that we remain open and curious with kindness towards the self. It is also imperative that we ask for help when we do not feel that we can do it alone.
For more insights and a host of tools and techniques for exploring the Self and improving your
human experience see our book: