In this final blog in a three part series on The Anatomy of Emotions, I’d like to teach you how to meet, greet and move through your emotions so that you can rely on feelings as useful data in your daily interactions and decision-making processes. I’ll take you through the 6 primary emotions–their descriptions and their functions. And, I’ll give you a method to use with each emotion that you encounter. I do this daily with my clients in my psychotherapy practice in Washington DC. Here’s your short-cut to doing it daily for yourself and for the health of your relationships.
Meet Fear (Anxiety): Fear is just fear, but it becomes anxiety or worry when we do something with our fear. Fear can also shift into excitement when we open up to its experience. At times, we can expand into fearful situations and new challenges. When we do so (and still remain physically and emotionally safe), we get to experience the full range of our feelings, which can leave us feeling excited and alive. Practice: Allowing yourself to feel your fear bit by bit in a safe, calm environment. Try turning toward your fear when you feel scared in a new relationship or an emotionally difficult time with a loved one. Relax or meditate while also holding your specific fear in mind. Then note what emerges from that experience–what did you feel? What did you learn?
Meet Shame (Guilt, Embarrassment, Humiliation): Brene Brown [https://brenebrown.com/blog/2013/01/14/shame-v-guilt/] defines Shame as feeling bad about ourselves. Guilt is when we feel bad about something we have done. Embarrassment is when we feel bad about something that happened to us and we feel alone in it. Humiliation is when we feel bad about something happening to us that we didn’t deserve. In short, all of these feelings flow from feeling feeling bad, but then we do something with it–we create or assign meaning to this “bad feeling.” Feeling guilty could be functional–it could allow us to fix something that we’ve done wrong. Feeling embarrassment could allow us to notice that we need comfort about an unpleasant event that others have also experienced. Feeling humiliation could allow us to grant ourselves compassion or kindness that others didn’t offer or missed somehow. If any of these feelings last too long, then they lose their healthy purpose—connection. Then we end up feeling like we are “bad,” and unworthy of love. We feel “not good enough.” Practice: Notice the ways that you don’t feel “good enough” in your life. What story are you telling yourself? Is it backed in fact or feeling? What feelings are old and stuck? What feelings need attention and comfort? Give yourself permission to rewrite your story. Try writing it from the perspective of a compassionate friend. Then read it to a trusted friend or loved one. Brene Brown suggests that the best antidote to shame is sharing it and experiencing connection with others around that emotional pain.
Meet Anger (Hate): Hate is expressed when anger and hurt are combined; it’s flipside is passion, which also includes anger and hurt. Anger is a signal feeling, much like anxiety. It cues us that we have a feeling or experience that needs either protection or attention. When we ignore our anger, we can experience resentment, which is when we feel angry about wanting something and not getting it. Our anger unaddressed can grow into outrage. Our early signs of anger or anxiety are often experienced as irritation. Our walled off anger can result in feeling numb. Revenge is when we justify our angry actions. In short, anger + action + inattention = more anger and pain. Practice: Seeing your anger and others angry reactions as distress signals. These signals are calling for comfort, connection, and love. Gauge carefully what you think you might need to safely give love either to yourself or your angry loved one. Giving love could come in the form of protection and staying safe until the situation is calm enough to engage. Giving love could also occur in the form of self-compassion, understanding, and time for healing.
Meet Sadness (Grief, Depression): Sadness appears as anger when we let our need for emotional attention and connection go unmet. Sadness is one of the most natural, pure emotions we can experience. When we let ourselves feel fully sad, we can release that feeling. Yet, we often block ourselves from feeling sadness because we avoid emotional pain. Grief is when we feel sad about missing or losing someone or something important to us. When shared, grief can fade over time and our hearts can mend. When blocked or denied, grief can turn into isolation, loneliness, and many other byproducts of pain including addiction, abuse, and affairs. Depression is prolonged, blocked sadness. Depression can occur due to problems in someone’s life situation, in their biology, in their history, and/or in their relationships. Depression needs deep healing and treatment to help alleviate the sadness. Practice: Honoring sadness when it occurs. Sadness lets us know that we love and can be loved. Sadness is a signal that we need human connection. It reminds us that we are living, caring beings. When we allow sadness to flow in and out of our lives, we can begin to notice that joy often accompanies sadness.
Meet Joy (Connection): Joy is the flowing state of happiness that can occur during moments in our lives. We confuse it with an enduring state of being. Happiness is a feeling that can be fleeting and should come and go in life. We do not become happy, we get to feel happy or not in any given moment. Do you remember in Inside Out what the character, JOY, learned when Riley cried after losing her hockey game? JOY learned that crying (or expressed sadness) signals to others that we need comfort. We can be content when we find regular joy in our lives. We are ecstatic when we have an abundance of joyful energy. We could get manic if joy goes unmanaged and disrupts our connections–to ourselves and others.
Practice: Identifying moments of joy and noticing all the senses that you experienced during that joyful time–this is called savoring. What did you hear? What did you taste? What could you see? What did you feel in your body? What were the smells? Let the thoughts fade away. Notice if there were any simple thoughts about the experience that give you meaning.
Do you see the key in all of these emotional states? Healthy emotion occurs in the context of human connection. Next time you meet one of these emotions, stop and connect with it~Meet it, allow it, and ask yourself what it might need in that moment. Then give yourself the gift of human contact!