James* took pride in himself for being a rational man who doesn’t get emotional and he excelled at work. However, although he looked cool and collected on the surface, internally he always had a feeling that he didn’t belong and he had to prove himself to earn people’s respect. He started relationships but he often after a while he felt that the partners were not right for him and they did not satisfy his needs. James had been sent to a boarding school at an early age and he had had to rely on his own resources when he missed home and having familiar, comforting people and things around him. He felt he couldn’t communicate his distress to his parents who were paying so much for his education. Often, he felt lonely as a boy.
Jane* felt that she was often led by her feelings and particularly when she was in a relationship she was in a state of anxiety as her partner(s) did not respond to her emotional needs in a way that would have reassured her. Jane often lived in her head and she experienced racing thoughts that she tried to control and she felt bad when she could not stop them. Jane grew up in a single parent household where her mother had to often leave with babysitters and Jane was never sure when her mother would get back from work. There was no one to help Jane to understand her emotional responses.
Are you fiercely independent? How do you react to powerful emotions? Do you block them, because they feel too overwhelming and you need to be in charge of your emotions? You may then feel anxious with the built up of powerful feelings wanting to come out and perhaps they sometimes burst out.
Alternatively, perhaps you feel that “I’m too emotional and I shouldn’t be like this. I should be in charge of my feelings”. You may feel quite ashamed of your feelings. Perhaps someone has even told you that your feelings are not valid or they silently communicated to you that your feelings are not allowed. You may even think that your emotions are a bit of a nuisance because they might come out at times when it feels inconvenient for you.
You may be interested in understanding how our early experiences impact our emotional responses when we are in a relationship as an adult.
I wanted to write post the importance of understanding our emotions as understanding our emotions is so hard for so many and this can lead to various difficulties such as anxiety, depression, relationship difficulties, addiction and so on.
Dr. Antonio Damasio explains the difference between feelings and emotions by saying that emotions are bodily reactions and feelings are our way of making sense of what is going on in the body. If you want to know even more about this, here is a video of Dr. Damasio talking about feelings and emotions.
Understanding and recognising your emotions is vital for your well-being. They are your body’s ways of communicating with you about what is going on, for example, if you have been let down, you may experience anger, fear, and/or sadness.
Of course, some feelings are more difficult than others, such as shame which is perhaps the most uncomfortable of all, but they are equally important and what matters is that how you react to your feelings and acknowledge them as they arise. An important part of knowing your emotional experience is understanding which part of your body gets activated with a particular emotion. The more connected you are with yourself and the more you understanding your emotional responses the easier it is to deal with life’s challenges as you understand why something impacts you in a particular way.
If you are stuck in a particular feeling like anger, it can be harmful to your well-being in the long run and there is some evidence to suggest that being stuck in anger can have a negative impact on your physical health. Becoming aware of your feelings, approaching them with love and kindness can help you to reduce anger. Often anger masks other feelings like hurt and sadness. Therefore, it is important to acknowledge all emotions as you experience them.
Emotional awareness also helps you in your relationships with others. If 90% of how we respond to our partner is being triggered by our own history, it is really important to know our trigger points and emotional responses. The better you know yourself and the better you are able to communicate your needs, your sore spots and what you want out of a relationship. Understanding your own reactions to a situation is likely to help you to understand why your partner reacts in a particular way.
If you struggle to be in touch with your emotions you may refrain from having difficult conversations in your relationship and think that the grass is greener on the other side because you are with the wrong partner. However, this may be a relationship pattern and being fearful of your emotional responses can lead to you having a series of unsuccessful relationships. Similarly, if you struggle to understand your emotional responses you may be living in your head potentially creating scenarios in your head and this may increase your anxiety and you may jump to conclusions.
The better you understand your emotional responses and are open to exploring them, the more likely you are to be able to respond to your partner in a way that helps in overcoming difficulties. Recently I wrote a post about 7 Steps for transforming your relationship.
Parenting is challenging and your little ones challenge your ability to be calm and in tune with your own emotional responses on a daily basis. You may come home after a long day and have lots on your mind, there is a mess everywhere and you react. In those moments it is important to understand what you are reacting to…Was it your challenging day: the frustrations at work, not feeling like you got heard by your boss or something else was triggered during the day but you could not respond to it at the time? The mess may irritate you and feel like the worst thing in the world, but it is really important to understand what is it about the mess that irritates you so much. The better you understand your own journey, how life has treated you and what are your triggers, the more patient and responsive parent you are able to be as you acknowledge your feelings when they are being triggered by your little ones. Your role as a parent is to help your little ones to navigate their emotional responses and name them.
Babies, toddlers, and children require adults to teach them not just about practical skills but the parents and their ability to teach about emotions is equally important. If you grew up in a family where your parent(s) were able to calmly comfort you and help you to name your emotional responses, the chances are that as an adult you know yourself relatively well and have a sense of being loved and accepted as you are.
However, if you were parents were very anxious, absent or even at times frightening when you were growing up it may be very difficult for you to know how you truly feel and you may be frightened of your stronger emotions. Even if you didn’t learn about feelings in your early years, it is never too late to start. You may wish to have help from a supportive therapist or try the following exercise on your own.
Being mindful of and understanding your emotions is central for your self-care and becoming self-compassionate. If you have always tried to block out or hide your feelings, it can be frightening starting to become aware of your feelings. We will start gently.
When starting out choose a time when you won’t be disturbed. Spend 1-5 minutes just observing your emotional and physical states. Close your eyes if you feel comfortable. Then begin by becoming mindful of feelings and not judging them as they appear. Notice how your body feels and try to name the different sensations.
Emotions are like waves: they come and go, high and low. So in the future, start seeing feelings like waves and just expect that at one point even the very painful feelings will subside.
If you are flooded with emotions due to a history of trauma you may wish to read about childhood trauma.
I hope you found this post useful in terms of thinking about your emotions and feelings and how important they are for your general well-being. If you are struggling to get in touch with your emotions, seeing a psychological therapist who can act as your companion and support on the journey of self-discovery can be helpful. If you are looking for a psychological therapist to help you with getting to know your emotions, please take a look at the services page.
*These cases do not refer to any actual past or present clients but are a collection of experiences I have heard over the years.