Understanding emotions

Why do we need to understand emotions in the first place? The short answer would be: to better understand ourselves, our triggers, motivation, reservations and ultimately even dreams. They say that there are only six basic emotions: happiness, sadness, fear, anger, surprise, and disgust. Each of the six, however, is a whole spectrum, not just a single state. Are we able to spot these emotions in ourselves? Do we know when we are angry or sad? Can we unambiguously tell fear from disgust? Even more so: are we sure we can recognize happiness?… 

On the surface, those emotions seem to be pretty straightforward, but there are myriad related questions, which call for quite some self-awareness to answer. By recognizing our own emotions we are able to better choose our actions, instead of being driven by the heat of the moment. I am intentionally not saying “choose our emotions” because emotions are beyond us. We cannot control them. However, we are able and in fact responsible for controlling the expressions of these emotions and, as I have already said, our actions fueled by these emotions. 

Thus, where should one start? There is an exercise in coaching which is aimed exactly at teaching us to better understand our emotions. It is based, like many other things, on enhancing our self-awareness. There are three questions, all of which are feeling based. To begin with, one needs to answer where in one’s body is the emotion felt. Namely, when you are, for instance, angry, where in your body do you feel it? Is anger in your head? Is it in your stomach? Where do you feel it?

Next question elaborates on that and suggests you give your emotion a color, temperature and give a general description of how does it look. For example, my anger (let’s stick with that one) is burning black with a red core, very hot, located at the top of my head and in my forehead.

Finally, it is suggested to give your emotion a speed and movement trajectory. My anger is slow and stable, it doesn’t move by itself. Even more so, if it is not released, it triggers tears and a headache. Yes, I can cry from anger.

The exercise as I know it ends here. However, I find it useful to add some more questions:

  • Are you able to spot the beginning of this emotion? What triggers it? 
  • Does this emotion block your reasoning? Are you better without it? 
  • Are you able to put this emotion to a good use? 
  • How do you regulate this emotion? Are you able to release it? Are you able to control its intensity?
  • What you definitely should not do when you feel this emotion? Where can you bring damage when acting under the influence of this emotion?

When reflecting on my own emotional spectrum, I have found that the questions above allow me to enhance my self-awareness and improve both the decision-making process and in general my interaction with those around me. It doesn’t mean that I am now a master of self-control. No way! I still find myself e.g. crying from anger on certain occasions or feeling the need to run to the bathroom because my fear resides in my bowels (and in the lower back). Nevertheless, knowing which situations, actions and even words can cause this or that emotional reaction, gives me a better control over myself and, most importantly, it gives me a possibility to choose my further actions.

What is your relationship with your own emotions? How well do you know yourself?

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