If you’ve ever seen the Pixar animated movie Inside Out, you’ll probably remember that the five main characters are Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust, and Anger. We have all experienced these five universal emotions at some point throughout our lives. Emotions are subjective experiences that involve a change in our physiological state and impact our behaviors and actions. Believe it or not, most emotions last less than 90 seconds..
Embrace the full range of emotions
In my work, a common belief I hear is that emotions are thought of as good or bad. “Good” emotions include happiness, joy, contentment, and excitement. “Bad” emotions can be anger, sadness, jealousy, and rage.
But life consists of the full range of emotions, both the good and the bad, and everything in between. We’re not supposed to only feel happy and positive emotions all the time, even though that’s what we’re constantly being told by the media we consume and the society around us. According to the messages that we are told, feeling anything other than happiness means that we have a problem that needs to be fixed. Feeling sad, frustrated, lonely, or anxious is not good and the solution is to do something to numb or distract ourselves from feeling our feelings. The difficult thing is that no matter how much we distract or numb the pain, we will eventually have to deal with our emotions later, even if the distraction worked for a short time.
Emotions have a purpose
What if we thought of emotions as information for our minds and bodies? What if we started from a place of curiosity, rather than judgment? Emotions are meant to move us to action; they have a purpose. What if there was a reason behind why you’re experiencing what you’re experiencing? What if there are no good or bad emotions?
Dealing with big emotions
Here are some questions that I’d encourage you to ask when you’re feeling a big emotion:
- What are my emotions telling me?
- What do I need?
- How does my body feel right now?
- What can I do to feel better?
Let’s try to make this more concrete. For instance, anger might be telling us that one of our boundaries has been crossed or violated. The action our emotion is propelling us towards might be to set a boundary, whether with ourselves or someone else. For example, if you’re angry that your roommate has eaten the leftover sandwich that you’ve been saving in the refrigerator, telling your roommate why you’re upset and asking them to respect your belongings by not eating what’s yours is the action that your emotion might be moving you to. Once you’ve talked to your roommate about what is bothering you and what you’d prefer they do differently in the future, you might feel better.
The meaning behind our emotions
Let’s say you’ve already spoken to your roommate about your kitchen rules prior. The action here might be to reinforce the conversation you’ve already had about your preferences about the kitchen. Your anger might be moving you to have another conversation so that your boundaries are clearer, and your roommate also has a chance to share their thoughts and feelings.
Here are some examples of the meaning behind emotions:
- Sadness – you are grieving because you lost something that mattered to you
- Relief – you’re glad things turned out the way they did
- Disappointment – you had an expectation of how things would go, and your expectation was different than reality
- Jealousy – there is something that you want deeply and you don’t have it
- Exhaustion – there is too much on your plate and you need to rest
- Proud – you feel good about who you are and what you’ve accomplished
Emotions make us human!
Emotions are universal and what makes us human. It’s not bad or wrong to feel any certain way, but what we do about our emotions matters. The next time you feel a strong emotion, ask yourself – what are my emotions trying to tell me, and what can I do to help myself process the emotion?
Navigating big emotions can be challenging. Talking to a therapist can help if you feel that you’re looking for someone to walk alongside you as you untangle what your emotions are trying to say to you. Reach out to our office to take the next step and find a therapist!
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