As a therapist and coach, I find people often struggle with emotions. Some people have trouble feeling their emotions at all–they have numbed themselves so completely that they neither feel particularly good nor particularly bad. This is a problem because they don’t know what they feel. There isn’t enough intensity to register the emotion.
Others feel their emotions so intensely that the negative emotions disrupt their lives. They are so depressed, angry, fearful, hurt or guilty that they cannot enjoy their lives. This is a problem for them, as well as for those with whom they interact.
Much of what I do in my work with clients is to help them figure out what to do about their emotions. Sometimes this means helping them identify what they are feeling and what to do about it; other times it means letting go of the negative emotion so that they are able to get the lessons from their life experiences and move on.
One of the challenges is figuring out the message from a specific emotion. This is often the task my clients face–understanding the messages their emotions bring them, then figuring out what to do about it.
Deciphering the message behind emotions is a three-step task:
Step 1: You must identify the emotion. What are you feeling? Most of us carry emotions in our bodies, and, with practice, you can learn what emotion causes that feeling in the pit of your stomach, or makes your head tingle. The sensations and locations are unique to each individual, and usually to each emotion. It requires you to “tune in” to your insides, paying attention to the sensations you have and determining what the emotion is behind them. This takes practice!
Step 2: Once you have determined what emotion you are feeling, you must next determine the reason for the emotion. I suspect that our emotions evolved as a way to signal us to pay attention to something. Emotions carry with them messages and underscore the learning that we are supposed to get from our experiences.
According to Karla McLaren’s book “Emotional Genius: Discovering the Deepest Language of the Soul“, anger typically carries with it the message that your boundaries are being violated, or that someone isn’t being congruent in their interactions with you–that their inside intention doesn’t match the outside persona they display to the world. The emotion of frustration is there to give you the message that the action you are taking is not effective. Sadness is a signal asking you to allow the release of an imminent loss—one that it is in our best interest to let go. Grief signals that we have no choice about releasing something, that the loss or death has already occurred. Fear is a message to pay attention to danger; that is a threat to our physical, mental, emotional or spiritual well-being. Vulnerability signals that something significant is about to change or be revealed. Hurt is a message that someone has done something to violate a boundary. Guilt is about you violating someone else’s boundaries or your own (usually not living according to your own values). These are the negative emotions that typically cause the most difficulty.
Notice that there is no judgment about emotions. The message from the emotion is there, and if heeded, the emotion dissipates. Message received. It is when the message is ignored, however, that problems begin. Like a child having a temper tantrum who is being ignored, the emotion intensifies. It may then begin to cause serious problems such as depression, rage, shame, suicidal urges, anxiety and/or panic. Heeding the message then may be problematic because of the impact those intensified emotions have on our lives and those around us. It is never too late, however. Paying attention to the message behind the emotion takes practice, but better allows you to live your life the way you were intended to live–full of happiness, joy and peace.
Step 3: The final step in the process is taking action. What do you need to do to heed the message your emotions have brought you? This might mean enforcing your boundaries with someone who takes advantage of you, grieving the loss of someone who has died, or looking at what you need to do to feel safe, for example. Once you take action about the message, the emotion can dissipate and you’ll notice far more of those positive messages.
If you want help managing emotions that are too intense or emotions that you’ve numbed so much you no longer feel them, consider getting help with this issue. It doesn’t require years of therapy. There are now several techniques that can help you move on and do it quickly. Want more information? Contact Linda Pucci, Ph.D. at 865-983-7544 or email me at Linda@InnerResourceCenter.com to schedule a phone or SKYPE session to discuss your situation.
© 2012 Linda S. Pucci, Ph.D. All rights reserved.