How To Get Curious About Your Emotions
My mission is to support you to make the changes you need in order to feel better – whether that’s in your relationship with yourself, your partner, or other important figures in your life.
You might be surprised to hear that a big part of what’s holding you back from getting what you want and need is probably your relationship with your emotions.
That’s because our emotions are an incredible source of information about’s working for us, and what isn’t.
Western culture tends to separate the heart and mind, or emotions and thoughts. And it often values rational thought over the power of our feelings and intuition.
This serves us well in some areas. But it can leave us feeling disconnected from ourselves and others. This is especially true as we mature, and need our relationships to deepen in order to last.
Last year I wrote a post called How to Give Your Emotions Just The Right Amount of Attention to Help You Make Good Decisions.
Since then I have heard from many of you about how helpful you found it.
So here is part two: How To Get Curious About Your Emotions – And Help Them Pass Through
Emotions Are Powerful, But Temporary
Feelings are powerful. Have you ever noticed how an emotion can feel so strong that in the moment that you almost feel like you’re always going to feel this way?
That’s normal. But it’s not true, of course. Our feelings are changing all the time.
Emotions are messengers. They exist in order to get our attention.
When we experience uncomfortable emotions, we often try to ignore them or make them go away.
But this is actually counterproductive. The sooner we pay attention a feeling, the sooner it passes through.
And the more you practise this, the more evidence you will gather of just how temporary your feelings really are.
Realising how often and how quickly your emotions change will help you to feel more relaxed and accepting about it as you see them come and go.
Your feelings don’t define you. They’re just your system’s way of informing you of its response to certain conditions. You get to decide what, if anything, to do about them.
Keeping Perspective About Your Emotions
Sometimes we get so caught up in our emotions that we take the things that cause them very seriously.
And certainly there are times when it’s absolutely right to take those triggers seriously.
But do ever get irritated by minor things, like… the way your partner loads the dishwasher?
Would you like to cultivate a different attitude to that irritation?
If you want to make a conscious effort to gain perspective on your feelings, you might find it helps to create a mental cartoon character of the emotion.
If your irritation were a cartoon character, what would it look like? What kind of creature would it be? Can you give it a voice? How about a name?
This can help you to stop taking the feeling so seriously.
How To Get Curious About Your Emotions – Developing The Skill
My previous post on this topic was about noticing how you relate to your emotions, and recognising that you have a relationship with them which is within your control.
Once you do that, you’re free to work on that relationship and develop a more skilful way of relating to your emotions.
You can use the power of curiosity to cultivate a relationship with your feelings which works for you.
We have evolved to avoid things which we find unpleasant, like difficult emotions. But luckily we have also evolved to enjoy being curious and exploring.
So actually even when something is uncomfortable, getting curious about it, breaking it down into its component parts, feels better than trying not to feel it.
And developing our willingness to feel unpleasant emotions – even if just for a few moments – increases our potential to learn from them and make the changes we need in order to feel better.
Dealing With Very Strong Emotions
This post is about how to cultivate an attitude of mindful curiosity about your emotions. With practice, we can benefit from doing this with even our most unpleasant feelings.
But it’s not usually helpful to push yourself in at the deep end when practicing new skills. So I wouldn’t recommend that you try leaning into your strongest, most unpleasant emotions in the heat of the moment, at least at first.
In the heat of the moment our best hope might be just to let our feelings surface, be felt, and pass through, like this:
- Take a deep breath
- Look away from whatever is bothering you
- Label the feeling if you can, e.g. “here comes a wave of anger”
- Notice the physical sensations of the feeling
- Feel it swell up through your body
- Notice how the feeling wanes
When we try to avoid our emotions, we actually give them more power. Trying not to feel your feelings prevents them from following their nature, which is to get your attention then move on.
That’s why curiosity is the key. Because when we’re able to actually feel an emotion, it doesn’t need to stick around. It’s done its job as a communicator.
Getting Curious – What Do Emotions Feel Like?
We feel our emotions in our bodies.
So to get more in touch with your feelings, you need to drop your attention down into your body.
Start by practicing with your milder unpleasant emotions. You can do this either as they come up, or by taking time to reflect on them throughout or at the end of the day.
Ask yourself: how does this actually feel in my body?
Which parts of my body feel activated or deactivated?
The physical sensations are usually accompanied by thoughts, or stories we’re telling ourselves. They might be unique to the situation, but they’re generally similar kinds of thoughts.
And really that’s all that’s going on when we feel emotions, even when we feel overwhelmed by them. They’re a combination of physical sensations, accompanied by some thoughts.
When you deconstruct it, you can see your feelings for what they are, and they can’t control you.
You have a healthier way to deal with them.
Getting Really Curious About Your Emotions
As you practise this, you can get even more curious about your emotions.
Just for now, let go of the story you’re telling yourself, what’s happened, and what you’re thinking about it. Forget even the name of the emotion you’re feeling. Just focus on the physical sensations in the body.
Here are some questions you can ask yourself:
- Where do I feel this emotion? (Throat, chest, stomach, belly etc.)
- What does it feel like? I(f you didn’t have a word for the emotion, how would you describe it?)
- Is it hard, tight, loose, open?
- Is it more of a sinking feeling or a lifting or rising?
- Does it feel jittery, or more buzzy?
- Is there a sense of pressure?
- Does it ache?
- Does it have a temperature?
- How about a colour?
Next, turn your attention to the edges of the emotion. How big is it? Where does it stop? Notice how beyond that point, you don’t feel the emotion. What’s it like to bring your attention to the edges of the feeling?
If you start to feel overwhelmed by the emotion, you can read my tips for calming yourself down in part one of this post here.
Remember that your nervous system naturally settles on each out breath. So if you start to feel uncomfortable, take a few deep breaths, focusing on the out breath.
When you practise this way of looking at your difficult emotions, they become less intense and don’t last as long.
As Carl Jung taught us, “what you resist persists”. When we pay attention to our feelings in a balanced way, they pass through more quickly and easily. And this is a skill we can all develop.
Get In Touch
If you would like to join my waiting list for counselling (on your own or with a partner), or book a relationships after kids coaching call, you can contact me here, or hit reply if you’re reading this on email.
Part 3 of this post, about what your emotions have to tell us about our needs, is coming next week.