Emotions Are Messengers
Emotions are messengers, so let’s think about how we can learn from them.
In part one we looked at how to develop your awareness of your emotions, and check you’re relating to them in a balanced way.
In part two we covered how getting really curious about your emotions actually helps them to pass through.
This is part three – about how emotions are messengers, and have lots to tell us about our needs.
Are Some Emotions Positive and Some Negative?
In our culture we tend to label emotions as either positive or negative. But it’s actually a bit more complicated than that.
It’s more useful to think of them as signals that our needs are, or are not, getting met.
However, it is true that some feelings are pleasant, some are unpleasant, and some are more neutral.
But just because a feeling is unpleasant, it doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t find it compelling, especially if it’s familiar to you.
The truth about human beings is that we’re not all brilliant at doing the things that make us feel good.
It’s useful to notice which feelings you feel more comfortable with, and which you try to push away. (When we get reactive, discomfort with an emotion is usually at the root of it.)
Noticing and acknowledging that you’re finding a feeling unpleasant can be part of the process of relaxing your resistance to it.
You might say something to yourself like “I don’t like the way this feels, but I can let myself feel it anyway”.
And with the pleasant feelings, bringing more awareness to them can only increase our capacity for joy and pleasure.
Emotions Are Messengers – Pay Attention
Emotions are there for a reason. They’re a sign that something is important to you (even if it won’t be in five minutes’ time, never mind five years). We don’t feel emotions for no reason!
The first step is to be aware of your emotions, and check you’re relating to them in a balanced way. Then you can get curious about them, allowing yourself to feel them
At this point, it’s helpful to turn your attention to whatever triggered the feeling. Once you have felt it and it’s died down, you’re free to reflect on what caused it.
Often we either try to ignore our emotions, or take them as a call to action. But really they’re just information, and you’re better off when you slow right down the process that goes FEEL > THINK > ACT.
Your feelings are there to provide information about what matters to you. They’re your cue to start reflecting on what’s going on, and how important it is.
Then you can use that information to decide if there is anything you need to do, either within yourself, with someone else, or with a situation.
Creating some distance between yourself and your emotions in this way is not about becoming passive or resigned.
It’s about seeing clearly, and making good decisions.
Why Am I Feeling Like This?
The triggers for strong emotions are either external things (e.g. something that happened, or something someone said or did) or internal things (e.g. a thought or judgement about ourselves).
A good question to ask yourself in order to understand your emotions better is: what is this feeling telling me about what I need?
- Fear tells us we need to get to a place of physical or emotional safety or reassurance
- Anger tells us we need to re/establish limits, boundaries or expectations
- Sadness tells us we need comfort, space, or support to grieve, remember and let go (when we’re ready)
- Joy tell us we need to do more of whatever we’ve been doing, relish and share it
Most of us are used to focusing our attention on the triggers or what we consider to be the causes of our emotions.
If you want to make change in your life, it’s more helpful to think about what the feeling’s message is about your needs.
Sometimes it’s about something you need in the here and now.
Other times (and especially with emotional places you find yourself in often) it’s about unmet needs from way back, probably from your relationships with your earliest caregivers (because that’s where you learnt what a relationship was).
Usually it’s a bit of both.
When you’re feeling strong emotions, do you notice yourself creating stories about what they mean about you, or about how others see (or misunderstand, or undervalue) you?
These can be uncomfortable places to look, but the potential for greater personal freedom when we’re willing to go there is immense.
Building Your Resources To Cope With Challenging Emotions
Difficult emotions are intense, challenging experiences, and support is vital in difficult times.
Here are some ways you can build up your inner resources:
- Meditation, including loving kindness
- Self-care practices (link: https://insightconnection.uk/self-care/self-care-ideas/)
- Spending time with people who care about you, you feel comfortable with, and enjoy
- Healthy activities like exercise, hobbies, music, anything that nourishes you
- Practicing gratitude
- Being generous and patient with yourself
It’s much easier to develop these habits when we’re feeling good, but any time is a a good time to start.
Human beings are social creatures. It’s normal to need things from other people, and ok to ask for support and let people be there for you.
Over time those external resources build up our inner ones.
Make it your goal to develop your capacity to receive the pleasure of good things in your life – this is the secret to wellbeing.
Most of us have a tendency when we’re suffering to layer on more suffering.
So when we feel angry, or anxious, we add a layer of self-criticism on top.
When you realise you’re doing this, you can challenge it.
Would you criticise a friend who was feeling low?
You can practise bringing the same tenderness to yourself that you would to anyone else who is suffering, until it becomes a habit.
You deserve caring attention and compassion just as much as anyone else, and you know how to offer it.
Be a good friend to yourself.
It can help to think of someone you’ve had a good connection with and who has been there for you. For example, you could try being with yourself as your favourite grandparent was.
Emotions Are Messengers – They Tell Us What We Need
Emotions are messengers about our needs. When we change how we relate to our feelings, we change how we relate to ourselves, other people, and the world. This is how:
- Build and develop awareness of your emotions. Recognise what’s happening, name it, and start to feel it.
- Increase your ability to be balanced with your feelings. Don’t get caught up in them. Don’t resist, or try to avoid them. Instead, give yourself the space to feel them in a balanced way.
- Be curious about the experience. Look at it more clearly. See how feelings come and go. Recognise that emotions aren’t personal, and the way you feel in any given moment isn’t who you are.
- Develop a base of inner strength and support so you have the resources to handle difficult emotions when they arise.
- Recognise that life’s challenges are where we develop patience, kindness, compassion, wisdom and resilience.
- Keep practising, and keep growing.
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