Our emotions and emotional health play an incredibly important role in our day to day life. It’s not always easy to know how to identify and correct them, but it may be easier than you think.
Identifying Your Emotions
Let’s start with a story:
For reasons of her own, Veronica keeps her hair cut short, and her taste in men run toward the hairy side. She and Eric have been married for nearly 10 years now. At the start of their marriage, Eric kept a clean-shaven face because he was still in the army. When he entered civilian life, however, he grew out a full beard to Veronica’s delight.
Now, several years later, Eric has started working for a security company. Because of the nature of his work, Eric must once again keep a clean-shaven face. This is partially because of the company’s dress-code, but also has to do with safety. Veronica understands this, but also hates Eric’s job because of it. She loved the beard, after all…
How Do You Feel?
Have you ever asked someone to express an emotion only to get a response that has nothing to do with the original question?
If you asked Veronica how she likes Eric’s new job, and she says something like:
- He’s making a lot of money.
- The benefits the company offers are great.
- It’s nice because he gets the weekends off.
- It’s great because he’s home before 6 p.m. every night.
- It’s a steady job that I’m grateful he found.
- I hate that he can’t have his beard.
Which one of theseresponses answer the question you asked by properly expressing an emotion?
This isn’t a trick question. There is a correct response here.
To every situation there are pros and cons, and we’re trained from childhood to weigh those out. It doesn’t matter if you’re deciding to take a job that will have a serious downside like Eric, or if you’re weighing the options to express the gratitude or express your actual emotion in response to a question asked of you.
The trouble is that in this case knowing the difference is hard for some of us.
Pinning Down An Emotion
The first 5 responses above are measured responses typical of the statements we all tell ourselves, or answers we give when it comes time to identify, express, or share an emotion.
Veronica’s trained default setting is to share the fact that she feels grateful for Eric’s job because it was the best decision for their family as a whole. You must be wondering what the big deal is. It’s just a beard after all. It’s not like he can’t keep a scruffy face during the weekend, and many people prefer the clean-shaven look.
But, consider this. Most of the women in Veronica’s family have been diagnosed with some sort personality or psychological disorder. Her mother experienced horrible postpartum depression after the birth of Veronica’s baby brother. When she finally got through that, her mother became violent and physically abusive toward Veronica.
For Veronica, the safety and love that she experienced as a child came from her uncles, father, and grandfather who all had long beards. Her husband having a beard is emotionally important to Veronica. Being able to identify that emotion, and the importance of it is another thing entirely for Veronica- and for all of us.
Theories Of Emotion
There are lots of theories surrounding the classification, use, control, and expression of emotion. Some theories posit that there are as many as 27 distinct emotions. Another theory classifies emotions into primary, secondary, and tertiary based on their use and form. Otherwise, emotions can also be classified as basic and complex.
Regardless, we know that emotions are perceptions and judgments that our brains make where our current situations are concerned. Primarily, these judgments and perceptions are based off of the goals we have and desires we hold.
Modern society tells us that fame or money can create happiness for us. Happiness is the emotion created when we feel content, joyful, or gratified. Therefore, many of us will strive for those feelings of contentment and joy through attaining material and monetary wealth.
Regardless of how you classify emotions, the big ones tend to be:
Discerning the emotion of happiness from feelings of contentment or gratification can be difficult, even for the most emotionally intelligent individuals. In Veronica’s case, when she’s asked to express an emotion about Eric’s new job, she can easily answer with her feelings of contentment rather than her emotionally sad state of mind.
Emotions and feelings are different even though we tend to use the words and concepts interchangeably. Feelings are reactions to our emotions and are highly influenced by experiences and beliefs. Emotions are the responses that occur in our brains in response to external stimuli. Think fight or flight reactions.
Identifying your emotions starts with understanding your mind-body connection, and the feelings you’re currently aware of.
Learning To Correct And Manage Your Emotions
We all experience difficult emotions. It’s part of the human experience. After all, our emotions are the basis of our primal survival instincts. Our ancestors evolved in an environment of eat or be eaten, and fight or flight. It’s possible that fight or flight was our first emotion.
So, even difficult emotions like sadness, anger, or happiness aren’t bad or negative in and of themselves. Good/Bad, positive/negative… These are attributes that we assign to things because our human minds need neat ways to classify things.Good/Bad, positive/negative… These are attributes that we assign to things because our human minds need neat ways to classify things. Click To Tweet
This is especially difficult with emotions because all emotions serve a purpose. Unfortunately, this also makes some emotional experiences more difficult to pin down.
Control And Regulation
First things first.
You cannot control your emotions. So, get that out of your head now.
Here’s another story:
Lisa and John married when they were 18, and shortly brought two daughters into the world. By the time the oldest one was five years old, Lisa and John had divorced. It wasn’t exactly amicable to begin with, but over the years they’ve built a life around their daughters.
The oldest daughter, Nicole, lived with Lisa growing up. The youngest daughter, Jennifer, chose to live with John immediately after the divorce. Both Lisa and John agreed to the arrangement and their daughters thrived because of it.
Twenty-five years later at a shared family Thanksgiving, Nicole and Jennifer find themselves immensely grateful to share their family table with both parents, and their respective significant others. John remarried, and Lisa brought her boyfriend to the family dinner. It’s worth noting that this is a tradition with this particular family, strange as it may seem. Although, it’s not perfect – what family is?
Lisa finds herself jealous of John’s very young wife at the table. Originally, Christina was a friend of Nicole’s who started dating John after she was invited to a mix family dinner. Lisa finds Christina’s presence as John’s new wife difficult to deal with.
In this situation, Lisa really has no right to be jealous yet she is. Lisa and John have been divorced for 25 years, and successfully raised two girls together. Also, Nicole has accepted Christina and John’s relationship and is happy that her father finally re-married.
Still, try as she might, Lisa can’t control the feelings of jealousy or her angry emotions. She can, however, regulate how she responds to these difficult emotions.
Along with anger and jealousy, Lisa also feels guilt. She and John worked very hard at building a life for their daughters around a loving relationship. The fact that they can’t live under the same roof or share the same last name was beside the point. Both parents have a loving relationship with their daughters, and their family is genuinely happy. Given this, Lisa feels guilty because she’s jealous and angry.
Learning to manage anykind of emotion, whether it’s difficult to experience or not, comes down to personal responsibility. Although none of us can control the hormonal releases that create our emotions or our feelings about those emotions, we can control how we respond and react.
In this sense, personal responsibility helps Lisa to experience her emotions, understand what they are and why she’s experiencing them, and then react in a socially acceptable way. If she loses her temper or says something nasty at the Thanksgiving dinner table, her daughters may not appreciate her actions. John and Christina certainly won’t.
In this situation, reacting to her hostility and jealousy would only cause damage. On the other hand, by taking responsibility for her own feelings, and dealing with her hostility and jealousy in a responsible manner helps Lisa to cope with her difficult emotions.
Leave your comment below. What is your approach to identify and correct your emotions?by