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Utilizing your emotional system

Updated: Jan 8

Emotions can be messy, confusing, and uncomfortable things. So many of us repress our emotions. Who wants to review hurtful and uncomfortable issues anyway?

We can ruminate or indulge in our emotions, and have the script play out in our minds again and again of how we have been hurt.

We can act out or lash out. Our overwhelm, frustration, or feelings of being done wrong by can lead to agitation or aggression.

Lastly, we can vent our emotions. We take all our feelings and dump them on to the people closest to us, or engage in gossip to passive-aggressively right the wrongs.

Is there a more effective approach?

I'd like to suggest that our emotions are actually an under accessed resource. Like the nervous systems, our emotional system serves as a valuable reservoir of messages intended to serve us. If you lay your hand on a hot oven, what message is being given to your body? Move your hand! The emotional system is quite similar. The discomfort of negative emotions is a signal to move! Unfortunately, we only really change when we are uncomfortable. So our negative emotions are supposed to feel bad, not so that we continue to feel bad, but so that we recognize the need to make a change to feel better, genuinely better.

So what needs to be changed? Typically the change falls into one of three categories: our expectations, our habits, or both. Take a look at the last upsetting situation you had, and explore the following questions: What was the emotion? I recommend using a feeling wheel to get clear on this. It's surprising what emotions are really rumbling right below the surface. What is the story I am telling myself? What did I perceive about myself? What are the unspoken rules I have for myself? Are the rules fair? Are the rules realistic? What did I perceive about the other person? What else could their actions have meant? What are my spoken or unspoken rules for them? Do they know these rules? Are these expectations fair to them? How could I communicate my feelings, needs, expectations better? Challenge your expectations and adjust your rules so that they are fair, accurate, and reflect your values and character. What are the odds that I or anybody else will do the best thing all of the time? None! Have grace with yourself and others. Examine your habits or how you do things. Is there a better way to achieve your results?

Here are a few emotions and some of the most common beliefs that go with them.

  • Anger: others have violated our expectations. Usually anger is the brave face of hurt and fear. It's a secondary emotion and doesn't live by itself. Communicate your expectations and needs without being demanding. Explore what the hurt and fear is, and then use feeling statements to communicate. Try these phrases "The story I'm telling myself is...." "When you.... I feel.... because..... "

  • Fear: feeling unprepared and/or unsupported. Make a plan to be prepared and recognize who your supports are. People, in general, want to avoid uncomfortable situations, but the reality is on the road of life there are pot holes, downed trees, and accidents. Part of preparedness is recognizing your ability to learn, over come, to heal, and adapt NOT necessarily having all the answers in advance. I run into a lot of people who try to be prepared for every eventuality. This breaks my heart. That approach just adds to overwhelm, anxiety and depression. Be prepared for what is in front of you and as the next thing emerges learn and prepare for that. You will be far more focused and effective for the things that are actually showing up.

  • Overwhelm: there is simply too much on your plate or in your head. Dump the plate! Then put back on what must be there. Go simple and build to a sustainable momentum.

  • Guilt: you violated your own expectations of yourself. Most of the time people have all these unspoken rules for themselves. Some of these ideas were formed in childhood but haven't been re-examined since. Think critically about your expectations. Do they reflect your values? Are they a bunch of "shoulds''? Please remember to have grace with yourself. You are never going to execute 100% of the time. That's not reasonable. Within your expectation for yourself make a plan for when you mess up, and how you would like to address that. i.e.) My rule for myself is that I will not be intentionally hurtful towards anyone, but when I am accidentally hurtful I will own it and apologize. If your expectations are already reasonable then recommit to that standard and make a plan to execute it.

  • Sadness: take time to grieve. Recognize the loss, the hurt, and employ some self-care. Communicate to those who are close to you.

  • Depressed: surprisingly similar to overwhelm. Gentle movement. Release higher order expectations for the moment. Do the next good thing. One thing at a time. Wash. Dress. Color. Dust. Music. Walk. Take a moment for self-care but try to engage some gentle movement. Even doodling helps. We all get physical colds, and this is much like an emotional cold. Take care of yourself and give yourself permission to heal. (There is more to it with clinical depression, but still a good jumping off point.)

  • Lonely: connect with others. Enjoy people. There are some really neat people out there, diverse people. Be friendly. Enjoy the moments small and large. Say "yes" to opportunities to mingle. (I will write another blog on social anxiety, but for now appreciate people, places, and opportunities.)

I encourage my clients to journal about situations where they are feeling emotionally stuck.

  1. Describe the situation

  2. Identify the emotions. Use the feeling wheel. Try to find 3 that really resonate.

  3. Use "I feel" Statements. "I feel.... because...."

  4. Identify your expectations

  5. Evaluate and adjust your expectations

  6. Identify how you could handle or approach this situation better in the future

  7. Then play the situation out in your head again, but this time see it the way you would like to it go next time. Appreciate how good it feels to show up for yourself in a way that represents the best you. Then visualize another potential situation that could be similar, and see that flow the way you would like it to go. See yourself following through with the process in a way that reflects your character and values.


Appreciate the emotional system you have! It really does serve you and brings out your best and helps you achieve results!



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