Making Sense of Our Emotions

making sense of our emotions

“She’s so emotional.”

“I wish I wasn’t so emotional.”

These are comments I hear often in my office. According to the psychology dictionary, Emotion is the complex reaction pattern to situations around us that involves experiential, behavioral and physiological elements.

Let’s allow the depth of this description to sink in. We are emotional beings. To try to deny this, suppress it or complain about it is not helpful.

Taking responsibility for our emotions, making sense of them, and using them to express ourselves in a healthy way is far more desirable. What we often don’t like is the emotional overreaction. What can be helpful is to be curious about the reaction.

Let’s take an example of, “I’m upset,” and the reaction that may accompany it. Let’s proceed to get more information. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

What am I feeling?
Are you mad, hurt, sad, afraid, lonely and/or ashamed?
How does your body tell you you’re upset?
Do you have tightness in your chest, a knot in your stomach or tingling in your face, a racing or pounding heart?
What are your thoughts around being upset?
Are there any images that come to mind to describe what is going on?
What are your core beliefs about yourself right now?

When we have an emotional reaction, our rational brain gets hijacked. Our bodies actually respond before our brains do, so awareness is key. If we can catch our body response, we may be able to take a few deep breaths and calm ourselves and transform a reaction into a response.

Because many of our patterns are based on earlier memories or events, we’re not actually present to the current experience. Our reactions are based on our perceptions from the past. If we can slow things down and take a reality check, we have a better chance of responding in a healthy way.

There are many tools we can learn and practice to help us change the way we interact with others –  acknowledging and considering our emotions and responding in a healthy way. Mindfulness, meditation, relaxation exercises, journaling and cognitive reappraisal are all possibilities.

Further reading in Psychology Today, February 2018: “Your Feelings Aren’t the Boss of You.”

If you’re interested in exploring these ideas further, feel free to reach out and schedule a time to talk.

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