Updated: Oct 29, 2021
Emotions are a unavoidable part of the human condition. So long as we are alive and conscious we will feel emotions. Of course, sometimes it seems like we are not feeling anything when we are in shock or emotionally numb but even these states are a form of emotion as we are aware of them due to the absence of more common feelings. Humans can even experience feelings about their emotions, just to make things a little more complicated and confusing.
We start to feel emotion from the moment we are born and possibly even before then. I don’t know, I don’t remember in utero and I don’t remember the first couple of years of life either but I have had three children and I remember their expressions and reactions when they were born. They definitely were feeling something even if they could not share exactly what it was. Maybe the cries of a newborn baby is their way of expressing their emotions just like the tantrum of a toddler is how they let you know they are feeling big feelings but don’t have the words yet to explain it to you.
What is the purpose of all of those feelings and emotions? Why do we feel certain things at certain times, even when we least expect for a particular emotion to express itself? Feelings can be perplexing, overwhelming, even distressing, but they are not pointless or frivolous.
Most of us are familiar with talking to ourselves, that inner dialogue we have about the things we are experiencing or thinking about, but we may not know that emotions are a part of this inner dialogue as well. Emotions are a form of communication that we are having with ourselves. Communication between our conscious and unconscious mind. They get our attention, provide information, try to teach lessons, and guide us. They can also tell us when we might be in danger, when our boundaries are out of alignment, when we are not living our lives authentically, and many more. Each emotion has something different that it is trying to communicate to us. That message will be unique to person and circumstance.
Many people are taught ways to cope with their emotions and how to express their emotions to others. We may even be taught how to cope in positive ways and to express the way we feel in healthy and productive ways. Less common is to be taught how to interpret what are emotions are communicating to us in the first place. How do we interpret these messages? How do we respond to ourselves? This takes some practice and work towards self-awareness and insight. It also takes spending some time alone and acceptance of how we are feeling.
As with coping with emotions and sharing emotions with others step one is to be aware of the emotion what we are feeling. It is very hard to know what is being communicated to us if we don’t first “hear” what is being said. Once we have “heard” the emotion step two would be to accept what we are hearing closely followed by step three to correctly interpret what we have heard. It is really common for humans to deny, invalidate, dismiss or misinterpret the way they are feeling. We do it all the time with others. Someone can tell we are upset and asks us what is wrong and we tell them we’re fine, we aren’t upset. We do this with ourselves to, refusing to accept the emotions we are feeling. Even when we do accept that we are feeling something we may get the message wrong. For example, maybe it does not make sense to our conscious brain that we would be scared in a particular situation so we think we are hungry instead.
Once we have successfully gotten past the first three steps, step four is to investigate the emotion, to gain further insight and understanding into what we are trying to
communicate to ourselves. This is provided that our environment does not require our immediate attention. If, as an example, you come across a bear in the woods and “hear” a fear response. Then it is, of course, best to accept and correctly interpret that emotional response as the terror that it is. That way you can better deal with the situation and get yourself to safety, rather than taking time to investigate the emotion. Besides it is pretty self-explanatory in that case, seems like the unconscious mind is trying to tell you that you are in danger. However, not all emotional responses are that easy to interpret or to understand what is creating that particular response in us.
Too often, especially when dealing with other humans, emotions arise within us that are much harder to understand or explain. This is when asking ourselves some questions, following the emotion back to it’s source, and sitting with the emotion can really come in handy. By investigating the emotion we can understand what our unconscious mind is trying to tell us.
When we investigate the meaning behind our emotions we find that they arise due to causes within us rather than outside of us. For instance, we are not afraid because we came across a bear in the woods but because our unconscious interpreted the situation as dangerous and would like us to act in order to be safe again.
We know our emotions are coming from within instead of without because multiple people will feel differently about the same circumstances. They will each filter the situation differently creating a unique interpretation and emotional response that we will “hear” in a way specific to ourselves.
One way that we can become more successful at “hearing’, accepting, interpreting, investigating is to observe our emotions as they arise. By acknowledging and accepting that emotions are going to arise due to the nature of being human we can decide to observe them from an attached perspective when they do.
This may look like, from an internal perspective, that person just cut in front of me in line, wow that is a really big, loud emotion coming up. I think that is anger. Yep, that is anger. I would like to hit that person and call them an asshole. Hmm, I wonder why I am soooo angry about that. What is the anger trying to tell me right now? Are there any other emotions present? Oh, I feel really dismissed and disrespected by that person like they don’t think that I am important or that they must think they are better than me. Well, it makes sense why anger came up.’
Approaching emotions in this way allows us to gather more information and learn more about what the emotions are trying to tell us and therefore more about ourselves. Though each emotional experience will be different for different people and different situations there are some generally accepted ideas about what certain emotions are communicating more times than not. A few examples are as follows.
When we are Mad this is a communication from ourselves that our boundaries have been broken or are out of alignment (sometimes it is letting us know that we do not have a boundary where we need one). When we feel Sad this is a message of loss. Fear is a communication that our safety or security may be threatened. Peace is a message that we are connected and living our purpose while Depression may be a communication of the opposite that we are off our path or out of alignment with our true self and the greater universe.
As stated before each emotion we feel is our unconscious communicating with us so those communications will be unique and specific to each of us every time. By listening, accepting, interpreting, and investigating we can figure out exactly what we are trying to tell ourselves and therefore gain more insight and information about ourselves and the way we are interpreting the world around us. We can also gain a greater ability to manage and cope with our emotions which will have a wonderfully positive impact on our day to day life.