Understanding Emotions


Therapy is the art of understanding one’s emotions. We come to the therapist’s office with our feelings, all mangled up and locked away, and if it goes reasonably well we will leave with the language to describe these phenomena and a belief in the ability to shift patterns via the tools of self-awareness.

Most importantly, therapy is about an attuned awareness to our thoughts and feelings (our internal worlds) that allows us the insight to understand how we are, why we are and how we can make more conscious and compassionate choices.

It is a delicate journey towards compassion, paved with painful awakenings of the self, of willed-away memories unearthed, and a relentless child-like urgency to keep illusions and delusions in place. It’s a destination-less journey, a circling inward, a compounding vortex of profundity and boredom.

It’s not a glamorous pursuit. Rewards in the form of self-acceptance and inner peace are really felt more as the absence of anguish and self-punishment for longer and longer stretches of time. And the experience of oneself as capable. Feeling capable of handling difficult feelings is the greatest gift of maturity. To look into the abyss and to know you will not be destroyed.

We learn to be afraid of feelings. We are taught that feelings make us vulnerable and vulnerability is bad. We try to emulate the grown ups around us by acting cool and unconcerned. Or we cordon off all feelings except one or two. Some of us invite in Anger and others only Sadness. But what do we do with the others? What happens to all those feelings that get shooed away?

One of my first blog posts was called “Fucking Feelings” and it referred to what I called “tidal wave feelings”, which are really big, scary emotions that feel like they are going to engulf us. For some, the feeling of rejection floods their capacity to cope. For others it is grief that takes them down. What I know for sure, is that we all have one or more feelings that scares us deeply. We walk into the therapist’s office hoping that we won’t be discovered. We use fascinating unconscious devices to hide our inadequacies. We avoid these emotions because they show us up, they disclose how “bad” we are at managing.

It’s perfectly normal to be afraid of big, overwhelming feelings and it’s perfectly normal to expect to shield oneself from future attacks. We spend a lot of our psychological energy keeping ourselves from uncomfortable emotional experiences. Sometimes we are successful but mostly we are not. Whether we like to think about it or not, life inevitably involves discomfort and pain.

We walk into the therapist’s office expecting to find cleverer ways to protect ourselves from pain but actually what we need is something else. Therapy brings you into contact with your feelings in ways you never anticipated. You are challenged to take off your armour and to stare down those tidal waves as they approach. In the process you will learn something about yourself that is more valuable than self-protection. You will learn that you are capable. You will feel that you are capable in ways you did not know you were. And you will be on your way towards self-compassion and enlightenment.

Did you know that Self Awareness is a component of Emotional Intelligence?

“Many of us were taught as children that some emotions aren’t socially acceptable, and we were punished or shamed about having those emotions in the first place.

As a result, many of us learned to ignore our emotions, and even deny having them. This is not an easy habit for us to break, but we need to learn to accept all of our emotions and deal with them effectively as they occur.

Essential to this process is acceptance, giving ourselves permission to experience our emotions, even the emotions that we were trained to deny having. To put it bluntly, our society was often deeply wrong about emotions, and we need to learn that any emotion that we feel is acceptable.”

I agree with this view 100%. If you want to know how to start to manage your emotions, watch this short video I made:

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