Trigger Warning: This article mentions emotional highs and lows that may be triggering for some people. Reading this article might arise feelings of sadness, healing, and self-awareness, so please read with caution and (self-)compassion. Many thanks, MTL.
Emotions can be messy. They’re confusing, overwhelming, and frustrating to navigate. Feelings, like shame, disappointment, fear, and anger, can make you feel really uncomfortable. It is especially uncomfortable when you don’t know what to do with them and feel ashamed for feeling the way you do. Emotions can also be beautiful, uplifting, and really insightful once we’re able to build a better relationship with them.
Once we’re able to decipher our emotions, we gain a deeper understanding of authentic ourselves. We can better understand who we are, what we want and don’t want. Emotions reveal to us what our needs are and how to meet them. Once we master them, we can easily determine what is and isn’t aligned with who we see as our best selves and optimize our decision-making.
While this is all very possible as we work towards self-actualization, not all of us are there yet. Some (well, many) of us still need a map, dictionary, compass, and all the help we can get when it comes to navigating our feelings. And I don’t blame you. Understanding your emotions can be hard AF! But the good news is, you don’t have to do it alone anymore! Let’s dive into it!
Why do our emotions matter?
Emotions are physiological sensations. A product of biology, cognition, and sociocultural factors. They reveal how our body and psyche interpret what we’re experiencing. It’s built into our survival instincts. Does it bring us pleasure or pain? It informs us on how we need to react – fight, flight, fawn, or freeze.
Our emotions show us how we see, understand, and relate to the world around us.
It also is a reflection of how we feel and trigger. Once we’re able to translate what our emotions are communicating to us, we get perspective into what we’re experiencing. We learn what matters to us and how we consciously or subconsciously respond to it all.
Understanding our emotions give us insight into how we view ourselves, the people around us, and the world we operate in. It helps us relate to what’s happening around us as build upon previous experiences. From good, positive memories to traumatic encounters, our emotional responses both reveal and shape our mental models and belief systems.
Learning to listen to our emotions, making space to feel the way we feel, and consciously choosing how to respond to our emotions is an exercise of self-control, compassion, and mastery.
In this article, I will share different ways you can practice listening to your emotions. Here are things I learned about emotions and how you can better listen to your emotions.
Set the mood.
I highly recommend going to and/or creating, a safe space for yourself to reflect. You want an area where you feel comfortable experiencing all of your emotions. And trust me, you’re going to need it as you unpack your emotions. Start out in a private setting where you are undisturbed and others in your household can respect your need for space.
When you’re first starting out, you’re going to feel many foreign sensations. That’s ok! Just let it all out.
Free-writing can be extremely liberating.
Have a journal ready to write down your thoughts. Whatever you come up with, write it down. Get it all out and do so without any judgment or criticism.
Don’t hold yourself back! If you’re uncomfortable, write down why you feel that way. If you’re feeling heaviness and want to cry, write that down and let it out. If your thoughts start to wonder and memories come up, empty them out on the page and release it from your mind. That way, you can make room to dig deeper.
Again, it doesn’t have to make sense right away. Trust the process and don’t criticize yourself for whatever comes up.
Try it: Grab a journal and let the feelings flow onto the pages.
Remove the belief that emotions are bad!
Our culture may tell us otherwise but emotions aren’t bad things to have.
In fact, experiencing emotions is a great thing! It’s a huge part of the human experience. It’s what makes us human. Our emotions are a part of our consciousness and the ability to choose how we respond to them is what separates us from other living organisms.
There is no need to be ashamed of your emotions.
Yes, even the ones that we’re too ashamed to admit we have. Feelings like depression, anxiety, jealousy, and disappointment tell us something isn’t working. Indifference, insecurities, and fear tell us what’s going on cognitively, physically, and socially.
Our emotions are not the enemy we think they are.
Each emotion has a purpose. They operate like messengers trying to inform us of something important. The better we can listen to them, the better we can manage and regulate them. This will help us optimize our decision-making, especially in difficult situations, and improve our overall quality of life.
Journal it out: What were you taught about emotions growing up? What feelings were you allowed to express and what were you instructed to suppress them? What were you taught about happiness, sadness, pride, envy, fear, or anxiety? How did that affect your relationship with your emotions?
Allow yourself to feel how you feel.
Let’s be honest. You’re probably not happy. Not all the time anyway. That’s because you can’t be in one emotional state of mind all the time. It’s not possible or is it authentic to be uberly happy, positive, and joyful all the time. Nor should you feel the pressure to!!
On the flip side, you won’t feel sadness, depressed, or stressed out all the time either. Emotions come and go. Sometimes, when we’re stuck in a certain state of mind, we fear it’s going to last forever. We become overwhelmed and feel like there’s something wrong with us for not being able to “feel better”.
Just because you feel bad, doesn’t mean your emotions are bad
An inability to regulate emotions, especially those that are less socially accepting such as anxiety, melancholy, or guilt, can cause us to feel ashamed, self-reject, and isolate ourselves. The more we try to compartmentalize and/or reject these feelings, the worst it gets as we’re unable to express our needs and access the support we need.
This anxiety comes from our caretakers and society telling us how we should and shouldn’t feel. It’s worst when we’re rejected by others for feeling the way we do. And I’m here to tell you, forget them. Feel how you feel!
If you need to cry, cry. Let it out. If you’re feeling down, allow yourself to unpack why you might be feeling that way and talk to someone (preferably a mental health professional).
Sometimes we’re afraid to feel how we feel because it’s uncomfortable or it feels foreign.
Ironically enough, in order to free ourselves from shame and rejection of our emotions is to forgiveness. Forgiveness of those who didn’t allow for us to feel. By acknowledging our caretakers were simply reinforcing outdated lessons about emotions, because they weren’t allowed to express their emotions themselves, we free ourselves from the burden of perpetuating the cycle. This forgiveness breaks down the barriers between one another and allows for us to choose compassion, empathy, and radical acceptance.
Practicing these emotions allows us to develop the skills we need to show ourselves the same compassion, empathy, and acceptance we show others.
Let’s talk it out: This is a great time to show yourself some self-compassion. Tell yourself it’s ok to have these feelings. It’s ok to be uncomfortable. You are learning and deepening your experience so it requires patience, compassion, and extra love towards yourself.
Label your feelings.
Learning to identify your feelings allows you to process and understand your emotions. It also allows you to better communicate how you’re feeling and express your needs. Without the ability to express your needs, it will be extremely difficult to satisfy them and have your needs met, internally or externally.
There are many resources that can help you start identifying and deepening your awareness and knowledge of your emotions. It’s a bit too long to go into in this article so here are a few resources that can help!
- Articles to help you understand baseline or basic emotions
- Psychology Today’s Identifying Your Feelings by Joan Cusack Handler Ph.D.
- Very Well Mind’s The 6 Types of Basic Emotions and Their Effect on Human Behavior by Kendra Cherry
- Healthline’s Big Feels and How to Talk About Them by
- Utilizing things like the Feelings Chart by Dr. Gloria Willcox can also help you improve your identification and communication of how you’re feeling
As a friendly reminder, embracing and articulating your emotion takes time.
You’re starting a new relationship with your emotions and exploring an area that was previously connected to a lot of shame and rejection. Naturally, it’s going to feel frustrating at first. Take your time and show yourself grace. This goes especially for those who weren’t encouraged to express their emotions. Similar to other skills, identifying and communicating your needs are skills to practice so approach it gently and patiently.
Let’s talk more about it and share in the comments:
- What were you taught about how you express your emotions?
- What are some emotions you struggle with today? (For me, I am learning about self-compassion, self-rejection, and shame).
- What are some of your favorite resources to better understand your emotions?
This post really resonated with me, especially Melissa writing about “Allow yourself to feel how you feel”. This showed me that what I’ve been doing is exactly the path I should be taking. Glad to get some reinforcement here! It’s important to be able to absorb the emotions so that I can bucket them where they need to be, and then move forward. Thanks Melissa!