Emotions get a bad rap in our society. However, emotions help us to understand ourselves and our world better. Our emotions help us understand who we are, what matters to us, how we feel toward our relationships, and what we need. They give our lives and experiences meaning. Without our emotions, we wouldn’t be ourselves.

We are constantly experiencing emotions and sensations in response to our ever-changing environment which translate into feelings, predictions, and behavior. In other words, we really can’t get away from our emotions!

Understanding our emotional world better then helps us to be in the driver seat instead of being unconsciously driven by our emotions. A lot of my work with clients is to help them learn about their emotions and to see that they are giving them information about how they are doing in the world. In our society, we learn to judge or criticize or brush off our feelings as they are seen as unimportant or even a nuisance. 

Emotions are giving us really good information in real time about how we are doing with what is going on in the present or how we are doing when we are thinking about a relationship, something that has happened or something we think might happen. We are constantly encoding data and taking in information about what is happening around us. Much of this, obviously, lies beneath the surface of our awareness. This data includes memories, sensations, meanings, images, behavior, and affect. 

When an emotion comes up, it is layered with much of this unconscious data from our history. Let’s imagine that when you were a child, you ate chocolate chip cookies at your grandmother’s house. It was a place that felt safe and nurturing for you. When you eat chocolate chip cookies now, you always have a warm sensation and feel soothed (but you might not have any understanding of why that is if you haven’t spent time making sense of it). 

Emotions aren’t good or bad and won’t kill you (although many of us feel scared of them, especially the ones that feel harder to process). The best way to move through them is to notice what is happening (I am having an emotion), be curious about the emotion (instead of judgmental or critical), name the emotion, and then practice compassion toward that emotion. This will help us to process through the emotion much more quickly and helpfully. Adding resistance to the feeling only causes us more suffering! 

Being with someone we trust as we experience a difficult feeling can also be super helpful. All of this can be applied toward parenting or being with a loved one when they are having a hard feeling. 

I highly recommend Dr. Marc Brackett’s book, Permission to Feel and Atlas of the Heart by Dr. Brené Brown. They also have a great podcast together. Brené Brown also has an HBO special on emotions.

You might also print out a handout that details feelings. We know that the more we are able to name the specific feeling, the more it can calm the amygdala when we are experiencing fear or a strong emotional response. It also helps us understand HOW we are doing. Brené Brown has a helpful PDF of 87 human emotions and experiences and I also love the handout from the Center for Nonviolent Communication which helps us identify our emotions, the story we are making up, our unmet needs, and our request. Here is a guided meditation to help you name your emotions.

If you would like a daily tracker to help you identify your feelings and check in with yourself each day, click here. Finally, here are three of my favorite people to follow on Instagram regarding modern day parenting: @drbeckyatgoodinside, @maryvangeffen and @attachmentnerd.