Do you feel like you are on an emotional rollercoaster?
Are your emotions dominating your decisions?
Reacting more to events than others?
Why is it that so-called ‘negative’ emotions, seem to hinder our life?
You finish your day, feeling tense, and as you head home a weight bares down on you. A feeling of sadness that you cannot make sense of. “What’s wrong?” asks your partner. “I don’t know, I just don’t feel right,” you reply. As the evening progresses things irritate you, you raise your voice at the kids, and you start worrying about what you didn’t get done today. You sit on the couch and get lost in your phone until bedtime.
It is so easy for us to live through moments like these without really looking at what is going on. What is the cause of this underlying unhappiness? Essentially, when our core emotions – anger, fear and sadness arise, we typically find it hard to catch them and see them for what they are. We rarely know what to do with these emotions, so we end up responding in ineffective ways causing additional pain or suffering.
Understanding your core emotions is essential. This ensures you are dealing directly with the issues rather than blindly expressing distress such as arguing or worrying. Being fully equipped creates an environment of effective emotional expression to get your needs met and allows you to lead a more fulfilling life.
Do any of these statements sound familiar?
- “I don’t want to be angry because all I do is shout at my kids/partner.”
- “There’s no point in crying; it doesn’t fix anything.”
- “I shouldn’t feel so sad; there is nothing wrong with my life.”
- “I hate feeling scared all the time – what’s wrong with me?”
- “I numb my feelings; life’s easier that way.”
When we say these things to others or ourself, it hurts because a part of us (i.e. something we need) is being denied or dismissed. Just as hunger tells us we need food or nutrients, and feeling tired tells us we need to rest and sleep – core emotions are our body’s way of telling us what we need.
Generally, we won’t deny that we feel hungry or refuse to sleep – we don’t second guess or judge ourselves for feeling this way. So why are our emotional needs perceived any differently?
Anger – tells us a situation is unfair and gives us the energy we need to fix it. Our core need is to be treated fairly.
Fear – tells us we feel emotionally or physically threatened, and thus we need to take action to feel safe again. Our core need is to feel protected and safe.
Sadness – tells us that something is wrong and we need help, or a significant loss has occurred and we need to grieve. Our core needs are to feel comforted and understood by those we care about.
It is important to note that not all ‘emotions’ tell us something we need. For example, guilt, worry, regret, and self-doubt are considered secondary emotions and do not serve a useful purpose. Instead, these emotions likely grew from an unmet core emotion, and it is that core emotion that needs to be fulfilled.
Tips to accept your core emotions
We all have core emotions because they are essential to our social and physical survival; they’re our body’s way of prompting us to take action so we can get what we need. Many of us can improve how we use these emotions to effectively get what need. For example, anger management isn’t about stopping someone from feeling angry, but to help them better communicate the angry feeling to reach what they need.
- Practice owning your core emotions the same way you own or admit to feeling hungry or tired.
- Remember that core emotions usually past much faster if you can get what you need (e.g. avoid a dangerous situation; receive comfort from a loved one; ask someone to fix a wrong, etc).
- Try not to avoid your core emotions; unresolved feelings can develop into secondary emotions, and it is also important to know we cannot selectively numb our feelings (we feel everything or we feel nothing, including joy).
It’s important to openly speak about your emotions with close friends or family that surround you, and work together to support one another. By giving yourselves permission to feel the way you feel, and brainstorm ways to take effective action to express how you feel, you will both see results and attain what you need. If however, you do find you or your loved ones are experiencing secondary emotions, or are not living the life you would like to lead because you have difficulty identifying or accepting core emotions, our team has experts ready and waiting to assist you to express and meet your emotional needs. Contact us here.
Written by Dr Bianca Heng – Clinical Psychologist – www.creatingchange.net.au