I used to think I had a handle on my emotions. Not anymore. I have a lot of room for growth when it comes to getting in touch with my emotions. You might discover that you're in the same boat as me. #emotions #EQ #emotionalhealth #mentalhealthmonth #mentalhealth #selfcare #SelfCareSunday #anger #goals #goalsetting

I used to think I had a handle on my emotions. Not anymore. I have a lot of room for growth when it comes to getting in touch with my emotions. You might discover that you’re in the same boat as me.

We all have areas, or domains, in our life that could use improvement. But knowing we need to improve and actually improving requires that we learn to set goals. The first domain we explored this year had to do with relational goals. This month we’ll address emotional goals. Don’t worry, this series won’t exhort you to act all touchy-feely and woo-woo. You may have grown up in a family of origin where no one talked about emotions or labeled some emotions as negative or positive. This month’s series will help you learn how to set emotional growth goals to help you improve both your mental health your relationships.

I used to think I had a handle on my emotions. Not anymore. I have a lot of room for growth when it comes to getting in touch with my emotions. You might discover that you're in the same boat as me. #emotions #EQ #emotionalhealth #mentalhealthmonth #mentalhealth #selfcare #SelfCareSunday #anger #goals #goalsetting

Out of Touch With My Emotions

“Are you angry?” Pedro asked me, his voice sounded distant and tinny as it traveled through the sound system of his truck before reaching me.

“No,” I replied. 

“You sound angry.”

“Yeah, well, when someone accuses me of being angry and I’m not, maybe I get angry.” 

“Ok,” he said quietly. “We can talk about this later. I’ll call tonight.”

He hung up, and I stared at my phone. You’d think by the time I had over four decades under my belt, I’d know myself better. Evidently not. Or maybe I knew myself, but didn’t want to share myself with others—even those I love the most. 

Growing up, I understood that everyone accepted happy emotions. Negative emotions didn’t get talked about a lot. But I know I had them. Everyone has negative emotions. My grandma thought I scowled too often (usually because she tried to boss me around). 

When I got angry, I slammed doors—until my dad threatened to spank me if I slammed another door. 

As a three-year-old, I learned to say, “Shut up!”—but I didn’t know how to use the term. When people stared at me, I would growl, “Shut up!” The teenagers at church always laughed, but when my parents found out, they didn’t laugh. They threatened punishment if I ever used that term again. 

So I shortened the term and just growled, “Shut!” at the next person who stared at me. She thought I said something else, and I got my mouth washed out with soap for saying a bad word. 

Face it, for decades people thought negative emotions had no place in our lives. They sorted and categorized all human emotions into ‘good’ and ‘bad.’ 

Are Emotions Good or Bad?

But emotions just are. They happen and they aren’t good or bad. What we do with them matters, but just having them? Not a problem. 

Dr. Paul Ekman, professor emeritus at the University of California, San Francisco, in an interview with Marianna Pogosyan Ph.D. for Psychology Today says,

“Usually we are not aware that we are emotional until afterwards, when we say something like, “Oh, I lost my head.” Well, you didn’t lose your head; you just lost your awareness of what you were feeling at the moment.”

Dr. Paul Ekman

In order to have good emotional health, we need to learn to acknowledge our emotions, name them, and quickly decide how to respond to them.

In my case, I need to quit denying that I get angry. I do. And contrary to what some Christians believe, anger doesn’t equal sin.

When we get in touch with our emotions, it allows us to react appropriately in situations where strong emotions threaten to take over. We can learn to identify the root emotion that causes us to act in a certain way. According to Dr. Mari Kovanen

“Becoming aware of your feelings, approaching them with love and kindness can help you to reduce anger. Often anger masks other feelings like hurt and sadness. Therefore, it is important to acknowledge all emotions as you experience them.”

Dr. Mari Kovanen
Five hacks for getting in touch with your emotions and increasing your emotional health. #emotionalhealth #selfcare #SelfCareSunday Click To Tweet

Five Ways to Get in Touch with Your Emotions

1. Own it

I used to think I had a handle on my emotions. Not anymore. I have a lot of room for growth when it comes to getting in touch with my emotions. You might discover that you're in the same boat as me. #emotions #EQ #emotionalhealth #mentalhealthmonth #mentalhealth #selfcare #SelfCareSunday #anger #goals #goalsetting

Our grandson, Abel, looked at the puzzle pieces and declared, “I’m fwustawewed!” 

I looked at our daughter in astonishment, “Wow, what a big word for him to use.”

“We taught him that,” she said with a grin. “And Colorform Charlie on his favorite show says it every time a situation frustrates him.”

Set a goal to own your emotions when they occur.

2. Say it Out Loud

Abel took time to stop his play and name his emotion out loud. We can do the same thing. We don’t have to limit ourselves to only stating our not-so-positive emotions. I learned this from Abel, too. 

He didn’t start talking intelligibly until after three months of speech therapy. The first time we FaceTimed and he declared, “I feel happy!” I almost cried. We don’t often walk around declaring our happiness, but why not?

I feel content right now as I sit in my lawn chair in the shade of my RV. The vista of blooming cacti, owl clover, brittlebush blooms, and lupine soothe my soul. Tall saguaros keep watch and shelter cactus wrens, gila woodpeckers, and hawks.

I feel happy and content. What makes you feel happy today? Write it down.

3. Bank it

According to Dr. Ekman, you can draw on your memory bank to re-live emotions.

Memory is a good path to self-generating past emotional experiences and having them once again, if we are not in the grip of an emotion. So, everybody can self-generate joy by remembering an enjoyable experience.”

Dr. Eckman

Take photos of things that make you feel happy, content, peaceful, and positive. Save them to an ‘Emotions’ folder on your phone. When you want to generate positive emotions, draw on your bank of positive memories.

4. Count to Twenty

Forget just counting to ten. Strong emotions occur because of a visceral response to perceived threats. We can’t control our response. We CAN control how we react. Counting to twenty gives us time to get over the fright, flight, or freeze emotion and restore enough calm to our senses to state the truth about how we feel.

Reacting in anger may actually mask a more vulnerable feeling such as loneliness, betrayal, hurt feelings, or sadness.

5. Record it

Journaling about your emotions during the day allows you to get in touch with your emotions and record events that seem to trigger certain emotions. 

If you don’t like writing, the Daylio Journal uses simple pictures to track your moods and the events that surround them. NeuraBoot: Mood Support offers a way to track your progress as you work to improve your moods and emotions. Both apps, while free, have in-app purchases available.

Whatever the Case, Now is the Perfect Time to Start!

In that not-so-distant conversation with Pedro, I realized that I needed to get in touch with my emotions. My angry reaction had its roots in feeling frustrated with his reaction about a topic earlier in the day. Instead of talking about my frustration at the time, I let it fester and turn my next conversation with him into one cloaked in anger.

In order to get in touch with your emotions, you’ll need to set goals. As part of my goal-setting for the year, I want to get to know my emotions better. I will own them, say them out loud, bank the ones that bring me peace, count to twenty and establish calm before I respond to triggers, and record my emotions.

Will you join me on the journey?

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  1. I’ve struggled in the past in this same way, Anita. It took a persistent spouse who never let me get away with simply saying, “I’m fine!” when I most certainly was not! Thanks for these great tips and truths. We should never try to bury an emotion unless we’re okay with a zombie popping up out of that grave! Lol! Pinning and tweeting, my friend!

  2. Totally agree. It is important to note that you cannot control or suppress your emotion. All you can do is adjust how you deal with it.
    Ama recently posted…Wooden ToysMy Profile

  3. Anita,
    Like you, I learned at an early age that there were good and bad emotions. I was also told that I was “too emotional.” I was too young at the time to know I was an HSP (Highly Sensitive Person). So true that emotions just are, but it’s how we react to them that can be good or bad. Great tips to getting in touch with, and owning our emotions.
    Bev xx

  4. Like your grandson, I find that putting words around my emotions is the key to getting in touch with them. For quite a while, I practiced the spirtual discipline of praying the Examen every night before going to sleep, a prayer practice that includes examining the emotions that have been present during the day. I need to get back to that!

  5. We’ve been using a tool that our teen’s therapist gave us to help her communicate her feelings to us: keep a glass jar on the counter. Our daughter adjusts the level throughout the day to show how she’s managing her feelings. When I see it has changed, I ask her what that water level represents. Sometimes it will be ‘overwhelm’ of school, sometimes ‘frustration’ with siblings, or ‘mad’ about phone limits. (She has no trouble announcing her positive emotions–doesn’t need a jar for that!)

  6. These are great ways to practice being mindful of emotions. Around 6 years ago when I attended my first counseling session for anxiety, my counselor gave me an emotion wheel to help me identify what i was feeling because naming/owning my emotions was foreign to me. My mom was a great mom, but she wasn’t in touch with emotions and any “big” emotions, whether positive or negative, resulted it me being called “too emotional”, so I was ashamed of showing what I felt. As I started using that wheel to identify emotions, it helped me validate my emotional self and that God created me with a wide range of emotions and thoughts I shouldn’t be ruled by them, they certainly can be a tool to praise God. Journaling is my favorite way to process emotions. Once I process on paper, I’m better able to process verbally with my husband, friend, or counselor

  7. Wonderful advice, Anita (as always). The thing I have found most helpful to me is counting to 20. Or sometimes 100. I find that if I just give myself some time, anger dissipates as I look at the person who is making me angry, rather than the event that caused the anger. When I look at the person, I can feel compassion. I also love the idea of banking photos that remind you of positive emotions for a time when you may need them. I’m going to look for some subjects today. Thank you!
    Laurie recently posted…Choosing “Yes” In a Broken WorldMy Profile

  8. I love the encouragement to recognize emotions. It has been a game-changer for me to realize that I can have feelings, recognize them and still look for God’s truth in the situation.

    Thanks for reminding me! Tweeted 🙂

  9. I love that Abel is learning to express his emotions in such a healthy way when he is so young. I still need to be intentional about identifying what I’m feeling. I think as a child I felt certain feelings weren’t allowed or that my feelings didn’t matter so I became used to ignoring them.

  10. “Emotions just are.” That’s a truth that we often miss. It’s hard to learn to accept the “negative” emotions we have, but they come and go and need acknowledging just like the “positive” ones do. I like the idea of having an “emotions” folder on our phone to draw on a bank of positive memories.

  11. Great post. Own it! That is one I have certainly struggled with before. It’s far easier to try to deny it, but that’s only as far as the surface. Until I started owning my negative emotions, I was captive to them. I am a big fan of journaling and so that’s my favorite of the tools you mentioned. Thanks so much for such a great post and perfect for Mental Health Month.
    Gwen recently posted…Refrain – Five Minute FridayMy Profile

  12. Anita, I love the idea of an “emotions folder” on my phone too. Saying the feelings out loud also is a great tip. I’ve been feeling content a lot lately too … seems strange, given the current circumstances, but I’m not complaining. 🙂 Wonderful post!
    Lois Flowers recently posted…Changed for GoodMy Profile

  13. Anita, hi! Our emotions are always whispering something to us … they’re like little messengers cluing us in to what’s going on deep inside.

    They’re not the bad guys. We just have to figure out what to do with them in ways that are healthy and Christ-honoring.

    Tucking them deep inside or ignoring them only works for a very short time.

    I’ve learned this the hard way …
    Linda Stoll recently posted…The Bookbag * Old Friends EditionMy Profile

  14. Hi anita ojeda,

    Totally agree. It is important to note that you cannot control or suppress your emotion. All you can do is adjust how you deal with it.

    Thank You lot

  15. I do often find myself getting irritated or sad for no reason and in that time, I usually lash out for no specific reason which often makes me feel guilty. I can’t deny that I also become happy in small things like a flower from a loved one, writing or watching something positive. Thank you for letting me know that my emotions don’t make me a bad person. I am sure going to follow the guide of getting in touch with my emotions, especially the collecting the good memories.

  16. I don’t really get angry often, but when I get angry, I go all in. Some days ago, I surprised myself with how angry I got for a simple mistake my son did. I wish I had understood my emotions and helped him work through his. I have since apologized but I still feel bad. It’s hard taking care of a family and like you, I came to realize that I’ve been bottling up so many emotions and simply let them out on my son. I really hope counting to 20 helps because counting to 10 never worked for me anyway. I’m going to try journaling as well.

  17. Emotions can be complicated, but they serve many functions. They help others to know how we feel about something, but they also allow us to get in touch with our feelings. In most of the cases, emotions cause anger and disappointment. So, psychotherapy practice is the better option to overcome this type of situation.
    EMDR Professional Training recently posted…Psychosis and EMDR TherapyMy Profile

  18. From our childhood days, we are taught to not to cry because everyone think that crying is a sign of weakness. Our parents didn’t realize that crying is never a sign of weakness. Expressing our emotions is one of the best thing we can do to ourselves. I wonder if we were not told to hide our emotions, many relationship problems that we face would have been easier to solve. I guess many people face the relationship problems because they hide their emotions.

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Anita Ojeda

Anita Ojeda juggles writing with teaching high school English and history. When she's not lurking in odd places looking for rare birds, you can find her camping with her kids, adventuring with her husband or mountain biking with her students.

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