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.
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,
Five hacks for getting in touch with your emotions and increasing your emotional health. #emotionalhealth #selfcare #SelfCareSunday Click To Tweet
“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 Ways to Get in Touch with Your Emotions
1. Own it
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?