Dealing with emotions is a large part of life. Emotions can make us feel happy, sad, angry or elated. Emotions can also be confusing. Most of what we learn about emotions comes from our early family experiences. Families have unspoken rules that set the norms for how family members should behave, including how to deal with emotions. Examples are: keep your feelings to yourself; don’t ever disagree; keep the peace; always be nice and people will like you; blame yourself if things aren’t right; anger is bad; the loudest person will get the most attention.
We take these rules into relationships outside our family environment, without realising that our rules may be different to others. When differences of opinion or disagreements arise, people can find themselves having strong emotional reactions – feeling hurt, disrespected or insecure. Responses can be, try to escape, pretend nothing is wrong, become aggressive, or remain calm and able to keep a dialogue going. Being able to stay open to emotions is an important skill.
Feelings hold valuable information – Emotions are felt in the body as sensations, giving us the experience of feelings. To make sense of what is happening, we need to be able to decode feelings into the language of words. When this happens, our thinking mind can start to work out what is happening. Emotions have a purpose. They carry information that can help to understand and deal with situations and issues that are important to us.
Emotions that signal a sense of:
Joy – satisfaction, goals reached, reward
Pride – achievement
Disappointment, sadness – loss
Frustration, anger – goals frustrated, injustice, unfairness
Fear – sense of danger or threat
Emotional awareness – Being emotionally aware helps us to think about a situation from different perspectives. This enables us to consider what is important and generate options, rather than being overwhelmed and stuck. Being able to manage emotions is important in preventing and managing anxiety and depression.
Emotional awareness involves:
Being aware of emotions rather than dismissing or minimising them getting lost in distressing emotions, not reacting
Feeling the feeling not ignoring it or pushing it away; not into a problem that your thinking mind can solve
Putting words to the emotion, to translate the feeling
Responding to the emotion in a useful way that helps ease or solve the problem
Emotional awareness at home – When families are emotionally in “sync” with each other, they feel heard and understood. Problems can be worked on with less misunderstanding and conflict. Children lack the vocabulary needed to put feelings into words and need help in managing emotions. Children also act out what they learn from others. If they see others reacting, this becomes their “norm”. Parents have a role in helping children develop good emotional problem-solving skills.
Can people develop better emotional awareness?
Becoming more skilled with emotions is often a central part of coaching and therapy. The benefits can include:
Being less reactive, leading to more considered responses
Developing perspectives and insight into other people
Becoming more aware of your impact on others
Feeling more connected with yourself and others
Making more informed decisions
Managing stress and being more resilient
Feeling more confident to deal with problems
Anne Ward is an executive coach and principal psychologist at Mindinsight, providing coaching and psychology services to individuals and organisations. Visit www.mindinsight.com.au or phone 4942 7660 for more information.