A guide to emotion processing and communication...
Because feelings are hard. I think the reason this is true for most of us is because we deprioritize processing them, preferring reason or logic in our society. The problem with that approach should be obvious: how do you know you are being reasonable if you haven't controlled for how you are feeling?
In addition, feelings are very different from thoughts/reasoning, so they need different kinds of processing strategies that we probably need to strengthen. Think about it this way, if we haven't been processing our feelings productively, it is kind of like always skipping leg day (emotion processing) at the gym in favor of upper body strengthening (reason processing)--we are widening the fitness gap.
The good news is you know more about feelings than you think you do. Here is a Feelings Wheel to help you remember all the feelings words you know, don't limit yourself though, this is just a starter pack. The more specific the better because details matter with emotions. The details give us clues to what our emotional needs might be.
You might be surprised to find out you have emotional needs but feelings are kind of like babies, they are loud and fussy until their needs are meet, but they can't really tell you what they need. So what do you do? Well, just like with babies, you guess, and guess, and guess until they quite down. And to get good at caring for your feelings, or babies, you have to practice!
THE 5 QUESTIONS
Here is a helpful rubric for getting better at meeting your emotional needs and boosting your emotion processing ability. NOTE: you will want to have that feelings wheel handy, at least at first.
- What happened? (just the facts, NOT judgments or feelings about the stimuli)
- How did I feel when that happened (use actual feelings words) and how intense was the feeling on a scale of 1-10?
- Why would I feel that way when that happened? (autobiographical not external stimulus, that is for question number 1. “I am the kind of person who…”)
- What might I need to sooth my feeling? (what abstract thing might be helpful or comforting to me right now that takes my feeling from a 10 to a 5)
- What does that look or sound like right now? (must be practical and doable today since you have the need now)
- Fact: I tripped over the rug.
- Feeling: I felt embarrassed because I think I am clumsy, and this was about a 4 in intensity. (its okay to have more than one feeling but pick the most significant feeling)
- Origin: My mom and I are both clumsy and my dad made fun of us, I feel shame when I think about that, just like she does.
- Need: Reassurance that I am elegant no matter what I do,
- Behavior: I will remind myself of a time I felt elegant, then ask my partner for reassurance too.
This process helps us break down what already occured so quickly in our brain we would have trouble being aware of it all in the moment. The good news is the more you practice this process, the less this is true! You are creating a reaction time difference between process and behavior and this little bit of time (milliseconds really) is worth more than you can image right now. But once you have it you will know what I mean; it gives you time to observe yourself, communicate yourself, and be more aware of what is and is not in your control. In turn, these improvements help you better regulate your emotional experience and prevent amygdala hijack. Good stuff!
I am safe with my feelings and capable of meeting my needs.