Emotions are always out there waiting in the wings to visit us, whether we are ready or willing. You may be astonished at how many emotional states there are, and how regularly they visit us. Research shows that we typically experience 35 to 50 emotions as we go through each day. We humans are capable of experiencing hundreds of different emotions and they cross a wide spectrum, from the exhilarating to the exhausting, and from the beautiful to the absolutely ugly. That’s a lot of feelings, and sometimes they can be a lot to handle, but we should not seek to shy away from them. Trying to avoid them or deny their place in our lives can result in us missing opportunities for change and growth.
I need to point out that I used emotions and feelings interchangeably above because all of us do, but there is a neuroscientific distinction between the two that helps explain what they are doing in our brain and body: Emotions are physical reactions activated by hormones and neurotransmitters released by your brain, while feelings are your conscious experience of those emotional reactions. The difference is subtle, but I will explain that more later.
Starting a Conversation About Emotions
By looking at the image below, you can get an appreciation for the breadth of our gradients of emotions. All of them are important to us, and it is vital to building our resilience in life that we learn how to distinguish between them so we can both traverse and navigate them. There is an important distinction in these two terms as well that I need to point out, because to traverse is to travel across, often under difficult conditions, while to navigate is to plan, control and record your progress on a journey—to follow a planned course. You want to intentionally learn how to do both.
Emotions are largely responsible for driving the brainwave states we are naturally traversing and navigating throughout our days. Moving in and out of these is a sign of a brain that is healthy and functioning well. One of my favorite quotes about emotions is from courage and vulnerability authority Brené Brown in her book Rising Strong. “We cannot selectively numb emotions,” she writes. “When we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.” She is making the primary argument for intentionally experiencing different emotions, whether you might consider them to be “awesome” or “awful.”
Of course, you don’t want to be mad or scared or offended or ashamed all day. On the other hand, I’d also like to challenge you to consider that you don’t want to be happy or relaxed or thrilled or peaceful or delighted every second of the day either—in fact, that can actually be downright dangerous to your health and safety. I’ll explain why that is and give you some tools that can help you “feel all the feels” to help you grow and make your brain resilient.
Navigating Your Emotional States Starts With Awareness
The larger your gradient of emotional language is, the greater your capacity for resilience and self-awareness. As your first exercise in this article, I would like to invite you to begin a habit of writing down four to six emotions you’re feeling each day. You can use the wheel above for guidance or create your own names for these feeling states. As you identify those feelings, attune to them with both your mind and body, and invite them to share with you what each of those feeling states look and feel like.
Many people want to avoid difficult emotions because it causes them stress. You might be surprised to learn that all emotions are stressful, whether you consider them to be “good” or “bad.” As I defined above, emotions are bodily reactions. All bodily reactions involve stress. Laughing hard can make your eyes become filled with tears and make your belly hurt until you have to beg for whatever or whoever is causing it to stop. Experiences like these demonstrate the stress your brain is going through even while you are having the “time of your life.” Hard emotions also can cause extreme reactions, but if you want to heal, grow and get to a place of thriving, you need to confront some scary emotions, and you must do if purposefully.
Why Do We Need the Difficult Emotions Just as Much?
By providing the ability to learn from our mistakes, the frontal lobe, or prefrontal cortex—the higher, “thinking” part of our brain—has been crucial to our survival and evolution as a species, but the reactive or troubling emotional responses that often get in your way are a consequence of the frontal lobe not fully participating in the present moment. To get past these responses, you need to learn to appreciate how your survival-oriented brain is interacting with your life—what the emotional brain is causing you to do that is separate from what your grounded self would choose to do.
If the amygdala (which we call “Amy”) in your survival brain perceives a threat she starts managing the data-processing sequence in our brain, she can start to shut down your prefrontal cortex. That’s because Amy, whose highest purpose is to ensure our survival, naturally has the priority in that information processing sequence. She gets there a split second before the thinking brain has the opportunity to weigh in, judging the level of threat.
To demonstrate this, blink your eyes.
Four times faster than your awareness of that eye blink, Amy is already assessing the level of threat to you, and she gets to decide how much she is going to involve your prefrontal cortex in how you’re going to react. If Amy’s attention is turned up 40 percent, our prefrontal cortex is functioning at 60 percent. If Amy is at 80 percent, the prefrontal cortex is only 20 percent functional. If you have ever wondered later why you had an extreme overaction or emotional outburst something happening you are experiencing the effect of Amy taking charge.
This is why we need to move into that deeper relationship our emotions, rather than denying or avoiding them. If Amy thinks your safety is threatened and you continually ignore her she will get louder and louder. That’s why you need to acknowledge Amy for keeping you safe while learning how to befriend your feelings and so you can grow stronger together.
Inviting All of Your Emotions In
Greeting all feelings as friends is important because can take advantage of the potential you have to rise above hard emotions and control creating your own experience of your own world. It is essential for us to give credence to the emotions our mind and body are experiencing, so we can enhance our opportunity to use them as guiding points of wisdom for the future.
If you have trouble imagine yourself making this work, I invite you to watch and join in on the second video below titled, “A Self-Havening Guided Meditation for Greeting all Feelings as Friends.” In this exercise you will learn how all emotions can become a part of your daily experiences, empowering you to identify when a strong emotion arises, and create a deeper relationship with these feelings or felt senses. From there, feel free to explore the other videos and resources below to dig deeper into connecting with your emotions.
Let’s learn to change your experience of strong emotions from seeing them not as challenges, but rather as opportunities for wisdom and growth through their presence.
Why We Gotta Feel the Feels: Building the Language of Our Emotional World
In this video Dr. Kate introduces us the incredible opportunities of being in relationship with all of the possible emotions we are capable of feeling. We have a greater capacity to weather the storms of life AND to create our rainbows on the other side when we have a personal relationship with all of our feelings.
Feeling feelings is a core part of resiliency and personal empowerment. For those of us on a healing journey, in order to move from surviving to recovering and through to thriving, one needs to purposefully confront some hard, scary emotions along the way. It is O.K to experience and explore the hard emotions; it is not helpful to avoid or deny them. Doing so inhibits our innate power to rise above them. This is also true in keeping emotional balance in daily life. A healthily functioning brain is continually self-regulating and moving us into and out of different states.
A Self-Havening Guided Meditation for Greeting all Feelings as Friends
Join Dr. Kate in a guided meditation to move into deeper relationship with feelings in order to empower your emotional world and enhance your resilience.
In difficult moments we are socialized as humans to numb out from the feelings. Unfortunately, this numbing out weakens our ability to learn from our emotions and soothe the distress that is rising in the present moment. When we are unable to be in relationship with our feelings and our body we are unable to self-soothe and instead grow further away from our Self. This can cause a nasty cycle of avoidance or even pull us into using harmful external substances to avoid the screaming data of our emotional brain. Yes, screaming. Remember that our amygdala will get louder and louder if we continually ignore her. When she starts sending us data it’s because she thinks our safety is threatened. Let’s befriend our feelings and grow stronger together.
Tips for Using Loneliness to Promote Connection
Listen in as Dr. Kate Truitt, PhD and Rebecca Turner, LMFT as they discuss ways to maintain personal connection through technology in times of physical disconnection. When we feel afraid as human beings, our biology urges us to connect to others. Isolation is not what we’re designed to do when we are afraid, so our brains are actually more sensitive to fear and difficult feelings during this time. And yet right now, isolation is our way of caring for each other. Our social distancing is in fact our social altruism. But that does not mean it feels good all the time. Remember your feelings make sense, and get some face(Time) to face(Time) check-ins on the calendar within the next few hours or day. This video is packed with tips and techniques for creating connection.
*Please note, this video was recorded as our team was looking ahead for possible impacts of COVID-19 and before social distancing was mandated.
Self-Betrayal: What It Is, Why We Do It, And How to Change It While Creating Empowered Growth
The most important relationship you will ever have is the relationship you have with yourself. How much do honor your wants and needs? Give voice to your desires? Set boundaries in your relationships? Speak up when you feel uncomfortable?
In this video Dr. Kate explores how not listening to and honoring our gut instinct for what is right for US leads to something called Self-Betrayal. And, self-betrayal does not feel good! It frequently leads to feelings of resentment, shame, and guilt and may result in us making “easy button” choices for emotion management—e.g., food, workaholism, sex, substances, self-sacrificing, being a “yes” person, and more!
Join Dr. Kate to explore how self-betrayal may be impacting your life. At the end of the video she invites you to participate in an easy exercise to start getting to the heart of your self-betrayal so you can take actionable steps for deeper change.
In this video, other videos are referenced that provide better understanding of behavior change and our easy button choices. You can find those here:
The initial list of coping skills exercise may be found here: https://youtu.be/1BQK-42I83w
The A+B=C equation exercise may be found here: https://youtu.be/oop88A_XNFg
The New Behavior A+B=D (replacing the C) may be found here: https://youtu.be/D9GUop99bBg
The Left Right Journaling Exercise for find the WHY of our choices may be found here: https://youtu.be/FMHMFNDiulA
Understanding our thoughts in order to change the behaviors may be found here: https://youtu.be/6n5tjlIPBkI
Releasing Self-Betrayal and Finding Self-Compassion: A Guided Meditation
In this guided meditation Dr. Kate invites you to identify and move into relationship your unique physiological markers of self-betrayal. Our brain and body are amazing at giving us data points when we’re doing something that is not in alignment with our core values. Let’s move into connection with these data points of self-betrayal and extend gratitude to our mind and body for sharing this wisdom with us.
Moments of self-betrayal have the wonderful ability to help us be wiser and more in tune with our authentic selves. Through this guided exploration Dr. Kate will also support you in connecting with why you engage in self-betrayal and where these patterns of behavior began. Experiences of self-betrayal are tied to our past – these are the experiences from your developmental years where you were taught that your wants and needs don’t matter. Through honoring your wants and needs in the present moment you are creating new opportunities for self-healing, kindness, and compassion. Dr. Kate incorporates a journaling exercise into this guided meditation, and we recommend having a pen and paper available when you engage in this meditation.
We also highly recommend Brene Brown’s Book Rising Strong to dive deeper into ways Self-Betrayal impacts your daily life. Buy it here with a special discount! https://amzn.to/2Y7XSuz