This article will be part of a series. I'm starting with the basics because well, I've got to start somewhere, right? Ok, let's go!
We've all been there. A whirlwind of emotions suddenly sweep you off your feet and before you know it, you're reacting in ways that you never imagined, or that you're not proud of.
Suddenly you’re standing there asking yourself, “What the heck just happened?” Your emotions have hi-jacked you again. Does this scenario sound familiar?
If what I said above resonates with you at all, it's likely that you could benefit from learning to identify your emotions.
Not all of us learned how to describe our internal emotions. Maybe some of us grew up in a home where it wasn't safe to show certain feelings. Or maybe there were other reasons why we never learned.
For me, anger was not an acceptable emotion in my home, or at least that's how I perceived it as a child. Sadness was tolerated, but usually dismissed or made light of in an attempt to change my mood back to happy.
My parents loved me, so it was clear that they preferred to see me happy. The perfectionist in me learned to quickly bottle up my feelings so that no one could see if I was sad, angry, disgusted, or jealous.
Unfortunately, because I could only bottle things up, I never learned how to identify my emotions. I just knew that I was feeling something and that it wasn't ok.
No one had taught me to pay attention to my mood as a child. Honestly, I didn't really learn this skill until I was in my twenties!
Ok, ok that’s great Tarah. But how do I learn to identify my emotions? Well, I’m glad you asked! Below I’ll outline some strategies.
1. Start with the 6 basic emotions.
The basic emotions are: anger, disgust, fear, joy, sadness, and surprise. A lot like the movie "Inside Out" right? If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend checking it out.
As you become more advanced you can begin to identify varying levels of the basic emotions. For example, anger has different intensities ranging from feeling annoyed to full on rage. There are hundreds of words that can be used to describe emotions.
2. Notice how your body feels throughout the day.
Start paying attention to your body at different times throughout the day.
If you frequently forget, set reminders on your phone to check-in with yourself.
A great time to practice is when you're watching an emotional movie like "The Notebook" or "Titanic." Yeah, I'm totally giving my age away, but really I haven't seen a movie recently that evokes the same emotional response.
Ok, back to the topic. Pay close attention to your body sensations.
Does your stomach tighten up?
Do your muscles feel relaxed?
Does your face feel warm?
Are your hands shaking?
Is your heart beating fast?
Do you have a headache?
Is there a knot in your stomach?
For me, when I'm mad, my face turns red and I feel my whole body tighten. I also notice that I begin to shake and feel like I want to cry. Test this out throughout the day. I bet your body is sending a lot of signals that you've either ignored or never noticed before.
3. Practice creating the emotion in your body.
Try this step now.
Imagine a memory that brings you joy. Now sit with that memory for a little while. Begin to notice how your body is feeling. Maybe it feels relaxed, tingly, or light.
Get an idea of how your body feels in different emotional states.
Once you understand how your body reacts to different emotions, you can begin to link certain body sensations with a particular emotion.
Think about the body sensations you noticed when remembering a joyful moment.
In the future you will know that when your body is feeling x,y,z (relaxed, light, tingly) that the emotion you are feeling is ______ (joy, fear, anger, disgust, etc.). Or when your body feels tense and shaky and you notice a knot in your stomach, that you are feeling fear.
Go ahead give it a try!
If you're a parent you can help your kids do this too! In my practice, I've been able to do this with kids as young as age 4.
Help them reflect on their body sensations when they experience different emotions. Help them notice when they are having big feelings. Give them the words to label their emotions.
What I've just mentioned is a great starting point, but I'll go into greater detail for parents in another post. So stay tuned.
Identifying emotions is a pretty basic skill that a lot of people were never encouraged to learn. It's incredibly important for us to be able to label our emotions so that we can communicate our needs. Half the battle is knowing what we are feeling in the first place. So go ahead and work on increasing your emotion identification skill set!
Was this a skill you learned as a child? Comment below! I'd love to hear from you.
Image courtesy of rakratchada torsap at FreeDigitalPhotos.net