This post is all about how to understand your emotions.
If you are looking to understand your emotions, then you are in the right place! In this killer guide you learn where emotions come from, how to manage them, and 35 questions to ask yourself to help you understand your emotions.
There is a lot to unpack, so grab a pen and a notebook and let´s begin!
It can be really frustrating when we feel something that we don’t really understand, but that at the same time takes control of our actions and thoughts.
Your emotions are like feedback mechanisms that let you know when things are going well and when they are not.
However, what we do with our emotions and the way we react to them is entirely in our hands.
But something most people don’t realize is that emotions are a means to an end. When we set goals we set them with the aim to achieve a certain emotion, happiness, fulfillment, satisfaction, etc.
The thing is emotions are not constant, they are not permanent (both for the good and the bad). They just happen. And then they are gone, and other emotions come in. But that goes away as well.
Happiness, the same as sadness, is not permanent it comes in waves and we have our ups and downs. That is why if you base your life around your emotions you will be running around in circles, like a dog trying to catch its tail.
All in an effort to maintain and “surf” the next high.
Where do our emotions come from?
When it comes to emotions our brain has two basic mechanisms.
One mechanism calculates the gains and losses you experience in life. Kinda like a big excel sheet that keeps track of every high (winning a competition, having a nice dinner in the city), and every low (fighting with your partner or friends, accidentally breaking your favorite mug).
When you gain something in life, this part of the brain makes sure to deliver the good news making you feel excited. And when you lose something, it delivers the bad news, making you feel bad.
This mechanism is working 24/7 tracking everything that happens to you, even in your sleep (yep, your dreams are also meticulously tracked).
The function of this process is pretty basic, almost reptilian brain* like. Gains create excitement and losses create fear.
*Reptilian brain: the oldest layer of the brain that controls emotions and human behavior. It’s responsible for controlling our fight or flight response (more about that later).
Then we have the second mechanism, which is more human. We can think of this second process as like a judge.
Because its function is to asses all your wins and losses and decide whether you deserve those gains or losses or not.
Whenever you have a gain that this “judge” thinks you deserve, he lets you keep the excitement which is then turned into happiness.
But if you gain something he thinks you didn’t deserve, he slams his tiny tiny hammer and the verdict is guilt.
When it comes to losses you apparently deserve, then the verdict will be sadness. But if that loss is unjustified, he´ll say you are due compensation, which then turns into anger.
Another important thing to know about these two processes is that they keep a tab on everyone else as well. And they will for sure comment on what they have gained and lost and what they deserve and don’t.
- Love is the unconditional feeling that someone deserves to gain something (and thus be happy).
- Hatred is the unconditional feeling that someone (including yourself) deserves to lose something in their lives.
How to manage your emotions
Over the next couple of sections, we will see some basic points and tips on how to manage your (most common) emotions as they arise.
*Important note: the tips in this post are not meant to suppress or eliminate “bad” emotions.
Every emotion exists for a reason. As we said earlier they are a means to an end. And trying to suppress our emotions is not only impossible but also very unhealthy.
The journey to emotional intelligence and maturity is about learning how to manage each emotion, so that we can benefit from them (yes, even from the “bad” ones!).
We all dream about happiness, it’s what we search to experience for the rest of our lives. It´s why we have been convinced that the next milestone, job promotion, house or phone will make us happy and why we need to buy it.
But here goes a truth you need to listen to: Happiness is just being, it´s our natural state.
Or better said happiness is the lack of other emotions, especially negative ones.
If you think about it, each emotion is based either on something we want to change in the past or in the future. Anger desires to right the wrong. Sadness desires to go back in time before a loss. Guilt desires for self punishment (for a gain we don’t feel we deserve). Love is the desire for someone to flourish and be happy. Shame is a desire to escape the self.
But in truth, we feel happiness just by existing. The thing is we have been sold this dreamy idea of happiness, that seems so hard to reach, that we don’t take the time to actually be happy.
Even though there are some principles you can use to be happier in life, the truth is there’s no tried and true or exact formula to happiness.
Because you are the one to define it. And no, happiness is not defined by your worth, or achievements. And it´s not based on where we are going and will only be achieved once we get there.
Most people think that when they feel sad, it´s because of a failure, or because they think there is something terribly wrong with them.
However, sadness is simply our mind’s way of telling us we lost something important to us (remember what we talked about the two processes of the brain?).
We feel sad after a breakup, after someone dies or after we lose a big opportunity, for example.
Sadness is the sense that we have lost out on something. But how can we benefit from this emotion?
Whenever you feel sad I want you to redirect this emotion into self-inquiry and self awareness. Try to dig up what you lost. Why was that relationship so important to you? What was it about what your friend said that hurt you?
*At the end of this article you will find a list of questions to help you understand your emotions!
Developing the habit of internally asking yourself why you are feeling this way and getting to the bottom of it, is incredibly helpful. Not only to deal with your sadness but with all negative emotions as well.
How to understand your feelings. Anger
There is a very known response of our instinct called “fight or flight” response, where anger is the fight and fear is the flight.
We generally feel angry when we feel threatened and feel empowered at the same time to react to that threat.
Now anger isn’t always a bad emotion. In fact, it can do a lot of good for us. But when we respond with anger to a perceived threat that isn’t really a threat, that is when things get ugly.
People who struggle with anger issues might be because they feel little to no control in other more important areas of their lives. And instead of facing those issues, they get angry about all the little things they can control.
The key to benefit from anger is to learn how to use it in productive ways.
For example, instead of getting angry at the cash register at the supermarket for giving you a type of meat you obviously didn’t ask for, you can deep clean your garage.
Or instead of taking out your anger on your ex after a breakup, you can take that energy and direct it towards improving yourself (what I like to call the revenge glow up).
The aim here is to use that energy we feel into something productive and actually beneficial for us.
We just talked about the fight situation, which is anger, with our “fight or fight” instinct. But let´s talk now about the fear part.
Just as with anger, fear can also be a healthy emotion when managed well. And it becomes healthy when it alerts us of a genuine threat or protects us from potential danger.
The problem is we have let fear control our thoughts, decisions, actions, and ultimately our life.
And I´m not talking about the “that guy walking behind me looks like a psycho-killer, I should probably walk faster” type of fear when we are walking home at night for example.
But I´m talking about the fear of threats that aren’t really there. Sometimes we have fears left from our childhood, sometimes our fear is so quiet we can barely notice it.
We stay in bad relationships because we are afraid to be lonely. Same reason why we entertain those toxic platonic relationships. We don´t get out of our comfort zone in case we fail or make mistakes.
We mute our true selves in front of others to “fit in” and be liked. We don’t speak the truth or voice our opinions and boundaries in case they might get upset or angry at us.
But this is not healthy. And it´s certainly not the way you should live your life.
So how can you get past these fears?
As we said earlier, managing your emotional issues is not about figuring out how to avoid those feelings and experiences.
It´s about understanding and adapting to each emotion so that we can get the best out of each.
When it comes to fear, this emotion is “activated” when we are facing important moments in our lives. We feel fear of change, uncertainty, and the unknown.
But as a coincidence, the most important things we will ever do, the ones that have the possibility to change our lives, are the ones that generate the most uncertainty.
Which means that fear is correlated to importance. Meaning the bigger the fear, the bigger the potential payoff.
Whether that´s a new job or business opportunity, having a difficult conversation or doing something that you are afraid of.
Obviously, doing this is easier said than done. And you could even say it´s a skill that needs to be practiced.
When we feel fear our natural instinct is to run and “flight”. But the truth is fear never goes away. You don’t ever stop feeling afraid. Even when it gets buried under distractions.
But at some point, you need to face your fears, and most importantly you need to learn how to manage them so that it doesn’t stop you from becoming your highest self and building the life of your dreams.
Love. The ultimate guide to understand your emotions
As we said earlier the mechanisms that process our emotions, yes the maniac excel lover and the judge, also keep a tab on everyone else.
And here is where love comes in. Love is when we experience unequivocal joy for the gains of someone else. Love is when we look at someone (including ourselves) and only want good things to happen for them.
But love is much more than that. Real unconditional love is not appreciating someone despite their imperfections, but because of them. It´s respecting and supporting each other without wanting anything in exchange for our benefit.
Love is understanding that you may not always like or want to be around that person, but you will appreciate and want only good for them anyways.
It is a messy and complicated emotion. But it´s at the same time beautiful because it adds meaning and purpose to our lives. It´s what makes life worth living, even if we might get hurt in the process.
35 Questions to help you understand your emotions
And to finish the article here you will find 35 questions to help you understand your emotions. You can use these whenever you are feeling confused or are looking to understand and get to the bottom of your feelings.
- What happened to make me feel this way?
- Why does this bother me so much?
- Where is this coming from?
- Is this the first time this has happened?
- Is this possibly a pattern that I keep creating?
- Is this emotion linked to something I don’t like about myself?
- When was the first time I can remember this happening?
- Could this emotion be about something else?
- Is there something else that is actually bothering me?
- Why does this person bother me so much?
- Could this be about another person?
- Is this situation that triggered me so much about something else in my life?
- Do I feel this way because I’m obligated to for some reason?
- Am I trying to be someone I’m not in this situation?
- What is the most frustrating part about this?
- Do you find it hard to let go of this emotion? Why?
- What would happen if I let go of this?
- Do I find it scary to let go? If yes why?
- Do you want/like to feel this way? Why?
- What’s the thing I judge myself the most for with this feeling?
- What do I really want out of this situation?
- Is this emotion I’m feeling really true?
- Does this emotion show me a belief that I don’t like?
- How can I be more at peace right now?
- What can I learn from this?
- What can I do differently this time?
- Is there any action I need to take right now?
- What do I need in this situation?
Emotional questions to help you become more self aware and improve your emotional intelligence
- How do I respond when I don’t get what I want?
- How do I deal with negative people?
- How do I deal with inconvenient life situations?
- How do I respond to situations that I have no control over?
- How do I deal with change? Do I tend to avoid it, welcome it, fear it, like it, or complain about it…?
- How do I respond to stressful situations?
- How do I react to rejection?
Final Thoughts On How To Understand Your Emotions
Emotions can be complex and overwhelming, and it’s not always easy to understand what we’re feeling or why.
But it´s essential to understand our emotions and the way we react to them so that we can be in control of our lives.
Remember that emotions are not a permanent state, they come and go in waves. This is why you should never base your objectives and fulfillment on them.
Another key point we discussed throughout the article is that emotional maturity and being emotionally intelligent is not about suppressing your negative emotions, but about learning to benefit from all of them, especially the bad ones.
And that is all for today, my friend. Thank you so much for investing your time in this article. I hope the information and tips in this article will help you manage your emotions and understand yourself a little better.
Now I want to hear from you! What is the best tip you have received when it comes to understanding your emotions? I´d love to read you in the comments!