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Understanding Emotions

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Page 1 - Understanding Emotions
Emotional Intelligence | Where Do Emotions Come From?

Page 2 - Handling Our Emotions
The Grief Process | Overcoming Fear | Resolving Guilt
Jealousy & Envy | Anger | Feelings of Hurt & Resentment

Page 3 - Releasing
Identification | Releasing Emotions
Fixed Emotional Responses | Emotional Expression

The Grief Process

Grief is a natural reaction to the experience of loss - of loved friends and family, of treasured possessions, of self-esteem, of status and security, and of hopes, dreams and expectations. To let ourselves feel the sequence of emotions - anger, loss, despair, sadness, detachment and depression - is of course painful. But the grief process is not in itself harmful; it is when we do not allow the process to occur or to complete itself, that the suppressed emotions can cause stress and even illness months and years later.

The emotional process called grieving is to acknowledge, experience and release the powerful feelings that are part of it.

When adjustment to the loss is accomplished, a person begins to become involved in life again, usually incorporating a redefinition of how that life will be led: this may include finding new interests, developing new and old friendships, and starting new ventures.

How to help a grieving person (you, a friend or child)
First it is necessary of course to open up communication with the person and reflect back to them what they are feeling, as they may be denying their feeling of loss or sadness. Begin by asking how he or she is feeling. Then be prepared to follow up by saying, "How are you really feeling?" or "I noticed how you looked when you came in - how were you feeling then?"

Your job, through questioning and reflecting back what you hear, is to listen and let the person know how you understand and empathize with how they are feeling. Never try to evaluate nor to persuade the person to change their feelings. There needs to be an openness and honesty about what has happened and the feelings that come up (even if they seem contradictory), so that the fact of the loss can be faced head on.

One needs to be patient and allow the grieving process to take as long as it takes, without judgment. This can include answering questions and giving support and reassurance over and over again. Although loss has occurred in one area, point out other aspects of life that are still intact.

Do not suppress the person's emotional expression, and encourage them to do the same, to bring all the tears and anger and so on to the surface. Be there for the person and respect their need to be alone or to be with you, whether talking or in silence.

Regardless of the intensity or cause of the grief, it still occurs in this natural sequence and needs to be allowed, supported and healed.

Recognizing Grief Reactions
One may deny or refuse to accept the death or loss. One may feel personally at fault for what happened, such as feeling guilty that one is still OK others are not, or believing that one has caused the negative emotional reactions of family and friends.

One may feel anger, which generally results from something happening which you believe should not. There may be blame and resentment. There may be shock and panic if a world which seemed safe and secure has been shattered. And they may become loud, aggressive and physically hyperactive as their way of handling the powerful emotions which are pouring through them.

Because so many emotions and steps are involved in the grief process, healing after a loss can take a considerable period of time, but only emotions which are not moving through and being released are cause for concern.

Download free PDF: Roe Ziccarello: 10 Steps to Heal Your Grief


Overcoming Fear

Genuine fear warns and reminds us to stay alert and pay attention. But if a fear is irrational it threatens and jeopardizes so that we cannot do the things we want to do. It can become generalized so that we have an overriding feeling of fear with no real focus. For this reason it is important to focus on and identify a fear clearly, so it can be seen in its true light and confronted realistically.

When looking at a somewhat frightening situation it is all too easy to exaggerate it, to over-generalize and assume the worst, or to be more negative than we need to be about our own capabilities and about the scale of the threat.

The choice we have
Each time we experience fear, we have a choice to either allow it to engulf us, or to release it and trust that things will work out for us. When we operate under the constraint of fear, we are guaranteed to create what we fear. A fear that is not faced grows as it cycles through us. Each time it resurfaces, we have a harsher experience, until it becomes a phobia and ruins our lives. The alternative is to confront the fear, to look at the circumstances objectively and rationally, and then its inherent lesson can be learned.

Accompanying every fear is a need that we feel is threatened. Therefore the different kinds of fear correspond to the fundamental needs that we all have:

Fear of separation and loneliness. This is the most basic fear and it includes fear of death. To be accepted by others is a fundamental human need, so loneliness and the fear of loneliness can be found at the root of many behavioral problems: "If I say that or do this, people might not like me and I'll be on my own." "I had friends in the past but nobody likes me anymore."

Recovering self-confidence and the sense of opportunity in the present is the way to move through loneliness: to recognize that the 'all-alone feeling' we label 'loneliness' is an opportunity to pause and take a breath between different experiences, relationships and activities.

Fear of the unknown. This fear accompanies change, growth and any new endeavor, such as going to a new school or making a new friend.

Fear of pain. Physical, mental, emotional or spiritual pain is experienced (or even just imagined) and then feared. Fear of experiencing the pain again keeps adults and children unnecessarily locked within self-imposed limits to their life experience.

Fear of humiliation or being 'made wrong'. Teenagers in particular so fear the loss of their 'image' that they can succumb to peer pressure and act quite against their better judgment.

Fear of rejection. With this fear one avoids taking interpersonal risks, such as stating strong opinions that diverge from the group or family, or making decisions on one's own.

Fear of loss of control. This fear may come up if one has been betrayed in the past, or if one has been persuaded or influenced to do inappropriate actions, or if one has been frustrated at being unable to complete a cycle of action, or if one has tried to communicate with an angry person who won't listen, and so on.

And there are many more common fears. For all of them, the resolution is to perceive and accept the true reality of the situation and to trust that one's needs will be met. The magic of the universe is that then, yes they will be.


Resolving Guilt

Guilt is the feeling of self-reproach for believing one has done a wrong. Guilt usually involves a judgment we make about our character or behavior and it's this which sticks and makes us feel bad afterwards. It's not the answer to having done something wrong; the answer is to take responsibility for one's actions and to learn whatever lessons are possible from the mistakes and errors of judgment involved.

The self-reproach is lessened by realizing that you don't usually know you are making an error until you have made it and have a chance to realize in retrospect. Each of us can do our best and no more. If you did know your action was wrong, even before you did it, then you need to look at your motives and see where your judgment was going astray - since you realize it was a wrong act this should be quite apparent.

What was the valid or good motive for your behavior and what was the lie or misunderstanding that distorted the good into a bad action? This is the lesson you can learn, and you won't learn that lesson by putting yourself down and refusing to look clearly at what was really going on for you.

One needs to be particularly careful when one realizes one has done something wrong. You are particularly vulnerable at this moment to fall into the trap of protecting your self-esteem and 'rightness' by finding some way to justify your actions, to pretend that your motive was correct, that the action was deserved. If you believe this lie then you are even farther from taking responsibility and learning a valuable lesson.

It's a pretty reliable indication, that if someone is criticizing another with intolerance and lack of empathy and compassion, then he has previously wronged the other and has fallen into the trap of justifying his actions by rationalizing that the other is deserving of the wrongdoing. He then continues to find fault in the other, believing his own lie, and is that much more lacking in self-awareness.

The person who has done something wrong and realizes this, but has not communicated his responsibility to the persons involved, is in the precarious position of being afraid of being found out. He may feel the need to lie, which makes it worse. Every time he is 'nearly found out' he is highly stressed. The motto is, if there's something you need to say, then for your own sake just say it - you'll be so relieved. But the longer you leave it, or the more you lie to cover up your tracks, the worse it gets for you.

It's very important, if someone is brave enough enough to own up to you - about something they've done (that they think you won't like) or lies they've told - that you treat them with respect and compassion, and wipe the slate clean. Then it's win-win: they will respect you and their own self, and you've just made a friend not an enemy.


Jealousy & Envy

Jealousy is an immature emotion. Adults should have learned better but in many cases they haven't. Jealousy is to consider another person as an object of possession, a person who has no right to make their own choices.

Yes, we all feel the sting of jealousy sometimes and we need to acknowledge and accept the emotion, and then release it as something that is simply not rational nor helpful to us. We need to put ourselves in the other person's shoes and consider whether we would appreciate the lack of trust that a person jealous of us is demonstrating, and their desire to manipulate and control our choices. Probably we wouldn't. And most importantly, we need to spot the fears that underlie our jealous feelings and release them as well.

Envy is to wish one was the other person and is equally immature and unrealistic, but it doesn't have the destructive effects that jealousy has on trust in a relationship - instead it is a lack of trust in oneself. If you believe life 'happens to you' and if you believe you cannot create what you want, then you need to learn how to reverse these beliefs.

Envy can be resolved when you give yourself permission to create the experience, thing or ability that another person has in your own life. Then you can acknowledge, accept and release the feeling of envy.



Anger is the commonly experienced emotional state that gets us into the most troubling of situations. It is rooted deeply in our biology and is based on the 'fight or flight' reaction that we have when we feel in some way endangered. Anger is a passive state from which we can then choose either to make a positive response and take effective action to remedy the situation or we may choose to adopt a more negative emotion: if we feel some confidence we may move into an antagonistic stance, or if we feel the threat is overwhelming we may move into the state of fear.

We feel anger when we face a situation that is most definitely not as we feel it should be, which gives us a sense of being violated or wronged or threatened. When feelings of anger get to a certain point they are extremely hard to contain. This signals us to take action, to do something to relieve ourselves of the discomfort in the anger we feel. We may want to flee in fear, to leave in disgust or to attack with hostility; or it may stimulate us in a positive way to communicate with empathy and understanding, try to set new limits or rules or to enforce necessary changes, and to take power over our own lives.

The sooner we recognize the signals of anger, the better able we are to manage the anger successfully, to keep our cool and be responsible in the situation. Breathe deeply and count to 100 if necessary. Anger management should begin as soon as the pot begins to turn warm rather than waiting until it is threatening to boil over. The anger should not be denied, suppressed or avoided; instead it needs to be expressed, but in a positive way that does not have harmful consequences to yourself nor your relationships, and preferably in a way that enhances your situation.

When anger is not acknowledged and expressed, and when nothing is done about the situation that we are unhappy about, this energy stays locked up inside. This suppressed energy subconsciously takes a lot of our attention and the stress negatively impacts our ability to perceive objectively. It reinforces the Ego and we begin to misinterpret what we perceive, our vision colored strongly by this cloud of anger. We tend to see everything in a negative way and cannot determine, as we normally might, the best way forward.

Depression may result from suppressing the anger that we feel because of the fear that we will get in trouble for expressing it. If you aware of being depressed about a situation, give yourself permission to experience and express your anger and much of your depression can lift from your shoulders. Anger is actually a much more causative and potentially responsible standpoint - we can use the energy of anger to move upwards in tone, to take positive steps towards improving the situation.

Anger gives us an opportunity to learn about ourselves. To learn anger's lessons, what we need to do is acknowledge and accept our feeling of anger so that it passes through us harmlessly, so then we have a clear mind to deal rationally and empathically with the situation and we can see better just what it is we are getting so worked up about, or what it is we feel has been violated. And then we can use this released energy to do something about the situation in a positive way.


Feelings of Hurt & Resentment

Anger that is not expressed and released but instead is held inside, so the hurt is not exposed, can soon turn into resentment and hatred. The feeling of being 'victimized' instead of empowered undermines self-confidence. This kind of pain takes time to heal, unlike anger, which surfaces and passes through us quickly.

After the same hurtful experience is repeated several times, a person may develop a belief system based on resentment. Unless corrected, the person will unconsciously use these beliefs as a self-fulfilling prophecy, and become a person whose primary role in life is 'victim.'

Most people feel hurt when their core beliefs are challenged, especially if it is by someone who refuses to have empathy for their views nor to communicate properly about the issues. The person then feels frustrated and ignored. If he also received incorrect evaluations or invalidations of his way of being, he may also introspect and be left wondering if these observations are really true.

Conquer hurt feelings by acknowledging and facing the hurt, to the point where it can be accepted and then released. Just the act of looking squarely at what has actually happened and what has been hurtful frees you from some of the pain. Handle hurt in this way instead of pretending things are "all OK!"

It is necessary to realize that other people are entitled to have quite different opinions than oneself, and that need not be considered any threat nor invalidation of one's own. Maybe the other person is lacking in sensitivity and the ability to empathize with your views, but that is their problem, not one's own.

You need to identify what are your beliefs and what are the other person's, and clearly separate the two; then accept both views as individual expressions that have every right to be made and to exist.

If you are helping another person to face and release feelings of hurt, provide a safe and supportive atmosphere for working with feelings. Eschew any kind of evaluation or invalidation of what the person says, even if it seems correct to you - they need to rebuild their own reality and adding yours to the mix is actually no help at all. And of course, respect their confidences absolutely. If a person shares their feelings a few times but feels endangered by doing so, then he or she will surely close down again.


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