Thinking about emotions
Maybe you’re someone who spends a lot of time in your head: you think big and lofty ideas, and you construct complex structures and worlds in your mind.
Maybe emotions have been something you haven’t spent much time thinking about.
They’re so pesky: emerging when you don’t expect them to—causing you to feel things like sadness and anger: emotions you try to push away so you don’t have to face them. They’re gooey and imprecise. Eww.
You’ve heard folks say “get in touch with your emotions,” but you don’t really know what that means. And because you don’t have a framework to help think about emotions, you don’t bother to do too much reflection on them.
I’d like to give you a way to think about emotions.
You have a body
You’re generally able to manage a lot of what your body does. You pick up a cup of coffee in the morning to get yourself going. You say words with your mouth when you want to speak.
And yet, you have this heart that beats that you don’t seem to have control over. You breathe, even when you’re asleep. Your hair keeps growing, even without you trying.
This thing, this body: it’s quite amazing how it works even without you even thinking about it.
Try to remember a time that you laughed uncontrollably. You tightened your face to a smile. You contracted your diaphragm, and if it was a good belly laugh: you probably hurt yourself from all that laughing.
Who did that?
Who made you laugh so hard?
Did you do that?
Did you decide: Hey, it’s time to squelch my face up for a smile?
Did you decide to tighten your stomach up until you were in stitches?
It wasn’t the you that picks up your coffee in the morning.
It wasn’t the you that speaks words when you want to speak.
It was the you that beats your heart.
It was the you that breathes when you sleep and the you that grows your hair.
You felt the emotion of happiness (and possibly surprise) arising from your body that caused you to tighten your face to smile and contract your diaphragm.
These things require a body to be experienced. Let’s take a look at this basic set of common emotions:
When you have a few beers and you’re feeling giggly, your body’s there: feeling good, smiling, and having a good time.
When your dog passes away and you’re feeling sad, your body’s there: feeling the pain of loss and expressing that emotion with tears.
When you’re feeling your car lose traction and you’re feeling scared, your body’s there: pumping you with adrenaline and causing you to be on alert.
When you wake up with that hangover and you smell some gross leftovers in your kitchen, your body’s there: making you feel disgusted in yourself and question your life choices, but also making you run over to pray to the porcelain god.
When you keep saying the same things over and over again but no one seems to be listening, your body’s there: heating your head, neck, and shoulders with that feeling of anger.
When you’re doom scrolling through your feed and catch a headline about some fancy new way to fold your t-shirts, you’re surprised you never knew that before and may let out a “WTF?” and open your eyes in a startle response.
Emotions. Your body.
You may get inputs from the world that’s processed with your thoughts, but it’s the body that expresses them and gives us feedback about how it’s interpreting that data.
If you get a headache, your body’s telling you something’s wrong in your head. If you get a stomach ache, it’s your body telling you there’s something wrong in your stomach.
If you notice an emotion, it’s your body telling you there’s something going on that it’s reacting to. And when you’re not listening, you’re not “in touch your emotions,” and you’re missing valuable information from an source of data that’s giving you constant real-time feedback about the state of itself, the world around you, and all those thoughts you’re having.
You already trust your body to give you input with your eyes when you see things. You trust it to hear, smell, and taste things. When you “get in touch” with your emotions, you’re using your sense of touch to feel your own body and what’s it’s telling you.
Trust your body, and let it show you what it’s feeling.