Goal: To grow your Emotional Core Area, which includes your thoughts, feelings, behavior, and experiences about the safe and open expression of a range of emotions and feelings that facilitate warmth, security, connection, understanding and importance.
The Importance of this Core Area: The Ancient Greeks said, “the heart is the seat of all emotions,” and I’m prone to say they were fairly accurate with their appraisal. Any area of focus that includes the heart of anything or any matter must be important, and our emotions and feelings, like our heart, belong to us and are uniquely ours and are central to all we say, are and do. Just as our brain and heart send biological messengers, impulses and signals throughout our body to keep us alive and functioning efficiently, our emotions are also “born” biologically (and usually unconsciously), felt pervasively throughout our body and are definitely a sign we’re alive! The interesting thing though is that our feelings tend to be influenced by our emotions but more so by our brain, that is, by our thoughts, the meanings and our interpretations about life that we assign to the biological messengers in your body. Take a look at the Feelings Wheel below for a small glimpse at the core Emotions (inner circle) and Feelings (middle and outer circles).
When we identify then share our Emotions, we become vulnerable, and use words that capture and reveal the breadth, depth and full range of feelings we may be experiencing at any given time. When we share emotions “from the bottom of our heart” more than likely we’ll share about our greatest joy(s), our worst fears, our deepest thoughts, our sincerest truth, our relational hurts, our most pressing needs and of course, the sweetest love we enjoy.
Many of us probably identify with the risk that’s involved with sharing emotions because when we share we hope our audience will carefully and reverently listen, accept, understand, support and validate our words, smiles, tears or other forms of our non-verbal expression. The Ancient Greeks understood this all too well because their word for “compassion” (Splanchnon; used by Jesus is Matthew 9:36) is also the medical term for that part of our body called the viscera, which is where the Greeks thought all strong emotions originated.
What’s our takeaway with this? As with any part of the human anatomy if one has the opportunity to touch the inner parts or organs of another person (especially the heart, the seat of all emotions!), the hope is that it is done with great care, with tender and skillful attention, because whoever is touched is in obvious need of sympathy, empathy or compassion, and your touch will have a critical impact on his or her ability to heal.
The Fruit and Wisdom in this Core Area: Last Greek lesson in this section! The Ancients gave us another important word called Thumos, which summed up all of the feelings a person experienced. You might see the English words “Thermometer, Thermostat and Thermos” in the word because they originate from Thumos. Makes sense because our Feelings and Emotions do function like a Thermometer, as they signal how hot, cold, connected, distant, lonely or loved we are.
Since our feelings are connected to our thoughts (the things we tell ourselves about our situations and the people who are involved), and both originate in the Emotional Right and Logical Left parts of our brain, then we have the ability to come to our own assistance to skillfully “adjust our thermometer” (called Emotional Regulation) when we engage in what neurobiology calls “bilateral stimulation.” Getting really good at Emotional Regulation looks like pouring your emotions into a cup (perhaps a thermos, which helps us to handle and contain heated, strong and intense coffee, er, emotions) and handing it to another person for them to sip, take in (an empathetic gesture) and respond to the emotions you’re sharing with them!
Emotional regulation (by all participants) is especially important when someone has been hurt or traumatized (remember the heart and the viscera!) because creating safety by practicing safe behavior facilitates safe, productive and meaningful outcomes in your encounters with others.
Contaminants in this Core Area: To not develop the skill of emotional self-awareness means you put yourself (and others) at a disadvantage. How? When you’re not able to read your thermometer (your emotions), nor make the necessary and critical adjustments with your thoughts, feelings and behavior (your thermostat), you run the risk of becoming “emotionally flooded.” When I see emotionally flooded people, typically they don’t contain nor share their heart from the emotionally regulated coolness of 72° but they erupt with scalding words, speech or behavior of 192°! This is akin to them throwing their heated thermos of emotion onto another, and sadly, their opportunity and message which deserves to be heard is lost as the other person is traumatized by the burn of dysregulated emotional expression.
Since your emotions and feelings are also driven and influenced by your thoughts, I encourage you to give great attention to your communication skills, ego defenses, cognitive distortions, maladaptive schemas and schema modes, unresolved trauma(s), etc. in treatment because the more you allow the “A.N.T.S” (automatic negative thoughts) to swirl in your mind then the more you’ll probably feel and experience the words on the left side of the Emotions and Feelings chart below.
Suggested Activity: The sooner a safe environment is created within yourself, then the sooner you’ll give yourself the opportunity to develop and facilitate co- or mutual regulation with the emotions and feelings of all involved. To assist you to develop Emotional Self-Awareness, read and work through the “Ten steps to improve your Emotional Self-Awareness using the Emotions and Feelings Wheel” below.
Skill to develop: Your ability to come to your own assistance by developing emotional self-awareness so you’re able to identify, understand then “send and receive” feelings and emotions competently, which leads mutually regulated and enjoyable experiences with others.
The Ten steps to improve your Emotional Self-Awareness
- Your Primary Emotions are in the center of the Wheel. What primary emotion(s) are you currently experiencing?
- Your Primary Emotions may trigger Secondary Feelings. Your secondary feelings are in the Middle and Outer part of the Wheel. Is there a secondary feeling you’re experiencing? What feelings are you identifying?
- Your Secondary Feelings are primarily based on the Thoughts you tell yourself about your situation at hand or the people involved. What thoughts are you telling yourself that are triggering your secondary feelings?
- Considering the emotions, feelings and thoughts you’ve identified, is there a Need you have, or an expectation you’d like to see fulfilled that’s connected to or embedded in the feelings you’re experiencing? What is it?
- What personal responsibility or actions will you take to meet or satisfy your need? What choices do you see yourself making/taking to meet your identified need? How do you think your emotions, feelings and thoughts will be different when you take responsibility to meet your own need(s)?
- Perhaps you need assistance from another person to meet the need you have, that’s connected to your emotions, feelings, or thoughts you’re having. What “reasonable assistance” would you like to present or request from the other person(s)? How do you think your emotions, feelings and thoughts will be different if the other person partners with you to meet your need(s)?
- In 3 – 4 minutes share these 7 things you’ve learned about your emotions, feelings, thoughts, needs, etc.:
- My Emotions: “I have this sinking feeling in my gut; I’m feeling afraid right now.”
- My Feeling: “I’m feeling anxious about what you said and insecure because I may not do this correctly.”
- My Thoughts: “I’m really worried and pressured that you’ll be pissed at me and I’ll never satisfy you.”
- My Need: “I just need you to be patient with me and know that I’m not trying to willfully frustrate you.”
- My Responsibility: “I’ll talk about my fears and concerns sooner versus stuffing and ignoring my feelings.”
- My Request for You to consider: “Will you sit down with me tomorrow so we could plan what we’ll do?”
- Our Outcome: “I’m feeling relieved and hopeful we’re both going to work together on this…I like that!
- My Emotions: “I have this sinking feeling in my gut; I’m feeling afraid right now.”
- Which of the emotions or feelings would you like to experience on the Feelings Wheel? Keep in mind that sharing your thoughts, exercising choices, meeting your needs, choosing to change and working with others to create “win-win” outcomes are powerful determinants when it comes to the feelings you’ll experience!
- What processes (taking deep breaths, requesting a “time-out,” going for a walk, praying, listening to music or sitting quietly, etc.) and what thoughts might you change (challenging automatic negative thoughts, integrating positive affirmations about yourself, using communication tools, etc.) that will help you to move toward, get closer to, or create the feelings and outcomes that are most appealing to you (and your partner)?
- What feelings do you feel the most? Which are more “comfortable” for you to share with others? Which are more difficult for you to share? Which “feeling states” and frames of mind would create a safe environment to keep you and your partner at the “table of communication” to create understanding or resolve problems?
Bonus Question: How does it feel to know you’re “coming to your own assistance” as you do the “Adult work” of identifying the message(s) in your emotions, your feelings, your thoughts, your needs and the fact you’re capable of creating desired outcomes for yourself and your relationships? Will you refer to the Feelings Wheel in the future to sort out your feelings? Will you use/share this tool with your partner, children, co-workers (if appropriate) and others to help them understand their emotions, feelings, thoughts and needs? Thank you!
Thanks for reading this excerpt from Cultivating Love: Wisdom for Life. As time permits, please visit the other blogs written by Dr. Ken McGill: Daily Bread for Life and “3 – 2 – 5 – 4 – 24″ for additional information that could be helpful.
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