Finding the Meaning Behind Emotions



A new friend of mine asked me about my pet peeves. “I know I have them,” I said as I tried to think of one. “I blog about them all the time.” The only one I came up with right away was my pet peeve about the little creamer containers they bring out with coffee. I hate those things. Good thing I’m not drinking coffee anymore. I can enjoy tea without half and half, so that particular pet peeve isn’t much of an issue at the moment. A bigger pet peeve is the one I have when people tell me how I SHOULD feel…. or SHOULD NOT feel. Talk about a boundary crosser! When someone does it to me or I see someone do it to someone else, I want to tell them they SHOULD mind their own feelings and mind their own damn business. How in the world does one person know how another person should FEEL?

I know that people mean well when they do that. They don’t want their friend to feel bad, so they tell them to just not do it. That’s easy, isn’t it? Just stop it!! Stop feeling that way! Emotions are energy, and you have to let them move through. I had a particularly bad nightmare one time about my ex. It brought me back into all of those old feelings of being discounted, unloved and afraid. I was right in the middle of a huge trigger. I called a friend and started to tell her about it and how I was just reeling in those feelings. “Sharon, you are going to have to get over this,” was her answer. “Everybody has things they have to deal with, and you have to learn to deal with this.” I was in such a vulnerable place and in a lot of pain, and this comment made me further feel like there was something wrong with me because I was feeling pain. I felt like she knocked the wind out of me. I sucked it up for the moment – until I could hang up with her and call somebody that was not afraid to hear about feelings. In 5 minutes of me saying how I felt and being encouraged that, given my history, of course I would feel those things, I was back on track. But, there was one phone number I removed from my phone for support.

In my journey of learning about addictions and codependency, I’ve learned that most of us who deal with those afflictions don’t want to feel. There’s a saying in recovery: The good news is you have your feelings back. The bad news is you have your feelings back. Feelings can be great, and they can be painful. Ultimately, each person’s emotional response to anything is based on their interpretation of the event. I think that’s what people are getting at when they say you should or should not feel a certain way. They are trying to help you reframe it so that you feel a “good” emotion. Here is a list of feeling words. I love that they label them Pleasant Feelings and Difficulty/Unpleasant Feelings. There is no Good/Bad label. That list hung on my refrigerator at my house for many years. When my ex and I would be trying to communicate and some feeling was tripping us up, we’d go over and pick the most appropriate word for how we felt. It helped us talk about what was going on behind the emotion. It helped us talk about our interpretation of the emotion we were having. This is the thing… it IS the interpretation behind the emotion that matters. It is that interpretation that allows us to move through the emotion. It has to be the feeler’s interpretation. It is the quickest route to change a feeling… moving through.

Tonight I had a call from a friend who was struggling with a family issue. After she told me the story, I asked her first how I could be most supportive. In this case, she wanted me to reflect what I heard in her story and to help her figure out the next right step.  I laughed and said I wish I could pull out a chart that had some columns where you could go down two rows and over three columns and it would tell you what you need to do. Life just isn’t like that. The most important thing I wanted to help her understand is her INTERPRETATION of these events. That’s what had her feelings all over the place. I told her I heard that she felt afraid, pissed and disgusted. She said those words. Well, pissed and disgusted are anger words, and anger is usually a protective emotion hiding a more vulnerable emotion. So, I checked out “afraid” and asked what she was afraid of happening. When she told me, I merely said that I would feel afraid if I thought that might happen, too. That’s all. It’s so simple. This may have happened to her a million times but it’s never happened to me once. Of course I wouldn’t be afraid of it happening… it’s never happened to me. That’s where interpretations come from… our life experience.

From my training in my women’s circles, I’ve learned that there are a few key questions to help people unravel their interpretation of events and to help them move through their emotions.

  • Ask them to name their feelings specifically. Once they pick them out, they can usually pinpoint the main issue.
  • Ask them if this feeling is familiar. If it is, ask them about that old story.
  • Validate their feelings. This helps them tap into their own power to solve their own problems because you validate that they are not on the wrong track.

I don’t ever tell anyone how they should feel anymore. I have heard so many stories about people’s lives. Many are unbelievably different than the stories I’ve lived. I know I have absolutely no clue how they should feel in any given event. What is an easy “mind shift” for me can be an enormous trigger for someone else that may take weeks to move through. The kindest thing I can do is to help them talk through it and figure out their own interpretations. If I start giving advice on how they should interpret something, I can make matters worse.  For me, one of my strongest wounds was being told that I was irrational. This effectively told me that my inner compass was flawed. Think about it. If I’m irrational, how can I trust myself? That is a very scary place to live. If I believe that label, then I can’t decipher the world and make my own decisions. So, when another person tells me that I shouldn’t feel a certain way, that old “irrational” stuff gets triggered, and I can go right back to feeling that I cannot trust myself. It brings up deep, deep fear about my ability to survive.

I actually love having these intimate conversations with people. I think it’s how God wired us to come together. He wired us for connecting, and connecting about emotions is one of the most intimate things we can do. To understand and validate another person’s most vulnerable and intimate journey creates bonds that run incredibly deep. I know the friends who walked with me through the darkest nights of my soul, reflecting what they saw and building me up by validating me along the way. Those are my soul sisters. They taught me that I am rational. They taught me that my interpretations of events are exactly what they should be given my history. They taught me that my emotions are not facts but they are barometers that warn me I am getting into dangerous territory. These conversations about emotions were the foundation of learning to live authentically. I believe that even though the bad news is that I have my feelings back…. the REALLY good news is that I have my feelings back. And I will not give them up again.




2 Comments on “Finding the Meaning Behind Emotions

  1. Wow .. awesome blog. In the course that I am helping teach, we presented on communication and listening to learn. I sincerely hope to be as an effective listener as you are. Thanks for this blog and for forcing me to look deeper into myself.

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