How Your Emotions Work

Hi, I'm Graham. I had 18 years of formal education - that's 12 years of primary and high school, and then another six years at university studying engineering - and during that time, I learnt a lot about how to think but very little about how to feel or how my emotions worked.

In fact, I can't remember in that entire time a single class where I sat down and had a teacher teach me how my emotions work.

Now, possibly maybe in art classes or in music classes or maybe even in English they might've come close, but really nothing all that direct and concrete.

And that's a shame because, fundamentally as humans, we're all driven by our emotions. All our behavior is an attempt to either move towards pleasure or move away from pain.

So emotions are absolutely key to getting what we want in life. They're also the key to a successful relationship, especially with women.

So in the rest of this article, I'm going to give you a quick introduction into how your emotions work.

Basic Emotions

Emotional mastery researchers come up with all sorts of lists and categories for different kinds of emotions, but I like to keep it really simple. So for the purpose of this video, I'm going to suggest that we break it down into eight basic emotions:

  • Peace
  • Love
  • Joy
  • Anger
  • Sadness
  • Fear
  • Guilt
  • Shame

There are lots of different combinations of these emotions that can happen to us and other people categorize them slightly differently. But, really, if you just get a handle of these basic eight, you'll be streets ahead of all the other guys out there.

Where Emotions Come From

So where do emotions come from? Well, emotions arise in the primitive part of our brain. Us humans arise to the top of the food chain because of our ability to think and make long-term plans and our analytical thinking abilities.

But, really, that's a relatively late evolutionary development. Most of the action that's really driving us is still in the primitive part of our brain, and that's all driven by our emotions.

Thoughts Versus Feelings

What happens basically is that we have thoughts and we have feelings all at the same time, and it is possible for our thoughts to kind of subvert our feelings for a short period of time.

But in the long run, emotions are way more powerful and will always win out at the end of the day.

Why We Have Emotions

So why do we have emotions? Well, I don't really know for sure. Obviously they've got some kind of evolutionary benefit, but I'll give you three basic reasons.

  1. Firstly is they tell us what's really important to us on a very deep level. Without even thinking about it, emotions arise from our unconscious mind and get our attention. They tell us about things that are threats in our environment or things that we really want to move towards. So they're key to telling us what's really important to us.
  2. They're also the basis of close connection and trust with other people. So feelings are really important in relationships.
  3. And, finally, feelings play a very key role in memory and our ability to remember things that happened in the past. Often traumatic memories or events that have been quite painful for us can still have a very emotional charge attached to them. That's a topic for another day.

Feelings Have Physical Sensations

It's not all that widely recognized in our society that feelings also have physical sensations associated with them in our body. They're not just something that happens in our head.

If you were to ask me to differentiate between what's a feeling and what's an emotion, I would say it's kind of splitting hairs. I often use the two words interchangeably. But one way to look at it is that feelings have a physical sensation associated with them in the body, whereas an emotion is more of a label that we attach to what's going on in our mind.

So with fear, for instance, you might find your heart racing and your body kind of shaking. That will be the feeling. Whereas fear might be the description of the emotion that we're experiencing associated with that.

But really, it's kind of splitting hairs and I don't really think that's all that important to distinguish between the two a lot of the time.

How We Learn to Suppress Our Emotions

When we were an infant, we were freely self-expressed and emotions just came and went and we were hit with waves of feelings all the time, often feelings that felt quite overwhelming.

When we were sad, we would cry. When we were angry, we would rage. When we were joyful, we would smile and goo. When we were happy, we would smile.

Over time, what happens is we freely express ourselves and then we start encountering the reactions of other people. Now, babies learn to regulate their emotions through interactions with other people, particularly our mothers and our fathers, our early caregivers.

What can often happen is that if our early caregivers are not highly in tune with their emotions or they have a large emotional backlog or they're just very uncomfortable with their feelings, then they can be very triggered by our infant feelings and often the response of adults in our society to children that are having an emotion is to try and shut them down, because we don't want the child to feel bad. We want to make it okay.

Part of that is our concern for the child, but a lot of it is also, just as adults, we're typically very uncomfortable with our own feelings and therefore anything that reminds us of a painful feeling we want to push away. And that includes shutting a child down when they're expressing a feeling that we find distressing.

The Emotional Pressure Cooker

This becomes a problem because inside us you could look at our nervous system as like an emotional pressure cooker. And when we start learning to suppress our feelings, stop expressing joy or stop expressing anger or stop expressing sadness or fear or love, what happens is those emotions start getting constrained within ourselves and start building up a kind of psychological pressure inside of our emotional pressure cooker.

If you suppress your feelings long enough and you build up enough pressure, this can lead to all sorts of physical and mental health problems.

How to Release Your Emotional Baggage Safely

So what's the solution to this problem? Well, the solution is to go back to that childlike state - a little bit, not entirely - a little bit where we're free to express how we're feeling. And this can be as simple as saying, "I feel angry," or, "I feel sad," or, "I feel frightened".

If we're referring to an event in the past that's happened, we might say, "When you told me I was an idiot, I felt angry".

Doing this has the effect that we hear ourselves express the feeling that's going on and it allows our unconscious mind to start releasing some of the emotional pressure associated with it.

Releasing Physical Feeling Sensations

If a feeling has a very strong bodily sensation attached to it, another technique is to identify where in the body we're feeling this feeling.

Perhaps we're feeling anger in the middle of the chest or we might be feeling fear in our stomach, and to work out and visualize how this feeling can be represented so we can get more in touch with it.

You might ask why would you want to get in touch with a feeling, especially if it's an unpleasant one, and the reason for that is that when you fully express the feeling, like the infant child, it's allowed to flow through you and then you can move on to the next feeling.

You don't have to hang on to feeling angry or feeling sad or feeling frightened all the time. Once you express these feelings, we can then move through more peace, love and joy.

Identifying Emotions Accurately

When you do this, it's important that you get the feeling as accurately as you can.

There are lots of different words for feelings, and at first when you're trying this you might find that it's a bit of a guessing game. It's okay to get it wrong, but try to pinpoint as accurately as you can what the feeling is you're experiencing.

For instance, if you're feeling angry, it's better to actually say, "I'm feeling angry," than to kind of water it down and say, "I'm feeling miffed," or "I'm feeling irritated, or, you know, "It bugs me".

The closer you can get to the feeling, the closer you will be to resonating with your unconscious mind and allowing the feeling to pass through you.

I had a friend of mine who was struggling with anger for a long time and she was really beating herself up about it. It was really affecting her self-esteem. She became very depressed about it because all her relationships tended to be sabotaged by the fact that she'd get angry with the guys that she went out with and end up pushing them away.

I was curious about this because it seemed as though she was pretty good at expressing anger. In fact, she let it flow pretty freely when she was angry. So I wondered what was going on because when you fully express an emotion, it passes. And yet my friend was stuck in this vicious cycle of getting angry over and over.

So I said to her, "Look, there must be something else going on. Maybe there's some other emotion underneath the anger. When you're angry with these guys, what are you really feeling?"

And she said, "Well, really, under the anger, I'm feeling hurt. But there's no way I'm going to tell the guy that."

Well, I think that was the key to the problem that she was experiencing. Anger in her place was just a substituted emotion when really she was feeling hurt. And because it was substituted, she was never really getting to the core of the problem and that meant she was generating more and more anger.

Dealing With an Emotional Backlog

Beware of the emotional backlog. If you've had a lifetime of suppressing your feelings and putting a lot of energy into this internal emotional pressure cooker that you may not even have been aware of up until now, then your nervous system could have quite a lot of pent-up energy in it and you don't want to just unleash all that in one big go. So be very gentle with yourself.

Also, it really helps to have another conscious mind to communicate with when we're expressing our feelings. It just makes everything so much more powerful when we can receive empathy from another conscious human being.

Because of these reasons, I highly recommend that if you've had a history of not dealing with your feelings well that you get in touch with a counselor, psychologist or an emotional mastery coach like myself, somebody who is trained in dealing with emotions and can help you to identify what you're feeling and how best to express it.

Also, I highly recommend that you get yourself a copy of this book, The Keys to Emotional Mastery by Nicholas De Castella. This is the most concise and most powerful reference that I've come across anywhere on how to deal with your emotions.

I've got Nicholas's permission to include an electronic copy of this book as a bonus product when you purchase The Confident Man Program.

I'm really keen to hear how you guys go with this. When I talk to women, their biggest complaint that I hear about the men in their lives is that they won't express how they feel. So this is an absolute life-changing experience to start learning this stuff. I'm very keen to hear how you go.

Leave a message on the forums, leave a response to this post and let me know how you go when you start learning more about how your emotions work.

About Graham Stoney

I struggled for years with low self-esteem, anxiety and a lack of self-confidence before finding a solution that really worked. I created The Confident Man Program to help other men live the life of their dreams. I also offer 1-on-1 coaching via Skype so if you related to this article contact me about coaching.
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4 Responses to How Your Emotions Work

  1. Rebecca says:

    Graham
    i absolutely love your articles. I have spent years of my life pushing emotions and feelings down and not expressing them out of fear mostly. Its only the last 10 years I've been digging into them to understand myself better and have come to realize it feel like I've been sleep walking my entire life for the most part. I still continue to work at chipping away. Emotions can be like waves. There tends to be a powerful force there that makes us want to DO something (usually something rash and generally not get us to the end result we would like). Negative emotions can make us physically ill if not dealt with and moved on from. I can only speak to this woman's perspective. I know you write for men; however, there is much value here for a female. After reading this its become clearer to me that the anger i have felt in the past was indeed hurt. This is an indicator that needs arent being met. Thinking of it as anger vs hurt makes it more difficult to express and work through for the self and the other involved party. Hurt by definition feels more passive (and heart opening, vulnerable) whereas anger has a different force and causes the other to feel attacked and so resolution is more difficult. Healing is more difficult. Anger is also very physically draining.

    I could go on about this subject since its been at the forefront for me. Thank you so very much for your work. Awareness is the first step to being able to make changes; however, it is a bit of a very deep rabbit hole and i wonder when i will either dig my way to China or Wonderland 😉 for me anyway its been a journey well worth every uncovered emotion and feeling.

    Cheers
    Rebecca

    • Hi Rebecca,
      Thanks so much for your comment; I really appreciate the encouragement. Yes I totally agree. I think one complicating factor in expressing anger is that so many people have so much unresolved hurt that they get triggered into shame, self-judgement and defensiveness even when we express our anger cleanly. I'm lucky to have found people who are willing to hear my anger as it is, without making up a story that they necessarily did anything "wrong". With that out of the way, I find it clears the space for the vulnerability to express the hurt beneath the anger, which ultimately leads to the healing. As you say, remaining stuck in anger (whether we're consciously aware of it or not) is physically draining... I so relate! I also wonder how deep the rabbit hole goes, and think it's worth also bearing in mind Joseph Campbell's "Follow your bliss" philosophy: "Find a place inside where there's joy, and the joy will burn out the pain." It seems there are times to stop and focus on healing the pain, and times to get on with living a kick-ass joyful life. Cheers, Graham

      • Rebecca says:

        Hi Graham
        Thank you for taking the time to reply. Yes. I agree. I have been excavating for quite some time and have, for the most part, find myself in a place where i can finally feel excited about my life now that those burdens have been worked through. I will have to look into that philosophy because living a kick ass life IS the objective 🙂 its just nice to have someone else reinforce it and fortunately positive reinforcement has come from many directions. When one is open to receiving, what we need does appear.
        Thanks!

        Rebecca

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