How to express your emotions.

I will talk about how to express your emotions to another person below.

But first, I need to address the question that both precedes the issue of expression and is often overlooked by people who write about emotions.

That question is….How do I know what emotion I am experiencing?

I address this issue in my book Emotions as Tools: A Self Help Guide to Controlling Your Life not Your Feelings.   I also provide checklists which will help you identify your feelings.

That being said, let me give you enough information about how to identify your feelings so at least you can get started.

Physical signs: 

Typically, your first indicator that you are experiencing an emotion will be physical changes in your body.

This could include muscles tightening, a sense of warmth, your body preparing to go to war (fight), run (flight), or stiffen (freeze).

That your body is your first indicator follows from the subconscious element of the emotional process which involves your subconscious (and continuous)  scanning of your surroundings for any threat and your brain preparing your body (again subconsciously) to deal with the perceived threat.

This is the primitive part of the emotional process which has existed in humans since we lived in caves and which evolved to help us survive as a species.  This part of the emotional process is very fast and automatic which, by the way, you would want it to be if you were about to be eaten by a saber toothed tiger.

The problem, however, for all of us today, is that this primitive emotional process continues to function unchanged in us just as it did in our cave dwelling ancestors.  This rapid reaction is the reason that many people feel controlled by their emotions, they view emotions as beyond their comprehension, and they blame their emotions for the inappropriate behavior they display when they experience an emotion.

None of these “assumptions” about emotions are true.

  1. You are NOT controlled by your emotions eventhough your initial reaction is subconscious.
  2. You can comprehend your emotions by reading my book, checking out the index tab to all my posts by scrolling to the top of this page or tapping into any number of resources available to you on the internet.
  3. The actions you take or your response  to your emotions are always your choice.  Your emotions do prepare you for a response but do NOT force you do anything.

Cognitive signs.

The “modern” component of the emotional process involves the thoughts you have about the threat your scans have perceived and your body has alerted you to through its physical reaction.

You might be more sensitive to changes in your thinking than you are to changes in your body.

If you are, you will become aware of “threat-based” thoughts which are preparing you to engage with the threat (indicative of anger), getting you all worked up over something that could occur in the future (indicative of anxiety), or, perhaps, alerting you to a situation that has immediate and unavoidable potential to do you great harm (fear).

You can learn to acknowledge these thoughts, accept their initial message as possible, question the extent to which these thoughts match what is happening to you, and choose whether to act on the thoughts or change them to match your situation.

By the way, if your thoughts alert you to an eminent threat and you are feelings fear, my suggestion is to escape the situation and assess it later.  An example would be a stranger in an elevator who looks “okay” but elicits an uncomfortable feeling in you.  Trust your “gut” and take the next elevator.  Whether he is or is not a threat is irrelevant.

This process of assessing your thoughts is what mastering your emotions  as strategic tools is all about.

How to express emotions

I have written a series of three posts entitled “How to deal with someone who directs their anger at you.” which touch upon some of the same suggestions that I address below.

Use “I” language

I language sounds like this… I am angry about your comments you made to me.  I found what you said to be inappropriate.  What exactly did you mean by what you said?”

There are several elements in the above statement…

  •  I am angry about your comments you made to me.

This person labels the feeling (anger) and takes full responsibility for the feeling.

  • I found what you said to be inappropriate.

This clearly states this individual’s perception and does not place any blame.

  • What exactly did you mean by what you said?

This question starts with “what” which is designed to focus on the other person’s intent and not “why” which often elicits an excuse.

This question also leaves open the possibility that the questioner might have misunderstood or misinterpreted what was said.

Finally, this question gives the other person a chance to explain, apologize for, or even change the comment that was made.

Stay focused on the feeling and the issue which elicited the feeling.

  • Don’t bring in info which is not directly relevant to the sit you are addressing.
  • What happened last week is not relevant here unless the actions of the other person is representative of an ongoing and unresolved issue.

Acknowledge that you might have misunderstood and ask for clarification.

If appropriate, apologize for any misunderstanding.

  • This is not saying you are wrong.
  • This is not negating your feelings.

If you are wrong, acknowledge this directly and apologize.

Be congruent.

  • non-verbals should match verbals

Remember the concept of escalation

  • Start with the lowest amount of energy needed to accurately reflect what you are feeling. This is being assertive.
  • You can always increase the level of aggressiveness if you need to.

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