Mastering Grief as a Strategic Emotion

Grief is an emotion that is well known but little understood.

Today’s post is designed to give you both insight into this important emotion and, should you find yourself in its “grip”, hopefully give you some suggestions for mastering your grief as a strategic tool.

Grief is an important emotion because its purpose is…

  • to focus our attention on what we have lost,
  • prepare us to effectively deal with that loss, and
  • allow us to grow beyond the loss and get on with our lives.


  • Grief is the emotion we experience when we experience a significant loss.
  • The message of grief is that we have sustained a significant loss and that we need to withdraw from others so that we can heal.
  • Grief, as an emotion, hurts.

Grief and Pain

The experience of grief can involve..

  • tears that seem to come on their own
  • a sense of emptiness inside
  • an inability to function normally because we are consumed by a sense of unresolvable loss

Other feelings which can go along with grief

  • sadness
  • anxiety
  • guilt

Two significant Grief myths

  • It is important to be “strong” (whatever this means) in the face of grief
  • Moving on with your life means forgetting about your loss

So, let’s dive in..

If you never experience grief, I hope it is because you have never experienced a significant (however, you define this) loss.  If so, I am thrilled for you.

It is, however, more likely that you will experience such a loss in your lifetime and you have at least two ways to approach the grief that accompanies the loss.

The unhealthy way…   suppress the feelings, power through it, and keep going.  This denial is equivalent to looking at the growing red spot on your skin, ignoring it because you don’t want to know more about it or don’t believe in skin cancer, and, down the road, having to deal with your cancer when it finally reaches a point where you can no longer avoid it.

The healthy way.. mastering the grief by validating it and working through it including experiencing the pain and the “symptoms” associated with the pain.

Pain explained.

A few years ago, a close family friend “lost” his wife after some 40 years of marriage.  They were high school sweethearts, got married and spent their whole adult life together as a couple.

When his wife died, he felt as if an important part of him had been wrenched away leaving a void which could not be filled.

He was right (almost).

An important part of him had been wrenched away and there was a void. However, while he would never be able to replace his wife of 40 years (nor would he want to), he would learn to heal the void.

While he expected to miss (grieve for) his wife, he was blindsided and totally (but intermittently) immobilized by  pain, tears and irreconcilable emotion.

There are at least two important elements to understanding the pain of grief.

I. The pain he experienced happened because of, and was a direct reflection of, his incredible 40 years of marriage.

In other words, the amount of pleasure he experienced in his marriage (however, he would define this term and what it included) was the “cause” of the pain he experienced when his wife died.

If the marriage had not been a source of pleasure, the ending, or loss, of that relationship would not have been that painful.

So, one important question he had to address (directly or indirectly) at some point was…

Do the benefits (love, companionship, etc) he gained from the marriage outweigh the cost (pain) he experienced when his wife died?

Or, to put it another way..

If he was given the choice to go back in time and not marry his future wife, would he do it in order to avoid the pain he felt when she died?

When he was ready, he acknowledged that the upside (benefits) of his marriage far outweighed the relatively minimal downside (his pain) and he wouldn’t change anything.

 Note: Some people do choose not to get involved in a serious relationship in order to avoid having to experience this pain. While it has consequences, this is a valid choice.

II. His ability to relive, revisit and relish the memories of his wife and the 40 years he considers himself both blessed and very fortunate to have been able to spend with her could not happen until he experienced and worked through his pain.

This is an often overlooked component of the pain of grief and, by the way, is an argument for listening to, validating, and mastering grief.

Denying the pain of one’s grief does not eliminate the pain.  It may mute the degree of discomfort you experience with your guilt.

What happens it this.

Every time he tried to revisit a fond memory, he would get a jolt of pain.  Our friend would cry uncontrollably when these memories came up.

And, they seemed to come up almost spontaneously and unconnected to anything that was going on with him in the moment.

Mastering grief as a strategic emotion…

The message of grief is that you have experienced a significant loss.  Grief prepares you to withdraw and begin healing.

You master your grief when you take all the time you need to validate the emotion and all the experiences that accompany the emotion.  You withdraw as much as you can from your regular activities so you can experience the pain.  You avoid judging yourself and your actions (like crying, feeling weak and vulnerable, etc) and treat yourself with the same compassion as you would a close friend going through his (or her) grief.

The process..

As I explained to our friend, when you allow yourself to experience both the pain and the memories, you validate the loss, the emotion, and your willingness to grow through it.

What happens, over time, is that the pain subsides and you are able to enjoy your memories.  The pain may be experienced as sadness at the loss but the happiness which accompanies the memories far outweighs the sadness.

In addition, over time, the emptiness gives way to an acknowledgement that the relationship was deep, satisfying and real and that the memories which retrieve that relationship can never be lost.  The person may be gone, the experiences are not.

As you master your grief and grow though it, you will find that you are increasingly ready to reengage with the world and maybe even consider new relationships.

I recall a story told to me by a deeply religious friend.

His wife contracted cancer.  She didn’t want to do radiation or chemo so he and his wife changed their diets and lifestyle together until the cancer eventually took her.

He grieved for his wife for several years and didn’t date.

One night he had a dream in which his wife appeared to him and told him that she was safe with God and it was time for him to move on and begin dating.

He took her advice, started dating and eventually remarried.

Now, whether you believe that his wife actually spoke to him in his dreams or his dreams reflected his own growth and he was “talking” to himself is not critical.  The focus of the dream was that he had reached a point in his growth where he was able to both enjoy fond memories of his deceased wife and begin to form new ones with his new wife.

He never forgot his first wife and is currently happily married.

Our friend followed a similar course of action and returned to a very fulfilling life.

This is mastering one’s grief.



A New Podcast-Different Topics

These are links to my recent podcast on PositiveTalkRadio. In this interview, I discuss topics which were not addressed in the podcast I noted in my last post.

I’ve included these podcasts because some of you may prefer to get your information in a video or audio format rather than reading it.  If this is your preference, click on the Contact Me button above and leave me a message.

Audio only...


Here are some specific issues which might interest you:

11:47 The problem with asking “why” questions and how “what” may be better.                                                                                                                                          19:10 The value of apologizing                                                                                          20:28 Personal responsibility and the challenge of believing that emotions control us.                                                                                                                                                 23:42 Jealousy
24:34 Hate
28:23 Fear and anxiety
32:10 Emotions gone astray and two issues… immigrants and the lady who called police on a black man walking his dog
37:34 Healthy disagreements with a spouse.

This is a link to a recent podcast I did on emotions with time stamps.

In this podcast, we discuss how I became interested in the topic of emotions, what emotions are and other informative issues.

Here is a summary (First number is minutes into the interview. Second number is seconds both of which are approximate):

3:47. Where did my passion for emotions come from.

6:08 How to understand the emotions cycle.

8:46 Understanding men, women and emotions.  Men default to anger, women default to sadness.

14:26 Basic Relationship Rule

17:12. Emotions inform and motivate.  The next step is mastery.

20:24 Develop new emotional habits.

24:38 My best success stories

28:23 Working with incarcerated young women

30:02 Anxiety

35:00 Sadness and IWBNI’s

31:00 Happiness

41:56. Primary and Secondary emotional progressions

52:25. Explore the blog

52:43. What would I tell a younger me?

54:47. Final Words.


Jimbo Paris Podcast

Mastering Emotions for Entrepreneurs and others— My second interview.

This is the a link to my second interview directed at entrepreneurs but useful to anyone with emotions with Chris Gunkle.

Following up on my earlier interview, posted here on 2/23/22, I discussed….

  • the difference between fear and anxiety,
  • spent some time on the topics of “failure anxiety” and “success anxiety”,
  • reviewed a more adaptive definition of “failure” and
  • provided a strategy for getting around highly subjective and negative self-talk in order to access and maximize the value of what you already know and the experiences you have.

The podcast is audio only but, as before, it is worth the 20 minutes or so to listen.

Here is the link:

Surviving The Emotional Side Of The Entrepreneurial Journey With Ed Daube

What You Can Do in the Next 48 hours to Begin Mastering Your Emotions as Strategic Tools.

This is a follow-up to my last post in which I dove into the topic of mastering your emotions.

Near the end of the podcast, the host asked me a question which caught my attention and peeked my interest…

What is one thing our audience can do in the next 48 hours to get on the path to success in mastering their emotions?

The answer I came up with was..

Begin the process of emotional mastery with three doable steps:

This, however, is not a satisfactory answer and needs further explanation.

So, I continued…

  • There are three steps, involving two strategic questions and an easy decision, which you can take, starting now, that will put you on the path to emotional mastery.
  • None of these steps are difficult.
  • All of these steps take a little bit of effort on your part.

The three steps are…

  1. Ask yourself this question: “What will change for the better when I learn to master my emotions as tools?” 
  2. Take a “going to the doctor or your car mechanic” approach to your emotions and ask yourself this question: “What emotion is most problematic for me?”
  3. Take action: Go to the Index tab on this blog, click on that emotion, read whatever post catches your attention and begin to follow the suggestions in the post.

The steps “explained”….

Steps 1 and 2 involve asking yourself a strategically focused question.

The heart of each of these questions is an assumption which will give you important information you want to have and which engages the brain as a solution seeking machine.

As I’ve noted in other posts which talk about the power of questions, when you focus your brain on a  question, it will give you an answer.

Sometimes, you ask your brain a question the answer to which you really do not want. As an example, you never want to ask yourself the question: “How could I be so (stupid, blind, weak, etc)?” because your brain will give you multiple reasons why you are so stupid, blind, or weak .

Is this really what you want to know?  Probably not!

You can, however, ask your brain for information you want.  So, if you made a “dumb” mistake, you might ask: “How could I have approached this situation differently so as to produce  (a better outcome)?”

You see the difference?

Note: Your brain will continue to seek an answer to your question until it finds it.  I have used this “technique” to problem solve in many varied situations including writing papers in grad school, working on clinical questions in my practice, answering questions on Quora, and so forth. 

The “technique” involves asking yourself the question before you fall asleep and then expect an answer sometime in the future.  Keep asking the question each day until you get an answer.

Step #1

The assumption in Step #1 is that learning to master your emotions will bring about desired change. It is this “change” that will motivate you to pursue learning how to master your emotions as tools.

Note: It is not important at this point that you believe in this change.  In fact, it is entirely possible that you do not.  Phrasing the question this way, bi-passes your beliefs.

Once you ask yourself this question about the “positive changes” you can expect from mastering your emotions, you will begin to experience the answer.

A thought may occur to you along the lines of.. “I wonder if I will feel more in control of my life when I master my emotions?” or ” It really would be nice if my anger didn’t lead me to embarrass myself.”

The critical point here is that you take these thoughts seriously and not dismiss them.

Again, you are embarking on a process and, at this point, whether these outcomes will happen or not is less important than the real possibility that they might happen.

I suggest that, if it is possible, you write down these thoughts.

Two things happen when you write them down.

  1. It makes these thoughts real.
  2. You have the opportunity to review them later.

Viewing these possible outcomes as desirable, should they occur, will motivate you to continue learning how to master your emotions as strategic tools.

Step #2

You probably already know the answer to this question before you ask it.

Yes, but ask it anyway as the answer to which emotion is most problematic may surprise you.

Indeed, you may think that anger is your main issue but you may not be aware of an emotion that underlies anger such as anxiety, hurt, inadequacy or sadness.

Again, accept all the answers as potentially valid and write them down.  You will come back to them in Step #3.

I mentioned going to the doctor or your car mechanic” approach  for Step #2.  What I mean here is this….

When you take your car to the mechanic (or your body to  your doctor), you are asked about “Why are you here?” (or something similar).  You then must focus on the main issue of concern.  While other stuff may be going on, you focus on the issue that is most troubling.

I recently went to my doctor because it was uncomfortable for me to sleep on my right side.  It was this issue that I focussed on with my doctor who recommended physical therapy.  The other minor aches and pains I have experienced were not brought up.

When he asked if there were any other concerns, we did have a conversation.

Step #3

This critical step is the culmination of Steps #1 and #2.

This is where you educate yourself by learning about the emotion that is most problematic for you.

Once you are informed about emotions, in general, the emotional mastery cycle, and the specific emotion that is problematic for you, you have completed the beginning phases of mastering your emotions.

Now, you can move on to Step #4 which is to make a plan to master your specific emotion and follow your plan.

Keep in mind that you are learning a new habit of emotional mastery.  And, like any new habit, it takes time and practice and you will make mistakes along the way.

A word about “success” and “failure”….

John Maxwell defined success as falling down Y times and getting up X times where X is a larger number that Y.

As long as you “get up” (take responsibility for your actions, forgive yourself for your mistakes, make any necessary corrections in your behavior) more times than you “fall down” (make a mistake, get “off course”, or fall short of your goals), your success in mastering your emotions is almost guaranteed.

If you continue to have difficulties with your emotions, you may have to get professional help.



Mastering Emotions for Entrepreneurs and others— A recent Podcast

Mastering Emotions – A recent Podcast

Below is a link to a Podcast I recently did with Chris Gunkle. Chris likes to address the needs of entrepreneurs and this Podcast does that.

But, the topics we cover apply to anyone who 1) finds their own emotions difficult to understand or 2) who has to deal with the difficult emotions of someone else.

I address the emotions cycle (what they are and why we have them), emotional mastery (as opposed to control or management) and specific emotions including anger, anxiety and sadness.

It is an info-packed 20 minutes, is audio only, and is worth listening to.

Note: There is a very interesting question near the end of the podcast.  If you miss it, I will do a deep dive into it in my next post on March 9.

Steps #3 and #4 of the Emotional Mastery Cycle (EMC)

This is the third and final post in this series covering the four steps of the Emotional Mastery Cycle (EMC).

Step #1 called your attention to the importance of being aware of how your emotions manifest themselves physically in your body and reminded you that you needed to learn, or become aware of, how your emotions communicate with you.

Step #2 discussed the role of the emotional action readiness in preparing your body to take directed action against a perceived threat and cautioned that, while our emotions prepare us to face survival based threats, most of our threats, today, are psychological in nature. Consequently, we need to manage our action readiness and lower our energy level.

Your management efforts involve two steps both of which were discussed.  These steps were to take a deep breath and take a physical step back from the threat.

Finally, the discussion of Step #2 noted that managing the emotional process only occurs in Step #2 as emotional mastery is our goal and gave you the reasons for this.

In this post, I will discuss the final two steps of the EMC…

Step #3:  Understand the message of each emotion and assess the match between your emotion and the situation in which you find yourself.

As I’ve discussed in several earlier posts, each emotion communicates a different message based on the nature of the “threat” that is perceived and the physical preparation needed to deal with that “threat”.

Emotional mastery involves understanding this message by reading your body (step #1) and using this information assess your situation.  Your assessment involves comparing the actual nature of the threat with your initial perception (as manifested in the message of the emotion).

Here are some examples of the messages of specific emotions:

  • Anger: The threat is real and you can eliminate it by throwing enough force at it.  Anger prepares you for war.
  • Anxiety: Anxiety is a future based emotion. There is a possible threat which could have severe negative consequences.  Anxiety prepares you to either freeze or take the necessary steps to prevent the threat from happening.
  • Sadness: Sadness informs you that you have sustained a significant loss. Sadness prepares you to withdraw, heal your wounds, and move on.
  • Fear: Fear is a here and now emotion which tells you that you are facing an eminent threat that will significantly harm you.  Fear prepares you to escape.
  • Joy: Joy, or happiness, informs you that you are facing a situation which brings you pleasure.  Joy prepares you to engage.
  • Here is a link to a post on Jealousy and envy.
  • Here is a link to a post on Guilt and Shame.

In comparing the actual situation with the perceived threat, you need to ask some important questions.  And, you need to remain open to the answers.

Some examples of questions to ask….

About the situation

  • What do I believe is going on here?
  • How would an independent observer view this situation?
  • Have I possibly misunderstood what was said/done?
  • Could I be missing something here?
  • If I am correct in my assessment of the threat, what is the real risk to me, if any, of this threat?

About Your Feelings

  • Does the intensity of my feelings match the situation?
  • Do I have several feelings I need to consider?
  • What are my options for expressing my feelings?
  • Are there “display” issues I need to consider?

About the Other Person

  • What interpretations or judgements am I making about the other person and what he/she is doing?
  • How does the other person perceive what is going on?
  • What is the other person trying to accomplish here?
  • Could his/her actions be the result of a lack of ability to express his/her needs in a more appropriate way?

About What You Can Do

  • What actions can I take to possibly defuse the threat?
  • What actions do I want to take?
  • What are the consequences of each option?
  • What result am I hoping for?
  • What if I do nothing?

Other Important Links

  • Here is a link to a post which discusses the advantages of asking “What” vs “Why“.
  • Here is a link to a post which discusses what questions to ask when you get angry. There are questions about the situation, your own anger, the other person’s anger and your response.

You may have to solicit input from both the other person in the interaction or a third party to get the information you need.

Once you are satisfied that your assessment is complete in that you have as close to an objective view of what is going on in your situation as you can get, you are ready to move on to Step #4.

Step #4: Choose and implement an adaptive response.

Based on your assessment of your situation, you can make a plan to adaptively deal with what is going on.

An adaptive response is one that improves your situation and, as much as possible, that of the other person you are dealing with.

Finally, you can implement your plan.

Note: I hope this series has been helpful to you.  If it has, please help me reach more people with this free resource by recommending and including links to this blog in your emails and social media.


Step #2 of The Emotional Mastery Cycle: Manage Your Emotional Readiness

This is the second of three posts covering the Emotional Mastery Cycle (EMC)

In my last post, I introduced the 4 steps of the EMC.

To review, here are the 4 steps.

  1. self-awareness
  2. manage your own readiness
  3. understand the message of each emotion and assess the match between your emotion and the situation in which you find yourself
  4. choose and impliment an adaptive response

In learning how to master your emotions, it is important to know that emotions have two primary functions.

Two Primary Functions of Emotions

  1. They alert us  to the presence of an emotionally significant event (ESE).
  2. They prepare our bodies to deal with the ESE.

In my last post, I addressed the first function of emotions when I spoke about learning to be aware that you were experiencing an emotion,

In this post, I will focus on Step #2 which looks at the process by which our emotions prepare us to take action to deal with a perceived threat.

Emotional Action Readiness and the EMC

As I mentioned in my last post, the emotional process is very quick and evolved to prepare our ancestors to face threats which would kill them. I  call these survival based threats.

This preparation is the same for us today as it was for our ancestors.

Part of that preparation involves..

  • an increase in heart rate,
  • a narrowing of one’s focus so that attention could be directed to the threat and distractions could be minimized and
  • a channeling of the blood flow to the large muscles in case our ancestors needed to escape flee from the threat.

Other changes also occur.

Nico Fridja described these physical changes as an emotional action readiness because our emotions prepare our bodies to respond to a variety of threats.

The body is prepped for action.

However, and this is critical,…

how we choose to unleash this action readiness depends on the specific threat and the specific emotion that threat elicits.

For our ancestors, every threat was survival based.  Consequently, the emotion, and the action they were prepped to take, were always in sync.

In other words, the emotion always matched the threat.

For you and me, however, nearly all of the threats we face are psychological in nature.

Psychological threats involve our goals, our view of the world, our egos and so forth.  And, while psychological threats are important, they are not fatal.

The challenge is that our brains do not, initially, distinguish between a survival based and a psychological threat.

All threats are treated as survival based.

The implications of responding to all threats as if they were survival threats include:

  • We can’t assume that just because we feel like there is a threat that a threat exists.
  • The very real possibility that we are incorrect in our initial assessment of the threat.
  • We might engage in an action our emotions prep us for and do something that is inappropriate based on our initial misinterpretation of the threat.
  • We need to learn to match our response to the situation.
  • This requires a more flexible approach to our emotions.

This is where step #2 of the EMC comes in.

Step #2 of the EMC:  Manage Your Readiness

It is important to point out that Step #2 advises you to manage your readiness. 

To put this another way, step #2 involves lowering the energy level the emotion creates in your body.

Your emotions are designed to both focus your attention on and motivate you to take some action to deal with the perceived threat.  By definition, then, your emotions generate, or energize, you to take significant directed effective action to nullify or eliminate the threat.

The specific action that is energized varies with the emotion.

For example…

  • anger energizes you to go to war.
  • sadness motivates you to withdraw so that you can heal
  • anxiety, as a future based emotion, motivates to take effective action to prevent the perceived threat

The challenge in mastering your emotion is that, if you are overwhelmed by the readiness to take a specific action, you can’t focus your attention on assessing or understanding the emotion and the nature of the threat that emotion is highlighting.

So, you need to manage your readiness to act or your emotional energy level.

Let me give you an example.

As I am writing this, Russia has amassed an Army on the Border of Ukraine.  The US and NATO are energized to take massive action should Russia invade Ukraine.  Both sides are set to act.  Should one country do something that may be misinterpreted as an “offensive” action, the whole situation will escalate out of control very fast.

An attempt is being made to diplomatically reduce the State of Readiness and the resultant threat level.

As applied to your emotions, there are two steps involved in this process.

First of all, as soon as you become aware that you are experiencing an emotion, you need to take a deep breath, or two, elicits a lowering of your emotional reactivity level.

An Effective Deep Breath (4-4-4)

An effective deep breath involves inhaling to a count of four, holding your breath for a count of four, and exhaling to a count of four.  Different writers may use a different count but keeping it consistent makes it easier to remember.

It Takes Practice

It is important to note that you will have to “practice” this process so that when you do experience an emotion, it will occur to you to take a deep breath.  To practice this, whenever you experience an emotion (regardless of its intensity) take a deep breath. You will begin to associate a deep breath with emotional mastery.

A Physical Step Back

Secondly, if warranted, take a physical step back from the situation. This  provides you with some physical distance between you and the emotional situation.

Manageing vs Mastering

Reducing, or managing, your emotional readiness is, in my opinion, the only part of the EMC where the idea of managing your emotions is appropriate.

The idea of managing an emotion implies controlling that emotion.  While other writers may recommend controlling an emotion as in managing your anger (anger management courses), I speak about mastering your emotions.

There are three reasons for this..

1.The idea of managing an emotion implies that you have some kind of control over, or that you should seek to control, your emotions.

I believe that the idea of controlling your emotions is misleading because controlling an emotion, while possible in the short run, can’t be maintained unless you are professionally trained to do so (think Navy Seals).

2.Secondly, the idea of controlling an emotion implies that you can eliminate emotions you don’t like.

Eliminating an emotion is misleading both because you can’t do it and because you wouldn’t want to.

3.I believe that all emotions are tools that need to be mastered.

Mastery involves learning what the tool does and developing a specific skill set that enables you to get the most out of the tool and all it was designed to do.

I have seen, both in person and on videos, professionals accomplish tasks with tools, such as power saws, that I would never thought were possible.  I can use my power saws to cut lumber in a variety of ways.  But, I would never call myself either professional or creative with my saws. In other words, I am an amateur and have not really mastered my saws.

It is the same way with emotions.

I teach people how to master their emotions as tools and I do consider myself a professional when it comes to emotions.

No-one is perfect so stay with it.

However, while most of the time, I have mastered my emotions, to be honest, sometimes my emotions do get the best of me.  For a while…..

That said, there is a place for managing the emotional process.  And that place is Step #2 of the EMC.

 A Final Note

The unconscious fast nature of the EMC is often assumed to mean that our emotions control us. This “control” is used as an excuse to justify inappropriate behavior.  Spousal abusers, for example, will claim “If you hadn’t done XYZ, I wouldn’t have (hit, abused, mistreated) you.”

This is an attempt to avoid responsibility for one’s actions.

The truth is that we all have a choice about how we respond to our emotions.  (This is what Steps #2 and #4 are all about.)

Emotions prepare us for action.  They never force us to do anything.

And, that takes us to the final two steps in the EMC which I will address in my next post.




How do you physically experience and manifest emotions? Step 1 of the Emotional Mastery Cycle (EMC).

This my 201st and first post of 2022.

Going into 2022, for your convenience, I have made it very easy for you to access all of my previous posts with 3 clicks.  

  1. Clicking on the INDEX tab above will give you a drop down menu of the categories under which my posts are listed.
  2. Clicking on the CATEGORY will give you a list of all the posts in that category.  
  3. You then can click on the specific TITLE and you will be redirected to the post you want.

It is that simple.

And, now, the Emotional Mastery Cycle (EMC)…

The main underlying message in all of my posts is that everyone can learn to master their emotions as strategic tools.

The process of mastering emotions is described by the emotional mastery cycle.

While it is a little more complicated in its entirety, the emotional mastery cycle (EMC) can be summarized in 4 steps.

In  the next  three posts, I will discuss the EMC in detail.

My goal is to provide you with the information you need to, at the very least, begin to master your emotions in 2022.

The 4 steps are:

  1. self-awareness
  2. manage your own readiness
  3. understand the message of each emotion and assess the match between your emotion and the situation in which you find yourself
  4. choose an adaptive response

Step 1 of the EMC: Self-awareness

Basically, all emotions start with your subconsciously scanning your surroundings.

When a threat is perceived, it is automatically labelled an “emotionally significant” event (ESE) because it represents an event that is important to you for some reason. Importance could involve a physical or psychological threat or a situation which commands your attention because it is interesting, engaging or unique.

It is important to note that you determine the criteria for labelling an  event as a threat.  You also need to know that you may, or may not, be immediately aware of those criteria.

Physical (or survival based) Threat

A  physical threat could involve an assault on your body, or a situation involving pending or existent damage to your physical possessions, financial well-being.  A physical threat is perceived as imperiling some aspect of your survival as an individual (or family). The threat may be actual or implied.

Psychological Threat

A psychological threat involves an actual or implied compromising of your values, your plans, your goals, your dreams, or your self-esteem/self-worth.

An ESE may be “real” in the sense that it is clearly identifiable by you or by an observer.

Or, it can be identifiable only by you.

The ESE may also be “real” only to you and exist only in your imagination.

The specific “status” of the ESE is irrelevant if the emotional part of your brain (your Amygdala) subconsciously recognizes and reacts to the an ESE and subconsciously elicits a  physical reaction in your body.

This subconscious process is very fast, is outside of your awareness and is the basis for people (incorrectly) believing that their emotions control them.

The emotional process evolved to allow our cave ancestors to quickly react to a threat, which for those cave dwellers, was a survival based threat which would kill them.

Our cave dwelling ancestors didn’t have to master their emotions. They only needed to recognize a threat and take effective action. The reason for this is that all of the threats our ancestors faced were survival based. They either nullified the threat or they died.

You and I, however, are in a different situation.  The threats we face today are usually psychological threats to our goals, our egos, our quality of life etc.

So, we need to master our emotions and this mastery process begins with self-awareness.

We need to learn to recognize, identify and label the physical reactions elicited by our subconscious.

In this post, I will help you navigate through Step 1 of the EMC.

Step 1 of the EMC: Self-awareness

In this post, I will help you begin to become aware of your physical reaction to an emotionally significant event.

Some people are keenly aware of their bodies.  Others, not so much.

The physical changes in your body that may indicate an emotion include:

  • the tightening of specific muscle groups,
  • a change in perceived temperature in your body (hot or cold),
  • an alteration in a “physical” system such as breathing,
  • stomach churning

There can also be behavioral changes which can seem to spontaneously occur in reaction to an ESE.  These changes include (but are not limited to):

  • rate of thinking (increasing or decreasing) or
  • a noticeable change in behavior that is not typical of you (there are examples below)

The goal is to become aware of any significant changes and be able to determine if there is a connection to a specific emotion.

Below are 4 exercises you can use to help you connect your physical reactions to specific emotions.

Exercises #1 is the most important so do that one first.  After you’ve spent some time with #1, you can move on to #2, #3 and #4.

Exercise #1: Your Body-Your Reaction: A checklist

Take a moment and focus your attention on your body.  Go through the checklist below and try to recall if this “body part” gives you any information that an emotion is trying to grab your attention.

A checklist..


(tightening or a headache)


(tears, tightening around the eyes)


(“forced” smiling, tightening, dryness, clenched teeth)


(any noticeable changes including speeding up, slowing down, shortness of breath or holding your breath)


(flushed, warm)


(muscles tightening)




(clenched, white knuckles, sweaty palms)

Changes in body temperature

(feeling cold, warm or hot)

Changes in energy level

(decrease or increase)

Changes in behavior

(actions that are not typical for you such as withdrawing from, clinging to, or becoming verbally or physically aggressive toward others, sleeping excessively, blaming others, self-harm, drug/alcohol abuse)


(it’s your body so you name the physical changes)

Exercise #2:

Try to recall (as vividly as possible) a situation in which you felt a specific emotion such as “stressed” (anxiety), angry, happy, sad, frustrated, guilty, or surprised.  Imagine each emotion separately.  As you “relive” each event, you may find your body reacting as it does when those feelings are present. Note any physical sensations you experience during this exercise.

Exercise #3:

Ask a friend who both knows you well and who you trust if they have ever noticed how you react when you experience the above emotions.  Sometimes, others know us better than we know ourselves.

Exercise #4:

In real time as you experience an emotional event, try to connect the emotion, your body and the event.

Keep in mind that learning about your body involves new learning and takes both time and practice.


Once, you become adept at knowing how your body informs you that you are facing an emotional situation, you are now in a position to master your emotions as tools and strategically deploy those emotions to improve your life and your relationships.

You are ready to move on to Step #2 of the Emotional Mastery Cycle which I will cover in my next post.




Can a person be intellectually strong, yet emotionally weak?

This is a question that I received via the website Quora.

I chose to reproduce the question here and add additional comments which were not included in my Quora response because I believe it addresses some important points.

It is an interesting question because it reflects a common misunderstanding about the relationship between one’s intellect, the thinking part of your brain (the cerebral cortex) and one’s emotions, the emotional part of a your brain (the Amygdala).

The misunderstanding is the belief that emotions are subordinate to, or controlled by, the intellect.

As readers of this blog, you know that the intellect and the emotions are both critical to the process of learning to master your emotions as tools.

The emotional cycle…

First, a quick review of the emotional cycle..

All of us constantly scan our surroundings for threat and when we perceive a threat, we automatically go into fight/flight/freeze mode.

The emotional process..

This is a primitive emotional process mediated through the Amygdala which humans have done since we lived on the Savannah. The process evolved to work quickly and without our having to think about it.  The purpose of this scanning and preparation process was to insure our survival as a species.

Note: The speed and automatic nature of this process is the basis for people to believe that their emotions control them.

This is a myth in that the automatic emotional process only prepares one for action. It does not determine what one does beyond fight/flight/freeze.

The intellectual process..

As our brains developed more capacity to think and analyze (mediated through the Cerebral Cortex), we developed the ability to analyze our situation and choose the best adaptive response to the situation.

Hense, the emotional cycle involves  an emotional reaction in which our emotions inform us through physical sensations in our bodies that a possible threat exists and prepare us for possible action and our intellect intervening to give us the opportunity to assess the situation and choose an adaptive reponse.

The intellect and the emotions are intimately  interrelated.

The original question…

So, let’s dig a little deeper into this question.

It contains at least 3 underlying assumptions..

  1. There is some level of cognitive ability that can be labelled as “intellectually strong”
  2. There is an implied dichotomy between one’s intellectual abilities (however these are defined) and one’s capacity to deal with emotions.  In other words, you are either emotional or you are intellectual.
  3. There is such a concept as “emotional weakness”.

Regarding the first assumption….

While we can measure a person’s intellect, and it is true that some people are more intelligent than others, the ability to master one’s emotions as tools does not require an exceptionally high intellectual ability. Consequently, as I see it, being “intellectually strong” is largely irrelevant in the context of dealing with one’s emotions.

Regarding the second assumption..

In the original Star Trek series, the character Mr. Spock, a Vulcan, prided himself on his ability to repress all of his emotions and make decisions solely on the basis of his intellectual ability to analyze the facts and make a decision.

Today, people still assume that they need to use their intellect to control their emotions.

Controlling one’s emotions both didn’t work out well for Spock when he had to deal with his human crew and doesn’t work today as emotions have a way of getting expressed unless we learn how to master the emotion by heeding its message and strategically using its energy to adaptively deal with the situation in which we find ourselves.

So, while you can force yourself not to outwardly express your emotions, the energy underlying your anger, sadness, or anxiety will express itself in some manner.  This could involve passive-aggressive acting-out, physical symptoms, or anything else in-between.

This is where emotional mastery comes in.  Mastery involves acknowledging the emotion and strategically deploying the energy of the emotion.

While you may choose not to outwardly express the emotion because you may expose yourself to too much risk, there is no control of or repressing the emotion.

Regarding the third assumption…

Unless one considers themself “weak” in their ability to get the most out of their cell phone, computer, table saw or TV remote (all of which are tools), I don’t believe there is such a “thing” as “emotional weakness”.

One is either capable of utilizing their tools and making them work as desired or they are not. In the latter case, they need to either read a manual or get some instruction.

It is the same with emotions because emotions are just tools!

So, given the above, because my questioner asked the question, his intellectual “strength” vis-a-vis his emotions, is more than up to the task.

The issue, then, becomes the extent to which one is able to master their  emotions.

Based on the nature of this question, I assumed that the person who asked it has some doubts about his relationship to his emotions.

Note: The questioner is a male.

My recommendations…

My recommendation to the questioner was that he consult the manual.

The information on this blog is the manual for emotions.

I also noted that the best way to access the information in the Blog was to click on the INDEX tab.

The Index gives him access (with one click) to all my posts by category, date and title.

I then suggested going to the Mastering Emotions as Tools section first, clicking on any title that grabbed his attention so that he could get his basic education about what emotions are, why we have them, and what emotional mastery involves.

He could then go to specific emotions such as anger and explore further.

You can do the same thing if these are issues that relate to you.