Do you struggle with emotions? Many of us do. They are messy, confusing, painful, and hard to pin down. You may lack the skills to effectively navigate intense emotional experiences. What was your upbringing related to feelings? Were you taught what they were or what to do with them? You may not have learned emotional intelligence in school or at home and maybe you were even taught to ignore feelings, push them away, or to not talk about them. Emotions don't have to be unmanageable.
Cultivating skills to check in with yourself and to determine if you need to allow yourself to sit with your emotions or create some space and distance from them is a major part of emotional intelligence. More on that later. What are emotions anyway? We tend to do better with our feelings when we better understand what they are and where they come from.
I'm a nerd for neuroscience. I love to know how things work and I find it validating when there are biological reasons for our difficult human experiences. Emotions are simply packets of information that promote survival by motivating action. They originate from the limbic system in the center of your brain. You take in data from your 5 senses and the limbic system determines if an emotional response is necessary to drive behavior to seek safety and ensure survival. An easy example is the fear response most people experience when they see a snake. Your brain analyzes data related to snake-like objects and cross-references that data with what you already know, snakes can be lethal. You then recognize snakes as dangerous and the fear that you then experience drives you to seek safety or avoid the potentially hazardous snake.
Anger, sadness, disgust, happiness, and fear are the basic emotions from which most other feelings originate. Something happens in your internal or external world that triggers an emotional response. This could be thoughts, the behavior of another person, an event. It’s then analyzed in your limbic region and filtered through your existing thoughts, beliefs, and memories or experiences. You then react to the trigger with some type of emotion. Each feeling carries a message and has a purpose. Anger is a violation of some kind, something happened that shouldn't have happened or something didn't happen that should have. Sadness is in response to hurt or loss. Happiness is pleasure, reward, and joy, something positive has occurred and you can interpret this as what matters to you. Disgust is in response to something you find revolting and you can interpret disgust in response to a stimulus as something that it's unappealing or unwanted or even unsafe. You may have certain feelings that are easier for you to deal with while others you avoid like the plague.