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What Am I Missing? Practical Tips for Understanding Your Emotions

Hannah Hopper, LPC, NCC

Emotions can be confusing and hard to pin down–particularly if you grew up in a family that didn’t talk much about feelings. There is a whole set of vocabulary words that can describe what is going on inside, but it can be like learning a whole new language if you’ve never been in a setting where you needed to use these words for yourself. Another thing that can make it hard to identify emotions is if you’ve spent a lot of your life pushing down or ignoring your feelings. Even though our bodies are often talking to us about what we’re feeling, many of us live disconnected from what’s happening inside.

Fortunately, we can start to learn more about ourselves if we slow down, pay attention to our bodies, and approach our inner worlds with curiosity. Sometimes when I have clients who are struggling to find the right words to name their emotions, I’ll share this feelings wheel that lists multiple feelings in different colors. This can be a starting place for learning the language of emotions.

Aside from the feelings wheel, another step you can take to learn more about your emotions is through writing prompts that focus on getting to know yourself. Below are some prompts that might help you to slow down, focus on what you’re feeling inside, and begin to make sense of these emotions. Be curious, and just notice what’s going on without any judgment.

  •     Looking at the feelings wheel, try to identify the emotion you’re feeling. Take a few deep breaths, put your hand on your heart, and ask what that emotion is trying to tell you.           
  •     Now take the opposite approach and write a letter to your emotion. What do you want your emotion to know?                                                                                                   
  •     On a scale of 1 to 10, rate how intensely you’re feeling this emotion. You can also give this emotion a color and use colored pencil to mark it’s intensity or strength.                      
  •     Explore the story of this feeling by writing down when you have felt this way before. What was it connected to in the past? What is it related to today?                                            
  •     If you’re feeling angry, see if there’s another emotion there beneath the anger. Oftentimes anger is a secondary emotion, and there’s another primary emotion underneath anger like it’s disappointment, sadness, or shame.                                      
  •     Observe your emotion from a distance, like something separate from yourself. If it were a character, what would its name be?  What does it look like? What does it talk like? With this exercise you can also draw it out.                                                                                                                                                                                       
  •     Write down how you feel about the emotion that’s coming up right now. In your writing notice if there are any judgements or “shoulds.” I shouldn’t feel this way because it’s all my fault. I can’t feel this pain. I need to get over this already. These kinds of statements could be connected to what you were taught about emotions when you were younger, or cultural beliefs about what emotions are seen as acceptable.                                                
  •     Now imagine that you’re talking to someone that you totally trust. What would you tell them about what you’re feeling? How would they respond to you after you’ve finished talking with them? See if you can extend that same acceptance to yourself that a trusted person would give you.                 

Many people find counseling to be helpful for working through confusing emotions and identifying what’s going on inside. After being in therapy for some time, it can become easier to start identifying emotions on your own. If you’d like to begin counseling, you can browse our therapist bios to find someone that is the right fit for you. You can also contact Symmetry Counseling today by calling 312-578-9990 to get matched with one of our therapists.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Reference:

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