What your emotions are trying to tell you and how to really leverage them

Would you say that you are a person who is in touch with their emotions? Do you feel both positive and distressing emotions equally deeply? Or do you wish you could keep distressing emotions at arms length? Lastly, would you say you are good at reading the emotions of others? Or do you think they just make things more complicated than necessary?

Why do we have emotions anyways?

Emotions are how we communicate and connect to ourselves and others. They contain very valuable information which we could not gather in any other way. In fact, each emotion – positive and distressing ones – contain messages we need to survive as a species. One little know fact, is that we can only receive access to the crucial information which lies behind an emotion, when we are personally capable of feeling that emotion ourselves.

Emotions are a gift which helps us succeed. Especially when in conflict in relationship with others.

Another common misconception is that we are our feelings. But the truth is that our emotions are not synonymous with our behaviours. Humans have a choice whether they simply take in the information behind an emotion, or alternatively, choose to act on it. Let’s take anger for example. We may feel anger when we find ourselves in the slowest grocery store line up again, especially when we are already late. But that does not mean we have to react by stomping our feet and screaming at people.  Feeling angry does not mean we have to act angry, because humans do have the ability to self-regulate.

We experience emotions, but we have a choice whether we act on them.

When we have high emotional intelligence, we are capable of accessing a full range of feelings, such as love and joy, as well as anger, anxiety, sadness and shame.  Only when we can access this range freely – without avoiding one or more entirely – can we benefit from all of the information behind them. High emotional intelligence also reflects the ability to accurately read the emotions of others. This allows us to not only understand ourselves and others better, but also communication and connect on a higher level.

Every emotion contains valuable information, including the distressing ones like anger, anxiety, sadness and shame.

Does it surprise you to hear that distressing emotions are valuable for a person to thrive and succeed? Check out the list below to learn what information each of the emotions hold, as well as the associated risks of under or over accessed them. The list of related feeling words for each emotion will help you identify some of the nuances of that emotion more deeply.

Bonus: As you read through each emotion, take an honest inventory of which ones you access readily, too often or not often enough.

Anger – The information anger gives you is the knowledge that something has happened which violated you in one way or another. The gift behind this information is the ability to set boundaries. It is also a motivator to change something. If you don’t let yourself feel anger, you may be prone to be taken advantage of by others. You might not notice that you should be upset, until it is too late. You run the risk of being walked all over. Alternatively, the risk of feeling too much anger is that you set boundaries which are too strong and push people away.

Feeling words associated with anger: agitated, annoyed, appalled, disgusted, frustrated, irritated, outraged, spiteful, upset.

Anxiety – When you feel anxiety, the information you receive is that something is too much or not enough. For example, too much work may make you feel anxious, while not enough support from others may also evoke anxiety. The gift in feeling anxiety is that it makes you want to seek clarity or do something to not feel it anymore. If you don’t access it enough, you may act prematurely without thinking about the consequences. If you access it too much, you tend to over-prepare or can be paralyzed by it. For example, you may procrastinate around doing an important task, which paradoxically increases your anxiety.

Feeling words associated with anxiety: confusion, distant, dread, frantic, helpless, impatient, intense, nervous, overwhelmed, paralyzed, skeptical, stressed

Fear – Fear lets you know that you are under threat. The gift in this emotion is that it drives you to find safety or abstain from risky behaviour. If you do not access the emotion of fear enough, you risk not protecting yourself. Perhaps you make decisions to do things, which most people would not? The risk of being too fearful, is that it renders you too risk adverse, which could keep you from trying new things. Experiences which could be very beneficial or enjoyable. For example, learning a new sport.

Feeling words associated with fear – alarmed, defensive, doubtful, dread, frightened, reluctant, suspicious, tense, worried

Shame – This emotion lets you know when you have dome something wrong. Its gift is humility. If you do not access shame readily, you may behave like Teflon – nothing you do sticks. If you over-access shame, you are may project your values on to others at the risk of judging them. This make it difficult for others to be around you.

Feeling words associated with shame – ashamed, burdened, condemned, despised, disgraced, embarrassed, guilty, inept, inadequate, regretful

Sadness – this emotion gives you information about loss. The gift in sadness is that it allows you to be more sensitive to others as well as yourself. It allows you to be with the sadness of others and support them. If you are unable to access sadness, you may come across of aloof and unapproachable. Too much sadness may contribute to you feeling overwhelmed as well.

Feeling words associated with sadness – crushed, disappointed, discouraged, distressed, empty, grief, lonely, lost, mournful, remorseful sorry

To help balance out the less positive emotions I just listed, ensure you fill your joy and love buckets!

Let’s talk about these emotions now.

Joy – Joy’s gift is vitality. When you readily access love, you feel on top of the world. The information in love is that of confidence. If you access it all the time (in lieu of some of the more distressing emotions) then others may find you intimidating and “just too much”. If you do not access enough joy, then you are more likely to feel depleted.  You also become more susceptible to breaking down when things get rough when you are in conflict with others.

Feeling words associated with joy – alive, bold, brave, confident, curious, delighted, dynamic, eager, energized, hopeful, optimistic, passionate, peaceful, safe, self-assured

Love – The information behind this emotion is connection and warmth. Taken to extremes, other people may think you are not authentic or real. If you don’t access feelings of love enough, the risk is that you can’t be read by others and come across as flat. This has a distancing effect on others around you.

Feeling words associated with love – attention, caring, comforting, compassion, encouraged, engaged, gentle, honored, open, respect, secure, tender.

What is the bottom line? Emotions are essential for human survival. They give us information we need to thrive, especially when in relationship with others. If we struggle to fully experience any of the above emotions, we lose the ability to connect socially and keep ourselves as safe.

What can you do to mitigate should you struggle accessing any emotion readily?

  1. Pay attention to your feelings day to day, making a point of noticing and naming them as they happen. To help you, refer to the “feeling words” I added above. They depict different ways of speaking about the same root emotion.
  2. Notice opportunities when feelings come up and you want to shy away from them. Instead, resist avoiding them. Try to hold yourself in the discomfort a little bit longer than you usually do. During that time, think of the useful information those feelings might be giving you, as well as the gift which is available behind them.
  3. How much joy and love you experience affects everything else in your world, including every other emotion. The less joy and love you experience, the more you will feel the distressing feelings. A lack of balance is very taxing on us. If you tend to feel more distressing emotions than positive ones, make a point of filling your “joy/love bucket”. Keep it full, by doing things which bring you joy.

Here is an example of how to access an emotion you tend to avoid.

Let’s say you tend to avoid feeling anger. Whenever something bad is done to you, someone disrespects you for example, you don’t react. You may blame yourself instead or maybe just feel numb. It may take many days before you notice that you’ve been wronged. Since you don’t feel anger when you are wronged, you don’t protect yourself from harm as best as you could.

To mitigate, start to pay attention when you feel anger coming up. Don’t just automatically push it away. Try to name the emotion and stay with it. What might this emotion be telling you? What is the gift? What could the emotion help you do? Remember, feeling anger does not require acting angry. For example, it may help to establish boundaries with the person or situation which is not good for you.

Try these steps for yourself and start gaining all the information your emotions are there to provide. 

All the best,


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