How to express emotions

The importance of knowing how to express emotions and feelings

Expressing emotions is a fundamental part of our lives and our relationships, both with others and with ourselves, and difficulties in identifying and expressing them correctly can create problems and a high degree of discomfort.

When you don’t know how to express your emotions correctly, several things can happen, depending on what your particular difficulty is.

For example:

  • You are not able to convey to others how their behavior has affected you, how you feel about them, or what you are feeling at any given time.
  • You have emotional outbursts in which you seem not to be able to control your emotions, either being with other people or alone.
  • You get upset, irritated, or feel bad about things you recognize as unimportant, overreacting.
  • You don’t feel anything, even though you are aware that something has happened to you that should make you feel an intense negative emotion.
  • You feel a kind of generalized emotional block that prevents you from being yourself, especially when you are with others, and creates confusion because when you block you do not know what you feel.
  • You are not able to feel intimacy or emotional connection with others.
  • Instead of feeling what you feel, you ignore your emotions and try to feel what you think you “should” feel.

Emotions and feelings are an important source of information: they guide us, help us make sense of what is happening to us, understand ourselves and relate to others, and motivate us to achieve goals, produce change, avoid harmful situations or pursue what makes us happy.

Emotions can be related to specific events in your life (such as feeling frustrated when your car doesn’t start), or they can be related to memories, thoughts or expectations for the future.

For example, you may feel joy in remembering a pleasant event, or feel anxiety in thinking that within a week you will have to give a public talk. Therefore, what happens inside your inner world (thoughts, memories, mental images, dreams, ideas, fantasies…) can trigger all kinds of emotions that sometimes seem to arise from nothing and for no apparent reason.

Learning from emotions

It is very important to be able to recognize what we feel, accept our emotions as they are and learn from them. So, when you feel something, you can ask yourself the following questions:

  • What exactly am I feeling?
  • What information can I get from this emotion? I mean, what are you telling me about the situation I’m in?
  • Why has this emotion appeared right now?
  • Is this emotion too intense or exaggerated?
  • What can I do to handle this emotion correctly? What strategy is the most appropriate at this time?

You can also ask yourself these same questions about an emotion that has already happened but you think you didn’t know how to handle correctly, such as an emotional outburst or a very exaggerated or out of place reaction.

Identify emotions

Of course, the first step in the expression of emotions is to know how to identify them correctly.

If you don’t know what you’re feeling, you may very well express that emotion inappropriately. When you’re not sure how you feel, there are two things that can help: your body and your behavior.

Your body

Most emotions are also experienced in the body. If you observe your body and pay attention to your bodily sensations you can realize what you are feeling.

However, doing this requires practice and knowledge of your own body, because each person is different and experiences different bodily sensations before the same emotion. Therefore, study how your body reacts.

For example, you can react with muscle contractures to anxiety or anger, or react with a lump in your stomach or throat when you’re afraid, or with a headache to frustration, while someone else reacts in different ways.

So, if you realize you have a knot in your stomach, ask yourself what emotion it may be generating and learn how your body “speaks” to you.

Your behavior

The way you behave is another important source of information. For example, if every time you’re with a particular person you feel frustrated often and are bothered by almost everything they do or say, even small things, you may have been feeling resentment or anger toward that person for a long time.

Therefore, observe your behavior and try to draw conclusions about the emotion that may be provoking them.

Impediments to express emotions

Many people are not able to express what they are feeling. These are some of the main reasons why this can happen:

Fear of others’ reactions

Some people are afraid to express their emotions for fear of how others might react. For example, fear of rejection after expressing feelings of love, fear of the other person becoming angry when expressing feelings of dissatisfaction or frustration, fear of rejection when expressing feelings of sadness or other negative feelings.

In other words, these are people who tend to expect rejection of others, are usually people with low self-esteem and a negative concept of themselves who expect not to be accepted by others.

Perfectionism

Some people think that they should be perfect at all times and do not allow themselves to feel emotions that they consider unacceptable, such as anger, jealousy, anxiety, depression.

They think that they should be able to control their emotions at all times and always show themselves to be serene, and they fear showing themselves to be weak or vulnerable.

Behind this there is often also a low self-esteem and fear of rejection by others. However, what they get with this behavior is a great lack of intimacy with others, who never get to know these people at all, as well as giving the feeling of being distant and cold.

Trouble knowing what you’re feeling

You can’t express an emotion if you don’t know what you’re feeling or don’t recognize it.

Lack of acceptance and traumas

You may think what you’re feeling is unacceptable and repress that emotion. For example, feelings of sexual attraction to a person you consider “inappropriate. In other cases, what is not accepted is the situation you are living in.

For example, if someone submits you to a situation of humiliation or humiliation, you can not accept that this is happening and pretend that nothing is happening, that it is not affecting you or deny reality and block your emotions, so that you do not feel anything.

It can happen in very unpleasant situations in which you do not know how to act and you are paralyzed, without responding physically or emotionally, as can happen in certain traumatic situations.

Emotional dependence

Some people feel a great need to please others because they are very dependent on them. They feel lonely and abandoned often and need to always have someone by their side.

By feeling this deep need for another person, they tend to express emotions that they believe the other person wants to see and try to be what the other person wants them to be (or what they think that person wants them to be).

Therefore, they do not express negative feelings or anything that could generate conflict or displease the other person. If, in addition, they are not sure what the other person expects of them, they may barely express anything.

The result is great dissatisfaction, low self-esteem and a feeling that their needs are not taken into account, and they are likely to end up with people who take advantage of them and their need to please.

Believing that others should know

Some people have the false belief that others have to know what they feel without having to say it, especially their loved ones. But no matter how much a person loves you, they won’t always be able to guess what you’re feeling if you don’t tell them.

That attitude ends up making you feel resentment and think that others don’t care about you or don’t care about your feelings.

Express your emotions better

Some people do not know how to express their emotions correctly or have trouble expressing them for some of the reasons mentioned above.

A common misconception is that you only have two choices: either you express your emotions completely or you repress them. However, you have several options to choose from, both in the way you express them and in their intensity.

You can express an emotion through words, such as telling someone you love them, but also through behaviors (such as leaving a sticky note with a drawn heart) and you can also express them through art, dance, etc.

For example, you can draw a picture that represents how you feel in your relationship. If someone has done you a favor, you can show your appreciation with words, but also with a gift or by returning the favor.

Some people find it especially difficult to express their emotions in words. If this is your case, you can think of ways to express them that are easier for you, such as behavior. However, it is also important to bear in mind that sometimes there are more appropriate modes of expression than others.

For example, if you feel uneasy because you think a co-worker is taking advantage of you and you want him or her to stop, the most appropriate way is to talk directly to that person about the problem and try to solve it.

That doesn’t prevent you from using other strategies at the same time, such as writing down what you feel, even if no one reads what you’ve written, as a way to feel better by expressing yourself and clarifying your ideas.

Therefore, the steps could be as follows

  1. Identify what you feel. I mean, name the emotion or emotions you’re feeling.
  2. Identify the cause. Ask yourself: why do I feel this way?
  3. Analyze your thoughts. Thoughts also influence your emotions. If you think your co-worker is trying to hurt you on purpose you will feel anger, while if you think he is simply hurting you out of his own ignorance you may feel something different. Therefore, if you take your thoughts into account, you will know when you need to verify them. Following the example above, it would be helpful to try to find out if what you think (for example, that your partner is doing it on purpose) is true or if you are mistaken in thinking so. Thinking the right way can save you from feeling unnecessary anger.
  4. Think about the best way to express your feelings (words, behaviors, art...). Sometimes you may need to express them in several different ways at the same time. Ask yourself what you think will happen when you express it in one way or another, that is, what you think the consequences will be.
  5. Ask yourself what you intend to achieve by expressing a certain emotion. For example: feel better, clarify what you feel because you are not clear, show affection or gratitude, solve a problem with another person … This will help you find the most appropriate way to express them.

6. Regulate the intensity of your emotions. It is not the same to express your anger by shouting and threatening than to express it by speaking in a somewhat severe manner but with calm and appropriate intensity.

If you think that by expressing a certain emotion you won’t be able to control yourself, there are several things you can do: one is to rehearse alone first, and another is to find an alternative way of expressing it.

For example, if you think you’re going to feel an exaggerated anger when you talk to someone about something that has bothered you, you can choose to put it in writing first.

You can use that letter to give to that person or just for yourself, as a way to control the intensity of the anger and prepare yourself to be able to directly express what you feel without having an outburst.

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