Identifying Your Emotions

For reasons of her own, Veronica keeps her hair cut short, and her taste in men run toward the hairy side. She and Eric have been married for nearly 10 years now. At the start of their marriage, Eric kept a clean-shaven face because he was still in the army. When he entered civilian life, however, he grew out a full beard to Veronica’s delight.

Now, several years later, Eric has started working for a security company. Because of the nature of his work, Eric must once again keep a clean-shaven face. This is partially because of the company’s dress-code, but also has to do with safety. Veronica understands this, but also hates Eric’s job because of it.

How do you feel?

Have you ever asked someone to express an emotion only to get response that has nothing to do with the original question?

For example:
If you asked Veronica how she likes Eric’s new job, and she says something like:

  • He’s making a lot of money.
  • The benefits the company offers are great.
  • It’s nice because he gets the weekends off.
  • It’s great because he’s home before 6 p.m. every night.
  • It’s a steady job that I’m grateful he found.
  • I hate that he can’t have his beard.

Which one of these responses answers the question you asked by properly expressing an emotion?

This isn’t a trick question. There is a correct response here.

To every situation there are pros and cons, and we’re trained from childhood to weigh those out. It doesn’t matter if you’re deciding to take a job that will have a serious downside like Eric, or if you’re weighing the options to express the gratitude or express your actual emotion in response to a question asked of you.

The trouble is that in this case knowing the difference is hard for some of us.

Pinning down an emotion

The first 5 responses above are measured responses typical of the statements we all tell ourselves, or answers we give when it comes time to identify, express, or share an emotion.

Veronica’s trained default setting is to share the fact that she feels grateful for Eric’s job because it was the best decision for their family as a whole. You must be wondering what the big deal is. It’s just a beard after all. It’s not like he can’t keep a scruffy face during the weekend, and many people prefer the clean-shaven look.

But, consider this. Most of the women in Veronica’s family have been diagnosed with some sort personality or psychological disorder. Her mother experienced horrible postpartum depression after the birth of Veronica’s baby brother. When she finally got through that, her mother became violent and physically abusive toward Veronica.

For Veronica, the safety and love that she experienced as a child came from her uncles, father, and grandfather who all had long beards. Her husband having a beard is emotionally important to Veronica. Being able to identify that emotion, and the importance of it is another thing entirely for Veronica- and for all of us.

Theories of Emotion

Regardless, we know that emotions are perceptions and judgements that our brains make where our current situations are concerned. Primarily, these judgements and perceptions are based off of the goals we have and desires we hold.

For example:

Modern society tells us that fame or money can create happiness for us. Happiness is the emotion created when we feel content, joyful, or gratified. Therefore, many of us will strive for those feelings for contentment and joy through attaining material and monetary wealth.

Regardless of how you classify emotions, the big ones tend to be:

  • Happiness
  • Sadness
  • Disgust
  • Fear
  • Surprise
  • Anger

Discerning the emotion of Happiness from feelings of contentment or gratification can be difficult for the most emotionally intelligent individuals. In Veronica’s case, when she’s asked to express an emotion about Eric’s new job, she can easily answer with her feelings of contentment rather than her emotionally sad state of mind.

Emotions and feelings are different even though we tend to use the words and concepts interchangeably. Feelings are reactions to our emotions and are highly influenced by experiences and beliefs. Emotions are the responses that occur in our brains in response to external stimuli (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/hot-thought/201004/what-are-emotions). Think Fight or flight reactions.

Identifying your emotions starts with understanding your mind-body connection, and the feelings you’re currently aware of.