Last night Jeff told me he was angry and confused. (To be clear, he was not confused because he was angry, although six months ago, that may have been a reasonable assumption given his state of emotional disconnection.) The fact that my husband could not only identify his emotions but also express them verbally and clearly is a real sign of progress! Oh sure, neither of us felt like celebrating this small victory at the time. I mean, he was angry, and I was working very hard not to assume responsibility for his anger; the emotional atmosphere wasn’t exactly conducive to a champagne toast. We were not able to delight in the fact we were sharing how we felt about the topic—our different approaches to business—because 1) being vulnerable and honest is hard, and 2) both of us have a finely-tuned habit of assuming that it’s our job to make the other feel okay. (This, by the way, is counter-productive to letting each other express emotions without fixing them.) As a result, it takes all of my energy not to allow feelings of guilt to take over when Jeff is mad, sad, frustrated—well, you name it. Because I incorrectly learned at a young age that it was my fault when others got upset, I developed a knee-jerk reaction to take responsibility for how others feel. This pattern of thinking/responding has followed me into my sixties, which means I’ve got decades of impairment to undo. I wonder if any of you can relate? Change has been hard, to say the least, but it’s happening, in both of us. Still— instead of clinking champagne glasses at our progress last night, we both fell into bed a bit exhausted by the whole encounter. Change can be hard, but the benefits are worth it. Repeat after me: Hard is not bad.
If you’re new to this blog or you’ve forgotten why it’s important to be able to identify and express emotions, this is it: emotional connection is key to strong and meaningful relationships. It’s also critical for your physical and mental health. I wonder how many marriages could be saved from divorce if couples were better able to express their emotions. Yet, I also know from experience that sometimes this is easier said than done. Let’s further unpack this topic to see what can be done.
Last week, I wrote that first, you must decide that learning to identify and express your feelings is important. Jeff and I made that decision together (me first, then he eventually came around), but if you are single, you also must make this decision knowing your physical, mental, and relational health depends on it. The next step is to practice tuning into your emotional landscape— listening to and discerning what is happening inside of you. For many of you, this will be difficult because you’ve been disconnected for years and/or have ingrained habits of numbing your emotions with food, drink, sex, work… you name it. However, if you remember that hard is not bad, it’s time to get to work.
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9)
One of the tools that Jeff and I use to practice tuning into our emotional landscape is the Core Emotions Wheel (developed by The Connection Codes). The wheel—divided up into the eight core emotions— prompts us to think about the last time that emotion popped up for us, and then we share that experience with each other.
As a minimum, I encourage you to work through the wheel daily by yourself. (Even single people get to play!) Working the wheel will force you to think about what emotions popped up during the day, and you can then put a name to it. Sharing your emotions with another person (spouse, friend, family member, etc.) is a bonus at this point. (I will discuss how to do that in more detail next week.) If you want to jump ahead and share with someone, I encourage you to ask your listener to just listen, responding to each emotional share with, “I hear you.” Nothing more.
Before you jump in, keep the points below in mind:
- Finding this difficult is normal. Don’t give up. Most of us are not that tuned in.
- If you find “anger” pops up a lot, keep in mind that it is often a secondary emotion, meaning that it could be covering up fear, sadness, or loneliness. See if you can dig a bit deeper when anger surfaces.
- Guilt happens when you feel bad about something you did.
- Shame happens when you feel bad about who you are.
- Try to tune in before you turn to your favorite numbing agent. In other words, what is driving you to scroll on your phone now?
- Be kind to yourself. Celebrate the small wins. You’re not aiming for perfection, just increasing your daily awareness.
- Let your kids practice as well. We need to prioritize raising emotionally healthy children. (If you are a parent, consider signing up for my free webinar, Heart-to-Heart, on August 16th. Sign up here).
Before I sign off for this week, would you please comment below if you plan to practice using the emotions wheel this week? Also, let me know your thoughts about this post…I feel lonely when no one “talks” to me! (See how good I’m getting at using the wheel? ). “See” you next week…