Think of Emotions Like Songs
When you listen to a song, what do you pay attention to? Do you listen to the melody? The lyrics? Some of us even listen for specific instruments such as guitar or drums.
A song is essentially the sum of it's parts but it is not always easy to identify them. Likewise, sometimes our emotions can seem like a combination of different elements. However, all of these elements have been combined to create one experience which need further inspection to fully understand.
There are several ways to think of emotions like songs. Like a song, some emotions can seem louder than others. We feel and even physically sense the intensity. Because of this, the meeker sounds fade to the background until we try to pay attention to them.
In a song there are choruses which repeat. Since humans are habitual creatures, our feelings can seem to function in certain and predictable patters.
There is an interesting phenomenon in music called the "ghost note." This is when we think we hear a note when there is no actual note present! This is because of the note's context. Have you ever thought you felt a certain way because of circumstances (or believing you should feel a certain way) but upon closer expectation, you were actually feeling the opposite? This happens to me frequently when I think I am angry but I am actually depressed and the anger is my defense mechanism.
Unlike (most) songs, emotions can clash together! Have you ever felt happy and sad at the same time? I know that I did when I graduated from undergrad. I deeply missed my amazing teachers but I was glad to leave the never-ending amount of homework, tests and group projects behind me! It was important for me to acknowledge these feelings rather than to dismiss them. Knowing them helped me recognize how I could properly move forward with my life.
So how do we identify and understand our feelings? Firstly, we have to take the time to listen to ourselves. It is easy to get caught up mentally in what we are doing to realize that our emotions are to tell us something important! If we keep ignoring our feelings they might erupt later and/or become unmanageable.
To identify an emotion is to name them. There are several universal feelings such as happy, sad, angry, surprised, fear and disgust. But even these do not capture the breadth of feelings, their intensity or duration so it is helpful to qualify them. If you cannot name a feeling, see if you can break them down. There are also helpful emotion naming charts like this one below that I found off of Pinterest. Take a look and see if you can identify two or three emotions you are feeling today/recently.
Furthermore, ask yourself what was going on at the time of emotion. Was there a trigger? How is your body reacting? Sometimes we do not know what we are feeling until we try to cope with it. For example, if you did not recognize that you were feeling mad but noticed that you were listening to more intense songs than usual, your coping mechanism clued you in so you could recognize that you were angry.
In life we are both the composer and the interpreter. Does your life's song have an annoying note that is not pleasant? It can be rewritten! Remember, sometimes sad songs are just as fulfilling to listen to as the happy ones! Both types are a part of the human experience so try to stay away from labeling something as a "negative" emotion.
Thank you for taking the time to read my article. Take care and stay vivacious!