- Erika Shershun, MA, MFTI
Making Peace With Your Unwelcome Emotions, Part III: Identifying Feelings and Needs
Updated: Sep 12, 2020
In parts 1 and 2 we looked at the importance of grounding and bringing awareness to bodily sensations when unwelcome emotions arise. Often we don't realize the influence even a fleeting incidental emotional state can have on our decisions. When scanning your body with a nonjudgmental observing presence you can perceive body events of emotions you may not have been noticing, and begin to understand how those emotions are influencing your actions and your future.
Once you have dropped into your body and brought awareness to what sensations are accompanying your emotional state, it's helpful to identify and name your present feeling. This is important because it may not be the same emotion that you initially felt. As you mindfully observed what sensations were present in step 2 you may have located a deeper underlying emotion, such as a sadness under the anger, or a sense of shame beneath the anxiety, or perhaps you transitioned into another emotional state altogether.
As simple as it sounds, accurately naming emotions can take some getting used to. We tend to have far more words available to judge, criticize, or insult than we have language on hand to clearly express our emotional state. That's because when difficult emotions surface it may seem easier to keep our focus on the other rather than to connect with our own feelings. So see if you can get precise in describing your emotional state, for example are you feeling confused or would ambivalent, conflicted, or hesitant be more accurate? Try to get very specific in expressing how you are feeling without using words that describe thoughts, judgments or interpretations. To help with this process I've included a list of feeling words compiled by Marshall Rosenberg, the creator of NonViolent Communication, at the end of this blog entry.
Marshall Rosenberg taught of the importance of connecting with our feelings, that behind every feeling there is a need, and that some feelings point to the obstruction of our needs. In order to get our needs met we must first identify them clearly, so the next step is to connect the feeling you've narrowed in on and named to a need. Perhaps you have a need to be seen, a need to be understood, a need for human contact, or a need for some time to yourself. Identifying your needs will deepen your awareness of why the emotion surfaced, and what it was trying to bring to your attention.
Once you've clearly identified the need you can determine whether you can meet it yourself, or choose to make a request of another. In making a request be sure to state what you do need, not what you don't want, and try not to imply wrongness on the part of other people. Rosenberg teaches, "Needs contain no reference to specific ways of getting met, those are preferences," and that no one person is responsible for meeting our needs. It's important to remember that you are responsible for how you feel and for your needs being met, this is personal empowerment.
In concluding, it's important to remember our emotions are a state of feeling accompanied by physical and psychological changes that influence behavior; getting clear on your emotional state will bring more awareness to your experience, ultimately impacting your decisions and your future. Your feelings often result from how you choose to receive what others say and do, as well as your individual needs and expectations in the moment. When we relate our feelings to our needs and share them it opens the possibility for deeper connection. When emotions arise, especially unwelcome ones, make contact with yourself, not just up in your head, but with the entirety of your experience, and you'll discover more of the wisdom your body-mind and emotions contain.
FEELING WORDS compiled by Marshall Rosenberg.
You may want to add more words to describe some of your feeling states. Avoid words like misunderstood, used, judged, manipulated, ignored, rejected, betrayed... these words are more of a diagnosis of the other person that apply wrongness rather than a feeling state.
unsure of self
in a daze
low life energy