Emotions are Indicators
Why do we have emotions?
Sure the positive ones like joy, peace and love, are great to experience.
But what about fear, betrayal, or frustration?
Why do they linger and show up at unexpected times?
And what about anxiety, lethargy, or hopelessness? They get in the way of everything.
And sometimes they go away and you think that you’re all good, only to show up again unexpectedly.
Why is that?
Emotions are indicators of important information that we have not consciously thought about.
Every day, every moment we are awake, our brains are busy taking in lots of information. We focus on points of information, and this often makes up our conscious thinking. However, our brains take in more information than what is in our conscious focus. We weren't actively focused on it at the time but we took that information in.
For example, you have a conversation with Rhonda. At the time you are consciously aware of the words she says and the responses you give. After the conversation, you reflect that you are feeling annoyed with the way it played out. On further reflection, you realise that you felt patronised. While she agreed with your point of view, her body language and tone are echoing in your conscience and leaving a sense of superiority and scorn.
The conscious information you took in was different to the unconscious. The conscious information, or where your focus was, were the words she said and her general body language. The unconscious information was her subtle tone of voice and body language cues.
Emotions are our brain’s way of getting our attention.
In the example above, the emotion that got your attention was annoyance. That annoyance could have been swatted away or rationalised as “just how Rhonda makes me feel”. However, the time you spent in reflection provided important information – Rhonda seemed to be looking down on you, or at least on your ideas.
Why is that important?
Because if Rhonda is looking down on you, that will impact your relationship with her. Whether she is your boss, your co-worker, your friend, or your spouse, it will impact the progress you are making towards your own, or joint, goals.
Knowing that Rhonda is looking down on you helps you to make decisions about your relationship with her. Whether she has good reason to look down on you or not, you have greater clarity around what is going on in the relationship. This clarity helps you to work out what you could do to help or hinder the relationship and it’s goals.
Emotions reveal our values, expectations, and basic needs.
Digging a little deeper into the example above, that annoyance can tell you more.
The annoyance let you know something about that interaction went against your values, expectations and/or basic needs.
Maybe you value honesty, and it was the mismatch between her words and her underlying thoughts that caught your attention. Maybe you expected Rhonda to encourage and agree with your ideas, and the fact that she didn’t, caught your attention. Maybe Rhonda is a person you decided to trust deeply and it was the lack of basic trust that caught your attention.
If those things are true, you have learnt that you value honesty, you expected encouragement in that relationship, and that reciprocal trust is one of your basic needs.
There is infinite value in knowing our values, expectations, and basic needs.
Emotions reveal problems that we haven’t solved yet.
Say instead of reflecting quickly on the conversation you had with Rhonda, you swatted it away – “Gah she’s annoying and weird.” But the annoyance hangs around; you can’t focus on your work, you get annoyed at other people, you can’t sleep well.
That annoyance represents, or hides, a question or problem; why did Rhonda treat me that way?
Over time that annoyance might fade. Maybe it was a one-time thing and Rhonda never treats you that way again. Odds are, however, she treated you that way for a reason. And that won’t just change overnight without being addressed – it’ll probably happen again, refreshing that annoyance.
And since the annoyance is indicating important information (see above), your brain isn’t just going to let it slide away. Your brain unconsciously knows that there is important information there. The problem of Rhonda’s treatment of you holds important information about your relationship with her, your values, your expectations, and your basic needs. The problem of Rhonda’s treatment of you will hang around in the expression of annoyance until you solve it. Until you uncover that important and helpful information.
And if Rhonda was real; if this was a real-life relationship, then there would be a lot more contextual information that you could be informed about. If she’s your boss, then there’s information about the business’s culture. If she’s your friend, then there’s information about how she sees the friendship. If she’s a family member, then there’s information about family values, expectations and unspoken rules.
Processing emotions reveals helpful information, and often the way forward.
Whatever the relationship with Rhonda, if you process that annoyance and find those important pieces of information, then you are closer to finding a solution.
If she’s your boss, maybe you’ve been missing the mark and need to step up your game.
If she’s your friend, maybe she’s not someone you want to keep hanging out with.
If she’s your spouse, maybe the relationship needs more attention and work.
Emotions happen for a reason, it’s your mission to uncover why.
For some creative inspiration on how to process, check out this month's challenge: Processing Practice. Or if you'd like some personalised help processing your emotions, check out our services and book a session with me!