Using your emotions as a compass for living

Emotions are signs that something is requiring our attention.


October 19, 2017

By Jordan Pickell

Emotions are powerful signals. On a moment to moment basis, they give us incredibly complex information about what is happening and what we need to do. What would change if you were to listen deeply to what your emotions are trying to tell you? Even our prickliest emotions can give us insight into when we are in danger (fear), when someone has crossed our boundaries (anger and resentment), and when we have done something that is not aligned with our sense of what is right (guilt). Sometimes our emotions in the present are coming up in response to long past events. But even then, our emotions are signs that something is requiring our attention. Perhaps there is some healing that is asking to happen.

Many of us move through the tasks of the day without really attending to our emotions at all. Whether or not we acknowledge our emotions, they have a huge impact on our relationships and our decision-making. So, how can we work with our emotions, rather than against them?

Listening to your emotions

At the most basic level, emotions are felt. We experience them through our bodies. In order to identify your emotions, you must tune into what is happening in your body. How are you feeling in your body right now? You may or may not have a word for the emotion you are feeling right now, but can you identify what you are feeling in your body? Where are you feeling tension? Where are you feeling openness or relaxation? What kind of sensation is it? This practice of connecting with your body in the present moment will lead you to deeper connection with your emotions.

It might feel silly, but it can help to look at a list of feeling words to help you identify precisely what emotion is coming up right now. For example, there is a difference in saying you are feeling “sad” versus saying you are feeling “despair”. By distinguishing these, you are engaging with your emotions with the care and respect of a compassionate listener.

We all have our own go-to strategies we use to avoid the discomfort of our feelings. We might push it down, numb out, distract, deny. These can be really useful when our emotions are truly too painful or overwhelming for us. However, when we completely avoid our feelings out of fear of what they might do to us, we also lose out on the opportunity to listen to what our emotions are trying to say. If we want to listen to our emotions, we have to recognize our patterns of disconnecting with our emotions and actually feel our feelings.

Take action

You are continuing to deepen your connection with your emotions. You are feeling them fully without judgement. Now what? Remember your emotions are pointing to things that are needing your attention. What actions will you take? Whether your worry is asking you to take care of that thing at work or your anger is telling you about a boundary that you need to set, let us be accountable to our emotions, accountable to ourselves and take action based on the information our emotions are providing us. Our emotions are powerful tools. We can use them to point us to what is right for us. What are your emotions telling you you need to do next?

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