As part of understanding our emotions, I’ve shared our discovery that emotions communicate, motivate and inform us in 5 facts about your emotions that will surprise you.
Then in “Want more control? Pay attention to your emotions Part 1” we talked about the functions of 7 basic emotions, finding what they are communicating, what they motivate and the information they provide.
Then we talked how to describe your emotions accurately. I provided an expanded list for 7 basic emotions so that we can easily identify the intensity of our emotional experience.
Now we are going to figure out the reason why many people struggle to identify their emotions.
Feeling about the feeling
Our first emotional response is a reaction to what has happened. The response that communicates, motivates and informs us. For example, you’re feeling sad because someone you love has hurt you. This is called a primary feeling.
Our secondary emotional response is that we feel something about what we are feeling. For example, you’re angry because you’ve been hurt. This is called a secondary feeling. Again, this emotion is still going to communicate, motivate and inform us.
BUT, it is the secondary emotional response that complicates the primary emotional response and it intensifies the experience. This is why it can be difficult to identify emotions.
Separating and identifying primary and secondary emotions places you in a more powerful position to cope with what you are feeling and lessen the intensity of it.
Typical Secondary Emotional Responses
Here are 5 common influencing factors that increase the intensity of emotional responses:
1. Making judgements about what you feel: if you deny or invalidate your primary perfectly natural emotion, you create a secondary emotion. For example, you may feel sad that you’ve lost a prized possession but think it’s silly to be so emotional about it. Your judgement has created a secondary emotional response.
2. Emotions that say something about who you think you are: If an incident has happened, or someone has behaved in a certain way that causes you to question your identity, then the emotional reaction will be intense. If you are able to distance yourself from what happened, making it about the incident itself or the behaviours of others, the intensity of feeling can be lowered.
3. Intense emotions about past incidents: can be held in memories, especially if associated with something traumatic. An emotional memory can be triggered by something happening now, but it can resemble the past. What is being experienced in the present has more to do with the past, rather than what is happening in the now. These emotions tied to memory are intense and powerful, making it understandable as to why most people want to avoid them. The way to decrease their intensity and power is experience them in the present.
4. Emotions resulting from misjudgements about your world: We all make judgments about the world around us, however these judgements can either increase or decrease the intensity of our emotions. If you believe that everyone you meet must like you, when you meet someone who doesn’t like you, the intensity of how you feel about that will increase. However if you realise that there are always going to be people who may not like you, and you’re ok with that, your emotional experience won’t be as intense.
5. Emotions fuelled by anxiety: or expectations about what could be, will intensify your emotions. If you expect failure, signs or issues that arise confirming that will increase intensity. However, if you expect success, the same signs or issues that arise are less intense.
A quick guide to primary and secondary emotions – 7 questions to ask yourself about your emotional experience
- Is my emotion a direct response to what’s happened? Yes – Primary emotional experience
- Is my emotion increasing over time? Yes – Secondary emotional experience
- Is my memory of the incident fading, like my emotional experience? Yes – Primary emotional experience
- Is my emotional experience continuing long after the incident? Yes – Secondary emotional experience
- Is my emotional experience interfering with what I am able to do long after the incident? Yes – Secondary emotional experience
- Is my emotional experience interfering with new and different experiences long after the incident? Yes – Secondary emotional experience
- I’m finding my emotional experience difficult to understand and hard to clarify? Yes – Secondary emotional experience
Points to remember
- Emotions are part of our biological make-up helping us to stay alive, motivated, informed and being able to communicate our internal experience to ourselves and those around us.
- Emotions have functions that once understood gives us choices as to how to respond
- Being able to describe emotions accurately helps determine the intensity of the experience
- Telling the difference between primary and secondary emotions enables us to control the intensity of them rather than them controlling us.
What did you find helpful about this post? Leave a comment below.