What am I really feeling?
Sometimes the English language is lacking when it comes to describing our feelings. Emotions are complex, and sometimes words just don’t feel like they fully encompass every facet of what we’re feeling. “Upset” is a vague word used to classify any unpleasant or uncomfortable emotion. When this discomfort creeps in, explore the emotion. See if you can identify exactly what it is. Instead of simply saying, “I’m upset,” try using the most colorful language you can think of to describe the way this emotion is making you feel. Once you identify what the feeling really is, you can set about figuring out why you feel that way.
Why am I upset?
Semantics aside, the thing we really want to know when these unpleasant feelings arise is why we feel this way. Once you’ve identified the emotion that’s causing the upset feeling, spend time with that emotion. Investigate the factors that are contributing to it. Are external factors at play? Is there anything you can do to change the situation and ease the discomfort? What internal factors are contributing to the discomfort?
What triggered this feeling?
Often, we can work our way backwards from the emotion to figure out when and why we started feeling it. If the feeling was triggered by someone else’s words or actions, try to determine what inside yourself elicited an emotional response to an external stimulus. What wound did the person’s words or actions touch? Sometimes we don’t know a wound exists until something happens that causes us discomfort. If we don’t know the wound exists, we can’t work towards healing it. Once we’ve identified the wound that triggered the upset feeling, we can set about taking steps to heal that wound.
What story am I telling myself about this situation?
I read a statistic that said an emotion only exists in the mind and body for 90 seconds. This means any additional time we spend feeling upset is based on our reaction to the emotion, not the emotion itself. It’s completely normal and reasonable for a feeling, especially a feeling with a negative association, to linger for longer than those 90 seconds. One way to help yourself resolve the emotion is to limit the narrative you build around it. Is the story you’re telling yourself about this situation based on fact, or is it conjecture? The brain is wired to search for solutions, to fill in holes. If we don’t have the means to find those answers, we often create answers that seem likely to us. When possible, try to limit your speculation and the amount of time you spend thinking about whatever is upsetting you. Don’t avoid thinking about it altogether but work towards thinking through it in a healthy way. Discard the thoughts and ideas that are not based in absolute truth and pursue real answers. This often means asking uncomfortable questions and learning to be okay with equally uncomfortable answers.
What do I need?
Feelings of upset often come from an unmet need. In this situation, what needs do you have that are going unmet? Can you meet those needs yourself? If you feel that your needs aren’t being met within a relationship, have you clearly communicated those needs? Figuring out what you need and how you can go about getting whatever that is often eases the upset feeling. If a deeper wound exists, meeting a momentary need won’t heal it permanently, but it can ease the discomfort long enough for you to consider a plan for long-term healing.
What is my intention behind my behavior?
Uncomfortable feelings often lead us to a reactive state. Addressing these feelings from a reactive mindset rather than a responsive one will likely create more upsetting feelings. Before reacting to your feelings, pause and ask yourself what your intentions are. What motives do you have for the actions you’re about to take or the words you’re about to speak? In pausing to reflect before acting, you empower yourself to respond in a way that ensures that your behavior aligns with your intentions.