Emotional Mastery Introduction

Do you welcome all emotions equally? Do you deliberately avoid or control certain emotions such as anger, fear or sadness? Do you find yourself emotionally overreacting to situations that you find yourself in? Do you feel uncomfortable or tense around people who are expressing sadness or anger? If your answer is yes, then you are not alone.


Few of us have been taught how to work with and manage our emotions in a way that promotes health, happiness and well-being in the short and long-term. Many of us simply don’t possess or haven’t been taught the knowledge, skills and tools for managing our own emotions and the emotions of others. The simple fact of the matter is that when it comes to emotions and emotional maturity many of us are languishing. How could it be any other way? We live in a society that is emotion-phobic, a society where the head, not the heart rules. The reality is many of us compulsively avoid, sedate or control certain emotions without realizing that in doing so we limit our capacity for joy, aliveness and true intimacy with others.


In my own personal and professional experience I believe that the adversarial relationship that most people have to their emotions is a significant contributing factor to most peoples unhappiness, life dissatisfaction and unfulfilled spiritual potential. Almost without exception, every client or workshop attendee that I have ever met is knowingly or unknowingly engaged on an ongoing battle with their emotions. Learning what emotions are and taking action to start managing them in a way is at the heart of emotional well-being.


What Are Emotions?


Emotions are energy-in-motion; they are simply currents and patterns of energy that are experienced as bodily sensations, and move through our body in response to the mind (thoughts, beliefs, images and memories) and to the health/functioning of the physical body. Only once labelled and engaged with thought do these energy patterns become fear, sadness or happiness. Prior to labelling, emotion is simply the felt experience of energy in motion.


The physical body counterpart of emotions is neuropeptides. Research dating back to the 1970s has discovered that the activities of our mind (thoughts, emotions, beliefs, images and attitudes) have very real, measurable physical equivalents called neuropeptides.1 Just as a signal from a particular broadcasting station is converted by your television set into pictures and sound, so the tissues and cells of the body convert this mind activity and movements into neuropeptides. The type of neuropeptide produced (there are over a hundred), is determined by the tone or flavour of emotions that you are experiencing. So if you feel happy, your body will produce ‘happy’ neuropeptide equivalents, if you are sad, it will produce ‘sad’ equivalents. Your psychology, via neuropeptides, literally becomes your biology. They mirror one another. What’s more it used to be thought that it was only the brain and nervous system that could produce these neuropeptides. Now it’s been shown that every tissue in the body can; this includes your immune system, skin, muscles, endocrine system and even digestive system. If a body is well nourished, every part of your body knows what every part is up to. For example the cells of your immune system are listening to your thoughts right now. Not only that, your immune cells are speaking back to them, by producing their own neuropeptides, which in turn influences what you think and how you feel and behave. Your emotions literally have the power to direct your physiology and your thoughts.


What is the purpose of emotions?


Emotions are information. They are messages telling you about what is happening in your body and mind and whether you are meeting the needs of your body and mind. Your body for optimum emotional well-being needs to have healthy food, rest, sleep, relaxation, physical activity, water, warmth and shelter and be relatively free from a variety of body-related problems such as imbalances of hormones, neurotransmitters (chemicals that communicate mood), nutrients, as well as allergies, inflammation and toxicity. If these needs aren’t being met, your body will communicate it to you as distressing emotions, such as irritability and sadness. You also have emotional needs (module four). They include the need for security, giving and receiving positive attention, connection with the wider community, an intimate close relationship with at least one other person, autonomy, status, competence, privacy, meaning and purpose. If these aren’t being met, your emotions will tell you. For example if I am not meeting my need for friendship, I might experience sadness or aloneness, if I feel threatened by someone and therefore feel unsafe, I might feel anger and fear and if don’t feel competent in what I do, I might experience embarrassment, fear and nervousness. By listening to your emotions you will often discover an unmet need than when met will result in the emotion disappearing. Once the emotion has served its function it no longer needs to be their.


Strong emotional reactions are usually related to the past


Have you ever overreacted to a situation and felt emotions that were disproportionate to what the situation warranted? Or have you witnessed yourself automatically and predictably reacting to a situation, just like you have done a hundred times before? I’m sure you have, we’ve all had moments when we’ve been surprised and sometimes shocked by what came out of us, or surprised at how the way someone looked at us or said something could trigger such a strong emotional response. So what’s going on?

It’s called pattern matching and it’s happening all of the time. Our brains have a pattern-matching technology built in to them. It’s a very clever survival and learning mechanism that loosely compares your current experience (including events going on around you and your own thoughts and images) to similar past experiences. At one level that’s very useful, it allows you to get inside a car and know, without having to think, how to drive it. It also explains why certain smells can remind you of someone or a certain place, or how seeing someone with long blonde hair can instantly bring up the memory and feelings associated with a friend. There is, however, a significant downside to the process of pattern matching, one that can cause distress and stop you from learning and growing from experiences. For example, if you grew up in a household where your mother or father criticised you (the past), part of you will automatically be primed to look for any evidence of being criticised by those around you now (the present). So if your partner says something that you interpret as having even the slightest hint of criticism, the event will be pattern-matched, and you will immediately feel the emotional load from the past (anger/frustration) arising inside of you. Because this process is so quick and automatic, it’s easy to see why you would wrongly attribute the way you feel to your situation, whereas, in truth, your situation has simply re-awakened the past.


Why are emotions so important?


Whilst emotions tend to be undervalued by some therapists and avoided/controlled by many people, they are actually at the heart of what it means to live a healthy and fulfilling life. Emotions provide richness, texture and depth to our life experience and a bridge across which we can deepen our connection to ourselves, to others and to the natural world. Without emotion our lives would be bland, our level of vitality low and we would feel disconnected from ourselves, others and the world around us. If we just had thoughts without emotions, we would all live a dry and independent existence without a sense of fun, community or love. What’s more emotions serve an evolutionary purpose they are an integral part of our inbuilt survival and self-preservation system. For example the emotion of fear, will trigger responses in the body that enable it to fight, flight or freeze. Feelings of love will help to ensure that we remain connected and bonded to others, which in turn increases our chances of survival. Emotions are also linked to higher functions such as healing, achievement and spiritual growth. I have observed with my own clients how there is an unseen force, an intelligence within people that brings unfelt emotions into awareness for processing and integration. When these are ignored or unprocessed they just recycle themselves, as physical or emotional symptoms, however when they are processed, then positive shifts in health and the healing process often take place. Another function of emotions is to provide the fuel, energy and motivation to help us take action to achieve our goals, which in turn brings a sense of meaning and purpose. Emotions being information, communicate to you what you need and what is needed in this moment at a deeper level than thought. Recognising this and acting on it will help’s you to nurture and take better care of yourself. 


What are the different types of emotions?


There are a lot of different ‘flavours’ of emotions and many ways of categorising them, but one of the simplest one uses just four major categories. I came across in an excellent book called The Emotional Toolkit by a clinical psychologist called Dr Darlene Mininni. She places all the emotions under the following sub-headings:




Happiness                   Anger                          Sadness                       Anxiety


joy                             frustration                     grief                            panic

pleasure                   resentment                    shame                         nervousness

gratitude                   upset                             inadequacy                 dread

contentment              irritability                     hurt                               concern

love                            rage                              guilt                             insecurity


There are far more emotions than are listed here, but it gives you a taste of how emotions can be categorised.


Are their negative emotions?


One of the most common misunderstandings concerning emotions is the idea that certain emotions are negative or positive. This is understandable particularly if we are living our life on the basis of hedonic happiness, in which we focus on minimising the experience of uncomfortable ‘negative’ emotions (such as fear, anger and sadness) and maximising our experience of comfortable, pleasurable emotions (such as joy, and elation). What’s more research dating back to the 1950’s found that certain emotions such as anger and sorrow were not only linked to certain illnesses, but were found to inhibit the healing and recovery process. This appeared to support the idea that emotions are negative and positive according to their impact on our health, ability to heal and behaviour. We now know however that this was a misinterpretation. Emotions are simply energy they are neither bad nor good, what determines their effect on our health and wellbeing, is our relationship to them. It’s what we do with and how we relate to our emotions that matters.  For example most people would generally agree that unhealthy displays of anger are not desirable. Anger however is a natural and important emotion, its negative impact arises results from what we do or don’t do with it. If I suppress it or start acting out of the anger, by yelling, abusing or hitting than that is unhealthy. If I acknowledge it, take responsibility for it and use it constructively then that is healthy.


Now move onto assess your emotional management style






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