Exploring Emotions Through the Lens of Emotional Capacity

You may feel emotions - perhaps you observe yourself feeling a lot of them or maybe it’s difficult to notice what emotions come up for you, if any. Either way, emotions are a universal human experience and there is often a lot of misinformation, judgment, confusion, and shame when they surface. Sometimes the idea is that there is a need to “fix” or even rid ourselves of certain feelings. However, what if there was a way to allow our emotions to be a part of our experience and learn from them?

Let’s take a step back and explore this important part of ourselves!

Feelings (or emotions) are the physical sensations we feel in our bodies as a response to different thoughts we have. Imagine you have left a difficult conversation with a family member and have the thought, “I feel so stressed out after this talk.” Maybe you notice your heart rate starts to elevate, a slight headache forms, palms get sweaty, and your throat gets tight. Those physical sensations indicate that cortisol— the stress hormone—is entering into your body. Perhaps you think of the gratitude and love you have for an important individual in your life—a spouse, a friend, a pet—and you notice a slight smile forming on your lips, a warmth form in your heart, and maybe you sense tension in the muscles of your back and stomach relax. These physical sensations are human, instinctual, amoral, and informative.

We are human and we are meant to feel things. What we feel, we can eventually heal.

When something occurs in the environment, the human body spends about 90 seconds creating a chemical process. These physiological responses—the feelings we feel in our body—are innate. Every emotion that is experienced is okay to feel. Sometimes we may not yet feel safe to be aware of the feelings in our body, and that is okay, too. A trauma-informed therapist can offer a safer environment for these emotions and the thoughts that are held with them to be gently explored—there is no need to rush this process.

Our feelings are real and valid—but they don’t define us.
Feelings are also amoral which means that they are neither good nor bad and they carry no weight into our morality. Feeling anger does not make you a “bad person.” Having physical sensations to thoughts relating to shame, fear, regret, sadness, and loneliness may be intense, but they do not become who you are.

By “being curious,” we can increase our ability to tolerate uncomfortable emotions.
Our feelings can inform us of our inner experience, and when we honor and allow space for them, they can eventually pass. Our bodies naturally want to feel an emotion for 90 seconds before resolving back to homeostasis. The truth is, the more we try to push away or judge ourselves for feeling an emotion, the more we can be stuck in it. What could it look like to be with our emotions for some time without getting lost in them? Can we let them simply exist within us? Therapy can be a helpful resource for learning skills in emotional regulation, which is also known by other terms such as resiliency, distress tolerance, or emotional capacity.
If you are curious in how you might begin your own journey in emotional regulation or increasing emotional capacity, perhaps someone to come alongside as a guide would help. If you could benefit from a trained professional to walk beside you as you learn how to embrace discomfort and grow from it, I would be honored to serve you. If you would like to schedule a session with me or another therapist at Abundant Life Counseling Services, P.A., please contact our office.
Reflection Topics:
-The next time you are aware of an emotion occurring in your body, see if you can name it and list the physical sensations occurring.
-How might you honor an emotion you’re feeling in your body?

Elizabeth works at our North Austin location with children (4-7) experiencing anxiety, depression, anger, ADHD, and trauma. In addition, she works at both North Austin and Georgetown locations with adolescents and adults dealing with anxiety, depression, life transitions, suicidal thoughts, self-harm, sexuality, body image, trauma / PTSD and overcoming addictive behaviors. For more information about Elizabeth's practice click here, or feel free to email Elizabeth at [email protected].