27 September 2023

Perpetual emotion: How to define your emotions and tame them

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Michelle Bakjac says no one is free from emotions, but the trick is to recognise them for what they are — the simple input of information.

We experience emotions every day, but what we are not so good at is perceiving them, understanding them and managing them.

It is important to recognise what actual emotion you are experiencing.

Remember, emotions contain information about what you and others are feeling.

What is so very important to recognise is that emotions are just data — they are not inherently good or bad — they are just information.

This incoming information needs to be correctly identified and then correctly labelled so that we can then manage the emotion accordingly.

In this way we can integrate our emotions and our thinking.

In other words: If we name it we can tame it.

We need to have the ability to understand the causes and complexity of emotions and figure out why we feel a certain way and how these feelings change over time.

If you understand emotions, you can predict how an idea will be taken, how others might react to you and so on.

Most of us are aware of the primary emotions: Happy, sad, fear, anger, surprise and disgust.

We recognise that the definition of a primary emotion is that it is universal across cultures and it has survival value. Leaving aside surprise, consider these definitions:

Sadness – we lose something of value; Fear – possible threat either physical or psychosocial; Happiness – we gain something of value.

Anger – we are blocked from getting something something or someone is getting in our way; Disgust – our rules are violated; something or someone is offensive to us.

These emotions however, lead us to experience significant different intensities of the individual emotion.

Just consider the emotion of anger. Do we really use only one word to describe this emotion?

Or do we use a number of different words to describe how we feel when something is blocking us from getting what we want?

Consider this list of words to describe anger: upset, annoyed, furious, irritable, enraged, angry, frustrated, mad.

Now if I asked you to, could you put them in order from highest intensity to lowest intensity? Give it a go.

We need to recognise that we will all have our own semantic meaning of the words.

The key is to explore the meanings and gain understanding that there are different levels to the emotions we feel.

So instead of always saying: “That just makes me furious” in response to anything that makes you feel angry, could we choose different word to describe our anger based on the different contexts we experience?

By doing so, could we increase our emotional vocabulary and then derive strategies to actually manage the intensity of the emotion we are experiencing?

* Michelle Bakjac is an Adelaide-based psychologist, organisational consultant, coach, speaker and facilitator. She can be contacted at [email protected].

This article first appeared on the Bakjac Consulting website.

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