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  • Writer's pictureHenry Street Centre

The Music of Your Emotions: Why it is Important to Listen

Updated: Oct 24, 2017

“There can be no knowledge without emotion. We may be aware of the truth, yet until we have felt its force, it is not ours.” ~ Novelist Arnold Bennett

In general, we are encouraged to keep our emotions in check, to not let our emotions overrule us, to be rational. We come to relate to our emotional world as if it’s something of a hassle, a by-product of the human design.

Yet sadly, when we lose touch with how we feel, we lose our emotional compass to guide our living. Instead, our defence mechanisms and fears dictate what we do.

I think fear of our emotions runs deep. Propriophobia (PRO-pree-o-FO-bee-a) is Greek for “fear of one’s own felt sense” (technically: “fear of one’s own”). One might also translate it as “fear of the inner self.” *

Why do we fear our emotions? What is the purpose and function of emotions if it seems to be a manufacture’s design fault in our biology?

First, I don’t think we necessarily fear our emotions consciously. Rather it’s the plight of modern living. Our attention is devoted to what’s out there. There’s lots to get done, boxes to tick, lists to get through, jobs to keep. What we unconsciously end up with is a highly valued “rational mind,” as if this system is void of emotions, subscribing to the mind-over-body type of mentality. We see the nebulous stuff of emotion as “in the way.”

Said in another way, we relegate our emotions and override our feelings to get some order. But emotions are not just in the mind. It is a real bodily experience (see image below).

From Nummenmaa, L. Glereana, E., Harib, R., & Hietanend, J. K. (2014). Bodily Maps of Emotions. PNAS.

Emotions are a bodily activation that organise our behaviour.

Check in with yourself to see if this holds true for you: Think of a time when something made you feel anxious or scared. Where do you feel it in your body? Chances are, you would feel your heart beating faster, butterflies in the stomach, and/or tension in the chest region. Or think of a time when someone made you angry. Where do you feel it in your body? Perhaps, your fists clench, your jaw tightens and a flush of hotness comes over your face.

Emotions are purposeful. They are like a signal alerting us to listen out by saying, “Hello… anyone there?” Then in times of distress, they are more like sirens demanding our attention, “Hey, something is going on. You need to… (fill in the blanks).”

Contrary to the bad rap of emotions, there are no right or wrong, good or bad emotions. All our emotions are signals for us to pay attention to.

A list of the many purposes of our emotions:

1. A sense of who we are;

2. Connection with others;

3. Cultural and Intergenerational connection of shared values;

4. Motivational, drives us to action on what we want;

4. Sense of direction (emotional compass);

5. Learning; and

6. Meaning.

When working with people in therapy it often seems that several psychological disorders are in part due to an experiential avoidance of the emotional world. A person who avoids feeling anxious by compulsively washing his hands, manifesting as OCD; a person who downgrades her own feelings while staying in an abusive relationship; or another who experiences burnout while not attending to the build-up of compounded stress over the months of terrifying deadlines.

Working with our emotions is crucial. If we don’t, it’s like trying to play an instrument without tuning it. We need to learn to tune in to our emotions, to have a musical life.

Here’s a quick activity you might find useful to help you start tuning in to your emotions:

1. At the end of each day, ask yourself, “How am I feeling right now?”

2. Be patient, and allow this to be answered by your bodily experience, not your intellectual explanations. Emotions are meant to be experienced, not explained.

3. Ask yourself: What is your emotion telling you about what you need at this point?

4. Then, action follows: “What do I need to do?”

Don’t wait until the sirens are sounding and you are left trying to put out the fire.

Tune in to your emotions today.





This article was originally published in Full Circles: Reflections on Living, June 7, 2015.

Thanks to Michelle Saleeba for her editorial. see Michelle's art work.

* This was borrowed from my colleague and friend’s website, Dr. Jason Seidel.

Daryl Chow, MA Ph.D. (Psych)

Daryl specialises in helping people dealing with a spectrum of anxiety and emotional hurts. He uses a trans-diagnostic and multicultural approach in his work.

He is an author of several professional articles and chapters, including the book The Write to Recovery: Personal Stories & Lessons about Recovery from Mental Health Concerns. (ebook now made available for free)

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