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Cracking The Code Of Emotions – Exploring The Hidden Messages Of Your Emotions

Written by: Catherine Cabrera, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 
Executive Contributor Catherine Cabrera

Emotions can be tricky – sometimes they come up out of nowhere and you’re left feeling confused as to why and wanting to get rid of them as fast as possible. As natural as that response is, what if I told you your emotions are actually trying to help you? Skeptical? I thought you might be, so I’ve outlined some of the common emotions and what their hidden messages are trying to tell you!

drawing of different emotions on eggs

Common categories of emotionality

According to researchers at the University of California Berkeley, there are 27 categories of emotions that humans experience, all with their own gradience and ability to combine with other emotions. Don’t worry, I’m not going to address all of the potential combinations – I don’t think you or myself have the time for that; however, you can view a variation of the Emotions Wheel, shared by the ACA Arizona Intergroup that I use with clients in my own therapy practice. With that said, we’ll dive into the most common emotions clients in my practice experience share with me: insecurity, anxiety, anger, sadness, depression, guilt, shame, and jealousy.

What do the emotions mean?


Insecurity & anxiety

Feeling insecure and/or anxious is arguably one of the most disheartening emotions to experience. It can come with depression, second-guessing yourself, and a multitude of other uncomfortable emotions and thoughts, making it more complex than it may seem. Naturally, you just want to get rid of it! However, the context of when insecurity presents itself can provide a variety of information about your values, internal dialogue, previous experiences, and unresolved traumas. With this in mind, it’s important to remember that each person’s experience is going to be unique and while examples used may not directly resonate, the concept can be applied just the same.


In my practice, a majority of clients experience anxiety and insecurity and tell me they want to “stop feeling anxious”. I wholeheartedly understand the sentiment, but in reality, you don’t want anxiety to disappear – you want its impact on you to decrease. I go into more detail about this in another article, but simply put, your central nervous system is responsible for the ‘fight or flight’ response you experience when you’re scared – it’s meant to detect threats and protect you from harm. When a threat is detected, be it physical or emotional, it triggers this process and sounds the alarm in your brain to let you know something is wrong or threatening.


Unfortunately, depending on your personal experiences and brain chemistry, the threshold for sounding the alarm can be lowered or hyperactive. Many people who have been bullied, experienced trauma, or have been consistently criticized experience anxiety and insecurity in situations that are perceived as threatening, regardless of whether or not a real threat is present. Think of when you make a small mistake and the person in front of you responds calmly, but you internally feel the alarm going off – a critical internal dialogue, face flushing, rising body temperature, the whole deal. This can be indicative of a hyperactive threat detection system.


What does this have to do with what anxiety is trying to tell me? Firstly, the message it’s trying to convey is that there’s something wrong and it wants to protect you. Secondly, if your threat detection system is overactive, it can tell you about your past experiences – were you criticized for making mistakes? Verbally or physically threatened for simply existing? Consistently disregarded when you voiced your opinion? The timing and context of your anxiety and insecurity can shed a light on the impact these types of experiences had and continue to have on you, giving you the power to seek help if you’d like to work through those areas.


Anger

Raise your hand if you hate feeling angry? Okay, you don’t actually have to raise your hand, but it’s very common for people to try to repress their anger for a variety of reasons – not wanting to project it onto someone and discomfort with the emotion itself, to name a couple. Anger can come with physical and/or verbal aggression that can elicit fear of what you might say or do in response to it. Similar to anxiety, many people who experience anger, especially to greater intensities, want to get rid of it or are told to ‘deal with it’. Again, I understand the sentiment; however, it can disregard the evolutionary reason you experience anger in the first place.


Anger is brought up when you feel you’ve been wronged or threatened. Anger is another response to the ‘fight or flight’ system humans are born with, as it fuels the ‘fight’ portion of the response system. Your body naturally releases adrenaline, which can cause you to feel aggressive and ready to fight whatever the perceived threat is. Someone cut you off in traffic? You might become verbally aggressive, use anger-specific hand gestures (you know which ones I’m referring to!), or notice you altering your breathing to deeper breaths that help with emotion regulation. Let’s say someone attacks you – even a non-confrontational person will notice an increase in adrenaline. This process is completely natural and is intended to protect you and prepare you to defend yourself!


Can it go into overdrive? Absolutely. Do you want it to go away completely? Probably not, but it can be managed just like with anxiety and other emotions! So what does anger tell you? It highlights situations that feel threatening in some way – some more obvious than others – and can show you areas in your life where this process was necessary for physical, emotional, and/or psychological survival. Anger can also show up during the healing process of various traumas and experiences, even if anger wasn’t present during the experience itself. This is because you subconsciously knew you were being treated unfairly and are retroactively standing up for yourself.


Sadness & depression

Being sad really sucks – it can come with tears, feeling like there’s a deep hole in your chest, and a cycle of thoughts that make you feel more and more sad. Sadness, like all emotions, is entirely natural and part of the human experience, but it’s also very unpleasant and uncomfortable for a lot of people. Sadness generally shows up when you’re grieving something or someone – it’s the loss of what you hoped would be reality. Think of breakups, losing a job, moving to a new place – they all come with changes you hoped you wouldn’t have to endure. Sadness can also provide some insight into what truly matters to you. This could be relationships, your career, dreams and aspirations, etc. When you experience a loss, your body and mind are trying to adapt to the changes that come with it, and like all of the other emotions, how you process sadness is unique to you.

Depression is often perceived as being a step beyond sadness, but it depends on the person. For some people, that may be the case – a prolonged experience of sadness that turns into depression. Whereas for others, depression is a neurochemical imbalance, the internalization of not meeting perceived societal, familial, or personal expectations, and/or an overall negative internal narrative or perception of yourself. I go into more detail about this in a separate article, but depression and sadness can both tell you where you feel you are lacking in your life. Some of those discrepancies can be changed, while others may need to be processed and unpacked with a professional to help you navigate these feelings in a healthy way.


Guilt & shame

You may be wondering why I combined these two emotions. More often than not, when I hear clients and people in my personal life talk about guilt or shame, the other is often present simultaneously. A great deal of experiences can elicit both emotions, partially because they’re similar in nature, but also because they strike different parts of the same nerve.


But Catherine, how do I tell the difference? Great question! Simply put, guilt arises when you feel you’ve done something wrong – said something you didn’t mean in the heat of the moment, accidentally stepped on your pet’s paw – the things that you’ll find yourself saying you “feel bad” about doing. Shame, on the other hand, while very similar to guilt, is the internalization of these things as a representation of who you are as a person. Using the above examples, you may notice yourself saying you’re a “terrible partner/sibling/child/etc.” for saying or doing something wrong. Guilt will typically be in regard to things that happen outside of you or how your actions impact the external world, whereas shame will take those same behaviors and use them to ‘reflect’ who you are as a human being.


Now, experiencing guilt and/or shame can feel unpleasant, so why do you experience them at all? How could they possibly be trying to help you? Every person on this planet has a moral compass that guides his or her decisions and how to interact with the world as a whole. Guilt presents itself when your decision or behavior doesn’t align with your internal compass – hence you feeling shitty about it! It’s not in line with how you want to present yourself to the world around you. Shame, in a similar fashion, takes that and flips it inward to show you what you could have done differently or how you can alter your future decisions to better align with your moral compass; however, both guilt and shame can go into overdrive and contribute to a harmful internal dialogue and emotional turmoil when not addressed and understood.


Jealousy

I’ve learned through my time as a therapist that jealousy is one of the most disliked emotions because of the connotation it has in modern society. Jealousy is often construed as an ‘ugly’ emotion and is ‘toxic’ in various types of relationships, but what if I told you the jealousy you feel is actually very normal and can give you an inside look at your subconscious mind?


I thought that might pique your interest! Think about when jealousy tends to show up – your coworker gets the promotion you’ve been wanting, you’ve been single and your best friend gets engaged, your family member is on an extended vacation and you’re at home working your typical 9-5 job… notice a trend here? Jealousy highlights the discrepancy between what you want (a promotion, relationship, or freedom to travel) and what you currently have. On the outside, this can feel like you’re not happy for whoever you’re jealous of, but in actuality, your subconscious mind is pinpointing areas in your life that you wish to change and thus, your values.


Using the examples mentioned, take a swing at what your values may be. Okay, I’m going to assume you paused for a minute to think that one over! Typically, these situations highlight several values, including prestige, financial security, intimacy, connection with others, flexibility in your schedule, exploring different cultures, self-care, time for family or friends, the list goes on! When you experience jealousy, it can feel very surface level and unsupportive of those around you, but I assure you there’s more to it than that. In some cases, you may be able to make immediate changes to better align with these values, while it may be a long-term investment in others, but keeping your personal values in mind can help guide you toward the life you want.


Conclusion

Emotions can elicit a variety of responses in the people they impact, especially depending on how familiar someone is with the emotion itself. It’s only natural to want uncomfortable emotions to disappear and to never experience them, but your emotions can tell you a great deal about yourself that you may not have known! I encourage you to explore your emotions and how you personally react to them when they come up for you. If you feel your experience is overwhelming and difficult for you to understand, seeking help from a licensed professional can help you learn about yourself and work through the challenges you’re facing in your life.


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Catherine Cabrera Brainz Magazine
 

Catherine Cabrera, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Catherine Cabrera is a therapist who specializes in treating anxiety, eating disorders, obsessive thinking, and related mental health challenges. After years of living with anxiety and feeling like there was no hope for change, Cabrera explored the underlying purpose of emotions and their interaction with thoughts and behaviors. She has since been passionate about helping others better understand their emotions and use compassion to build a more positive relationship with their thoughts and feelings. She is the owner and founder of Inner Strength Counseling, providing professional mental health care in Virginia.


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