August 11, 2022
Table of contents

Emotional awareness; Everything all at once

My mindset with relationships for the last several years has been focused on better communication, and shared language in particular. It’s something I’m particularly cognizant of, often times to the point of frustrating others.😏

If we don’t have the same definitive meaning of a word, we aren’t speaking the same language. This leaves the door wide open to lots of miscommunication and heartache. At that point in my growth, I was pretty good at communicating how I felt, but I was not great at actually feeling or expressing said emotions.

Your emotions are critical to your identity, how you make choices, and the depth of your connection with others. So not having control over your emotional self has huge implications. 😬

When I say control, I don’t mean suppressing your emotions by never showing them, or being so positively positive it becomes borderline toxic. I mean, your emotions aren’t in control of your life, but you can express your feelings openly, accurately, honestly, and empathetically.😌

A couple of years ago I reached a stage in my life where I had to confront a lot of internal demons. Things I didn’t like about myself, insecurities, and old habits that kept showing up in my relationships. I was tired of repeating patterns holding me back. A major part of what was hindering my growth was my connection with my emotional self. 😓

”To master your emotions is not to suppress them. It is to process them with diligence, and express them with intelligence.”  -Kim Taj

Unfortunately, improving our emotional dictionary isn’t as easy as YouTubing it. I knew that these issues weren’t something I could figure out completely on my own; I needed some help. So, I started the search for a new therapist that could help me with my goals. That search led me to Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT)

EFT is centered around deepening your emotional awareness and is founded in the idea that emotions should be used to guide healthy, meaningful lives.

The EFT umbrella has had a massively rewarding impact on my life, and I thought I’d share my experience so far with developing deeper emotional awareness.

Reference terms:

EFT’s theory is based on a scientific inquiry into the human emotional experience. EFT therapy approaches typically include other methods and theories including but not limited Experiential therapy, Family Systems therapy, Attachment-based therapy, and Polyvagal theory.

My particular mix of treatments focused on the support of holistic health, functionality, and well-being by building upon intuitive resiliency. That included aspects of Polyvagal and Attachment theory. These tightly related theories are based around the connection between our Autonomic nervous system, co-regulation and self-regulation.

In short; an unhealthy development of co-regulation in childhood leads to poor self-regulation as an adult. Poor regulation means your nervous system is activated easier than normal, meaning you exist more often in a defensive, sympathetic state; Fight, flight, shutdown, or freeze. This means a major part of an integrative-EFT treatment plan is about building healthy regulation of your nervous system.


Emotions vs feelings

First, let’s establish the difference between emotions and feelings, because there is a fundamental difference; feelings are experienced consciously, while emotions manifest either consciously or subconsciously. Lots of people spend years, up to an entire lifetime, not understanding the depths of their emotions.

In fact, this is what Brené Brown’s newest book, Atlas of the Heart, is all about. This book’s aim is to help you build a deeper understanding of emotions so you’ll be able to talk about them more openly and accurately, and thus form deeper connections with the people around you.

This book has has been a timely resource for myself and something I’ll reference throughout this article.

We’re big fans of Brené in our house ❤️

A couple important terms in Altas of the Heart that are good to keep in mind going forward is the difference between traits and states.

A trait is an aspect of your personality. Confidence, for example, is a trait that many people strive for: Regardless of the situation, some people are always confident and in control.

A state is a temporary condition brought on by a particular event or situation. For example, anger isn’t a permanent part of your personality; rather, something happens that makes you angry.

Atlas of the Heart (and this article) is primarily concerned with states.

Emotions, I've heard of those

Fun fact ℹ️ : Out of the 87 different emotions Brown identifies in Atlas of the Heart, her research found that most people can’t name more than three; happiness, sadness, and anger. Simply put; most people still have a childlike understanding and definition of their emotions.😲

That shouldn’t be surprising to anyone. I’ve experienced mashed potatoes that have more emotional bandwidth than some grown adults. Safe space comment 🥔🙅

That number is so staggeringly low because fear, shame, guilt and other challenging emotions hold us back from leaning into connecting with our emotions, ourselves, and others at a deeper level.

Lost in translation

Combining the lack of understanding of our own emotions, our need for belonging, and the general avoidance of conflict, we’ve constructed a world where a large percentage of the population isn’t authentic or honest about how they feel.

Anger, fear and shame make it easy to minimize and mask our emotions, while society makes it acceptable and expected.

It’s easier to nod in agreement and go with the flow than be a squeaky wheel.

It’s easier to say, “I’m just tired.” Instead of “I feel alone and fragile” or “I’m depressed”

It’s easier to say “Im an introvert” instead of “This conversation lacks depth”

“We live in a world where it’s much easier to say ‘I’m so pissed off’ than ‘I feel so betrayed and hurt.’ It’s even easier to say ‘I’m angry with myself’ than ‘I’m disappointed with how I showed up.’” - Brené Brown

So, if no one is being honest with themselves, masking emotions behind fear, and generally assuming everyone else is too, how in the hell can anyone ever be real with each other? How do we start building real, authentic connection?

Well, we start with ourselves and hope for the best. 💁

Requirements you need to get started; courage, vulnerability, a little mind-body awareness, and supportive space. 📝

Sitting in the s*!t

Because there is such a large focus on nervous system regulation, maintaining a mind-body connection at all times is paramount to the work in EFT. The facilitation of a safe, supportive space is vital in being able to navigate your feelings and mindfully recover from emotional states.

Emotional Contrast

Reconnecting with emotions and building an emotional vocabulary is about contrast; To feel what one emotion feels like vs another. By comparing and examining the differences, one can deepen the baseline of what you already know to then expand further.

Anger vs annoyed?
Anger vs rage?
Rage vs annoyed?

This idea of contrast is a deeply integrated concept within EFT . It’s called dialectics, and it’s where the deeper emotional work starts.

The basic concept of dialectics is integrating change and acceptance into a larger truth that incorporates both. “I’m doing the best I can and I want to be better.” Is one of my favorites. 🏆

“It’s a love hate relationship” is a pretty common saying, but that’s exactly what emotional dialects represent; Seemingly opposite feelings that when integrated, paint a more cohesive, full-spectrum emotional picture that forms a greater truth. Accept what is. Change what’s needed; a greater truth emerges. Dialectics. 🤌

Being unable to reconcile conflicting emotional states is what causes the greatest amount of stress. Ambiguous emotions and relationships are an energy suck that leaves you emotionally exhausted and depleted. 🚨

I can think of several past relationships that were ambiguous; be it personal or progressional. The energy is just off, you don’t click, and there is an overlying layer of tension. This is conflicting emotional states in action. People in relationships aren’t being authentic or vulnerable with emotions.

In practice

In practice, the process looks pretty simple 👀:

It looks like talking through whatever is top of mind based on your goals, current life events, or just whatever bubbles to the surface with the intention of exploring the emotions.

What the process feels like is best explained by analogy ❤️:

It feels like standing in a river and trying to guide someone to meet you coming down a steep cliff; also they’re blind-folded. 😳🙈

You’d have to describe to them every detail, which way to turn, what to grab on to, how close they are, what it feels like, and keep confirming they are on the right path. It’s awkward and challenging but doable.

Eventually you are both experiencing the awesome force of the river together, blindfold-free. The river is your emotions. Together , you feel it, experience it; observe it as your emotions flow by you. 🧘

During sessions, maintaining mind-body awareness looks like frequent check-ins by doing a body scan of sorts and always first assessing the breath.

  • Is my breath shallow?
  • Am I holding tension in my body?
  • Where and why?
  • What memories and experiences come up when connecting to that emotion?
  • How have I experienced this in the past?
  • How do I experience it now?
  • What changed over time and why?

Emotions must be felt to be understood; You have to deeply feel and connect your emotions to develop your internal emotional definition.

That means recalling and reliving a lot of emotional trauma, which can be really, really hard to do.

There are different frameworks, tools and concept to help facilitate the process, but the feelings wheel is one of the more useful tools I was introduced to in facilitating the process.

The feelings wheel

I love quality visuals, thanks Onesimusix ♥︎

Using a variation of the feelings wheel during my sessions made it easier to explore what emotions I was masking and identify with specificity what I was feeling, while keeping tabs on how my nervous system was responding,

In Atlas of the Heart, Brown offers her own illustrative version of the wheel and helpful framework to uncover deeper emotions that are being masked.
behind the big emotion.

Behind this { insert feeling } might be {x,y, and z emotions}

Brown goes through examples such as anger, embarrassment, jealousy, shame, sadness, confusion, grief, fear, anxiety, and loneliness.


So, I had some pretty broad goals about what I hoped to accomplish with deepening my emotions. At the end of the day with any goal, measurable outcomes are all that matters. If you can’t measure it, how do you know if you’ve reached your goal or not? 📈

I do a lot of other growth and self-improvement practices outside of therapy, so it’s always hard to say exactly how much impact something has had. But even with broad, general, messy qualitative data, we can find the measurable.

While there are other factors, the biggest portion of my time and energy over the last couple of years was dealing with emotions and EFT.

In that time I have:

  • Been able to better live in accordance with my values, belief systems, and live as authentically as possible.
  • Develop deeper, more authentic, and more meaningful relationships with friends, family, and coworkers.
  • Ended my own generational trauma attachments and moved into a secure attachment style.
  • Met my best friend, partner, and the greatest love of my life. ❤️🧩


Through the deepening of the connection to my emotional self, I’ve deepened some of my known fundamental truths and realized a few new insights:

  • All feelings and emotions are valid and can exist simultaneously; for yourself, and others; Different emotional states produce different truths.
  • Most people are not interested in being fully authentic with you because they aren't willing to be truly authentic with themselves.
  • Most conflict and tension arise from a lack of authenticity.
  • There is no way to interpret how someone else feels unless they tell you, if you do not share the same definitions, you can’t connect.
  • Feelings are meant to be signals for your attention and action. Your mind wants you to decide how to respond, or not. It’s your job to unpack what your feelings are trying to tell you and react in accordance with your core values.
  • By being objectively curious and asking the right questions about our emotions, we start to deepen the connection with ourselves.
  • By being authentic and vulnerable with each other, we create emotional resiliency.

Onward ✌️🚀