An article by Dr. Heidi Lepper, Ph.D.

Emotional Skills: Understanding and Improvement

A Bit About Emotions You May Not Know!

So you want to understand yourself and others better? Have you ever overreacted or gotten upset at seeing someone else overreact? Do you want to feel more at ease, to have more loving relationships, to be more effective with your kids, or to tackle your school work in a more motivated way? Balanced understanding first and mindfulness second are the keys to achieving these very personal goals. Let's first start with understanding:

Better understanding

Fear, surprise, disgust, happiness, sadness, and anger are believed to be the six universal emotions. All emotional experience stem from these six basic emotions. Each has a specific social purpose or adaptive function and long ago evolved within us over thousands and thousands of years. Emotions involve physiological changes, cognitive or thinking patterns, behavioral trends, as well as body, voice, and facial expressions.

So that means, when you get angry, your heart begins to race, you believe you are right, you lash out with big, upright posture, a voice that is booming, and a face that is glaring, and a while later you do not feel so angry.

So that means, when you get happy, your heart begins to race, you believe you are right, you call to your friends in a voice that sounds so bright, a posture that is jumpy, and you wear a big smile on your face, and after a time you do not feel quite as happy.

So that means, when you get sad, your heart begins to race, you believe you are right, your body gets very still, your voice gets quiet, and you look away from others, and some time later you do not feel so sad.

Are you noticing a trend in any of this?

Two Things to Remember!

  • When you are in the throes of strongly felt emotion, you believe you are right! No matter how much others attempt to convince you otherwise, you believe you are right, you feel justified, you are focused on the emotional experience and you become instantly rigid. Emotions alter the way you see yourself, your world, your past and your future.
  • Emotions are fleeting, they are temporary, they do not, cannot last! They trigger a biological process deep inside your brain and body. Minutes or many tens of minutes is about as long as strongly felt emotions last. If they last much longer than that, you will collapse in exhaustion. Once the emotional experience begins to subside, your above feeling of righteousness also start to see yourself, your world, your past, and your future in a more open, balanced, flexible way. You may have to admit you overreacted, that you perhaps were wrong.

Again, emotions are programs that evolved within us because they once upon a time served a useful survival function. Survival for humans was based on quick movements and signaling to others nearby important information about what was happening, for good or for bad. You do not have time to contemplate what is or wrong, what you should or should not do - you are right and so you do!

In today's world however, for most of us humans, we are not working on day to day survival in terms of fighting off tigers or stumbling upon a brand new food source. We are dealing with bosses at work, deadlines at school, jealousies over lovers, battles with children, and so forth. But the same old functions in our brains and bodies are at play.

Be More Effective

So how can you apply this understanding to your life? By balancing this understanding about emotions, again that first they make us believe we are right and no amount of convincing otherwise is going to work until the emotion itself subsides, with daily mindfulness practice of deep breathing and the 'floating tongue' technique. Learn to slow down your own emotional responses through mindfulness training and you start to see yourself and your relationships in a brand new, better way. You can learn to temper your own overreactions, you can feel calmer and more in control every day, you can maintain more positive moods throughout the day, and understand your boss, your spouse, your roommate, or your child better. How cool is that?



*Float Your Tongue

Whenever we are not actually asleep, talking, eating or drinking, our tongues are engaged in very fine movements that are essentially forming the words of our thoughts. And those thoughts are often times negative and self-defeating. The daily practice of not letting your tongue make those private words will help you learn the practice of more positive and hopeful thinking. With your lips closed, float your tongue in the middle of your mouth not letting it touch the top, bottom or sides...feels funny! Hold it for as long as you can many times a day. While going to sleep is a great time to try it!

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Copyright © 2009 Dr. Heidi Lepper, Ph.D.  All rights reserved.