So, step one is to identify our emotions. But HOW do we begin to do that?
In my last post, I compared emotions to music – saying they’re like the musical language of the heart.
Well, one difficult thing about music is that learning it requires effort and discipline. Those with a gift and an instinct for music can get away without practicing their scales. But most people who know how to play a beautiful song have put at least a little bit of time into learning some of the technical aspects of music.
I think we’ve all had the experience of talking with a person who swears up and down that he’s not angry – but daggers are flying out of his eyes. Eventually he might admit, “OK, maybe I’m a little frustrated.” Meanwhile, everyone in the room knows he wants to throw a chair through the window. It’s funny, until you ask yourself how many emotions you might be feeling without even knowing it.
An old pastor of mine realized that he wasn’t very good at noticing his emotions. So, he tried an experiment: He would journal every morning, starting off with the question, “What am I feeling?” He found that this was difficult for him without consulting a list of emotions to help him find the right words. In time, not only did he get better at identifying his emotions – he began to feel more of them!
It is tremendously rewarding to become mature in your ability to recognize what you are feeling.
Here’s a little experiment for you to try: Take 3 minutes to think through the past 24 hours, and make a list of all the emotions that you can remember yourself feeling. (If you need to do so, use a feelings list.)
(One caveat: “I felt like he was being a jerk” is not an emotion! “I felt like I wanted to watch some TV” is also not an emotion. Just because you put the words, “I feel like” in front of it doesn’t make it an emotion. If you find yourself doing this repeatedly, definitely consult the feelings list!)
Now, two questions: 1. How many genuine emotions (not thoughts or beliefs) did you come up with? 2. Did you know that you were feeling those things when you were feeling them?
If you couldn’t remember at least five instances in which you felt an emotion in the past 24 hours, you might be severely disconnected from your feelings.
And if you didn’t realize that you were feeling them at the time that you were feeling them – then that is the definition of being disconnected from your feelings!
If you are disconnected from your feelings – that’s ok! Many people are. The good news is that you are created by God, and he has written this music on your heart. You can still discover the joy of learning to hear it. It starts with simply noticing it.
Just do a simple thing: Listen. Take the time to stop and ask, “What emotion am I feeling?” Use a feelings list to increase your emotional vocabulary, and then simply begin to attach those words to the feelings happening inside of you.