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revised March 24, 2011

Arrow BulletSelf Esteem: Understanding Yourself - Self-Awareness - Emotions

Many people are uncomfortable with, or haven't had the opportunity to learn positive ways to recognize and manage their emotions. Sometimes, they cope by denying their feelings or shutting them down. They may block them with their intellect, with eating or not eating, with drugs, alcohol, or cigarettes, or other habits that can lead to difficulty. Sometimes they act on their emotions without thinking of the consequences, saying and doing things that they later regret.

You cannot always control what happens to you. You can learn to interpret and manage your feelings. You can control the conclusions you draw from experiences about your own sense of self-worth, your thoughts, and how you will respond - your actions.



Recognizing Emotions

  • Emotional responses are the reason people care about anything. Although psychologists and philosophers still debate which emotions are primary, Paul Ekman has identified facial expressions for four core emotions recognized in people of many cultures. (Paul Ekman. (1992). "An Argument for Basic Emotions", Cognition and Emotions, 6). These 4 core emotions are sadness, anger, joy and fear.

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What purpose do these 4 core emotions serve?

  • Sadness
    helps you to reflect on the significance of something you have lost, or something that has disappointed you; when you feel sad, it's natural to need to be alone. Solitude helps to work out the significance of the loss and learn from the experience. Withdrawing when you are sad protects you from further hurt until you feel stronger.
  • Anger
    motivates you to change or fix something that is not working. Anger may also be a cover for hurt and sadness; if issues are not addressed, unresolved anger may lead to long-term moods of resentment, hostility, even depression.
  • Joy
    represents all the positive feelings that tell you what is working. Pay special attention to these feelings and re-create the circumstances where feelings of contentment, satisfaction, happiness, peace and joy occur.
  • Fear
    protects you from unsafe risks and tells you to be cautious or to prepare - fear is normal in unfamiliar situations. It doesn't mean you can't do something. Fear may be realistic and appropriate to the risk of the situation at hand OR it may get out of hand when a situation poses little or no "real" risk.
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I'm So Upset

  • You experience these emotions in varying combinations and intensities, as well as others such as surprise, excitement, love, disgust, and guilt. Problems arise when you use vague words or rely on body language to express feelings, especially when something is troubling you.
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I Wonder If She's Frustrated... Sad... Afraid...

  • Unclear words such as upset are confusing both to yourself and people around you because they can represent so many different feelings, and intensities of feelings. An easy place to start increasing comfort with your emotions is to expand your vocabulary of feeling words.
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