Building emotional muscle

Building emotional muscle

‘My tongue shall tell the anger of my heart. Or else, my heart, concealing it, will break.’ William Shakespeare

Saying how we feel can be about as easy as speaking a strange, foreign language.

We might have only ever learned a few words of this language. Perhaps we have always struggled with its pronunciation. Or maybe we once spoke it well, but events shocked us into silence.

And so we’ve lost our fluency.

According to research professor Brene Brown, who has spent the past sixteen years studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy, there are 30 core emotions. That’s right, 30. Does that feel like a lot?

As children, our emotional vocabulary is more basic. As a therapist who uses hypnosis as a tool to trace clients’ issues back to where they began, I frequently hear clients describe their feelings in the language of children.

‘I feel scared..’, ‘I feel sad…’, ‘I feel happy…’

Connecting with our emotions and recognising them for what they are – flags to encourage us to take action – makes for a much happier existence. There are no ‘bad’ emotions. They are all designed to prompt us into action.

But if we pretend we haven’t seen the flag, it gets bigger and louder and waves in our face more and more frequently. And that can start to affect our lives in adverse ways.

The Core 30


Do you recognise all 30?

Becoming fluent in your emotions is a skill.

Some of these emotions feel very different from each other. For example, I think we’d all agree ‘joy’ feels very different from ‘grief’. Joy feels light, bright, giddy… when I think of joy I see the colour ‘gold’. ‘Grief’ feels dark, heavy, slow… a murky, muddy colour. But that’s just me; everyone sees and feels something a little different. I feel joy high in my chest, grief deep inside my heart.

But what about ‘fear’ and ‘excitement’? We feel both these emotions start in our stomach. That nervous fluttering feeling – is that rising excitement or the first signs of terror? Can you tell? Yet they are very different emotions. And this is perhaps why some of us love flying and others loathe it; why I laugh at classic horror films and find them thrilling, while others think they’re horrible and pointless.

Recognising the difference can take a while. Take your time. Remember; they’re just flags.

Say how you feel

Saying how you feel is the next skill. And the 3 As will help you through.

Emotions aren’t always rational. They’re not meant to be, they’re emotions not quadratic equations. But go exploring and you’ll improve your wellbeing.

So how do keep your emotional wellbeing in top condition?

The 3As: Aware. Accept. Articulate

  1. Be aware of the feeling appearing – whatever it is.
  2. Accept it. The emotion may not make sense. You may be jealous of a friend’s new job. You know, rationally, her success does not detract from you at all. You may not even want her new job. It may be the last job in the world you might want, but something is going on.
  3. Articulate the emotion. Don’t swallow it down as negative. It’s not negative – it’s a message to take action. Tell a friend, or your partner or ask yourself what’s going on with you.

Speaking your truth

Building emotional fluency takes practice. And bravery. Remember sitting in class and having to speak another language? You struggled to form the words. You were scared the other kids were going to laugh at you. But this isn’t French class. You’re a grown up now (or a very bright, persistent kid, because you’ve ploughed through a lot of ideas to get here). Close your eyes. Breathe in, breathe out. Hear your emotion.

What if you get it wrong? So what? You’re learning a language. Building emotional muscles. You’ll be the Rocky of emotional fluency before you know it.

And your emotional wellbeing will thank you.