Alex Steiner, LCSW
Your Emotions Are Not Your Identity
Understanding emotions is something that is pretty tricky for most people. Most of us group emotions, feelings and identity (who we believe we are) into one singular definition. This grouping of concepts often causes us to internalize the way we feel. For example, sometimes the way we feel becomes more of who we are and less what we are merely feeling and experiencing in any given moment.
In order to regain our power and separate our identity from our emotions and feelings, we need to first understand the difference.
Emotions are physiological experiences.
We feel and express emotions physiologically through the body. This happens through our external and internal worlds and what I like to refer to as our “emotional reality.”
Emotions are vastly impacted by an individual’s past experiences and therefore no two people can experience the exact same emotional reality. This makes everyone’s unique experience valid… unable to be disputed because for us, it is our truth.
Each of us sees the world through a very specific lens, based on relationships, upbringing, security, access to resources, safety, etc. Because emotions are physiological, we often can identify something as anxiety, for example, as being felt in the body through sensations such as heart racing, dizziness, or sweating.
The ability to identify the difference between emotions and feelings is step one to freeing ourselves from internalizing them and moving away from defining ourselves by our feelings as well as increasing ego consciousness.
Now that we’ve identified emotions as a physiological experience, we need to define feelings.
Feelings are our conscious experience of emotions.
Feelings are when we identify what we are feeling or experiencing in our body and begin to form thoughts about that and what that means. Oftentimes, we notice catastrophizing with feelings, meaning that the feeling takes on a life form of its own as we attempt to predict or control the future based off of our emotions (which are influenced by our past experiences) and our feelings (which are our conscious experience of these emotions).
Where many of us begin to feel stuck in our emotions is when we begin to identify ourselves as the emotion itself.
How often have you heard or even said yourself “I am angry” or “I am depressed”. Doing this requires us to speak in the context of having already become the emotion. Emotions are something all of us experience but they do not define who we are.
The next big question is: so, what do I do about it?
Notice Your Language:
Earlier in this blog, I talked about becoming the emotion when we say things such as “I am depressed.” Rather than doing this, we can say things such as “I feel angry.” This helps us step out of a storyline that allows our emotions to define who we are and points out that they are something that we experience, but are not defined by.
Notice Your Focus:
Do you notice yourself hyper fixating on the negative? Or do you notice yourself replaying scenarios in your mind, talking scenarios over constantly with different family members or friends?
When we replay things either in our mind or out loud, we are experiencing nervous system activation and conditioning. The nervous system can become very accustomed to this activating experience which is where we notice people saying that they feel stuck or out of control in their thoughts/habits. In becoming more aware of your focus, attempt to notice and simply observe what occupies your attention before shifting into something different.
Notice the Physical:
Developing a connection to your body and its physical sensations helps you to be more in tune with what is going on beneath the surface. For example, if my heart begins racing, I have an opportunity to check in with myself.
Am I consciously connected to my body or am I spacing out, do I feel emotionally or physically unsafe, or have I been thinking or stressed about anything specifically?
Notice what happens if you can talk to yourself with language like the following:
“I notice I am feeling stressed… I notice tension in my shoulders and jaw and notice how difficult this may be… Today, I choose to breathe into this tension and after a few minutes, redirect my attention by stepping outside for some fresh air.”
Familiarize Yourself with Your Emotions and Reframing:
I like to suggest starting a journal where you can just take a moment to check in with yourself before bed. This is an opportunity to practice the shift in language from “I am angry” to “A part of me feels angry” or “I am feeling angry”. This can help open the door for the reinforcement of “I am not that emotion, part of me is experiencing that emotion right NOW.”
If you are looking for one-on-one support, and want to learn more about expanding consciousness and understanding how to better manage your emotions and feelings, I’d love to help.
I invite you to contact me for a complimentary consultation at 954-391-5305. I provide counseling for adults in our east Fort Lauderdale office as well as online therapy via our secure telehealth platform. For more information about my approach or my services, click here.