How to Listen to Your Emotions

How to Listen to Your Emotions

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We all have bad days, where nothing we do seems to work out the way we planned. If these days are more common than not, you might feel like you are merely surviving your life. It is possible to get beyond surviving: the key is through your emotions.

According to a paper published by Corey L. M. Keyes in 2002, 17% of Americans consider themselves ‘thriving’, 26% ‘languishing or depressed’, and 57 % are ‘surviving’. I think we can all agree that survival is not an optimal state. It does not suggest growth or enjoyment, it merely means getting by.

How are you doing right now? Are you thriving? Are you simply surviving, or are you down in dumps? According to Margaret Moore, Edward Phillips, and John Hanc, authors of Organize Your Emotions, Optimize Your Life (William Morrow, September 2016), one of the ways we can move up the thriving scale, is to become more familiar with our emotions, or what they have called our ‘inner family’. The authors suggest, like many others, that the road to flourishing can be found within. They describe a variety of needs or parts of ourselves that are wanting to be heard.

This ‘Inner Family’ is led by the mindful self, who listens to the different voices and helps to bring their needs into harmony. The mindful self is nonjudgemental, and “creates order from the many voices within us that are calling to be heard.” Creating a ‘home base’ of mindfulness with a daily practice is crucial for helping to support the balance of your inner dialogue.

The Inner Family has helped move your life in one direction or another - whether or not your were aware of it. These members of this Inner Family are how the different parts of you express their needs, through emotions:

  • Autonomy: This is about choosing our own path which reflect our own values. We all want do it our way, and some psychologists believe this is one of our most important human needs.
  • The Body Regulator: This is the part that helps us to know what our body needs to stay in balance. When you hear ‘listen to your body’, this is the part you are listening to.
  • Confidence: Our belief in our ability to do something. When we feel competent, we are more likely to try something new.
  • The Standard Setter: This part evaluates how we are doing based on our own capacities and also in relationship with others. This can show up as our inner critic.
  • The Curious Adventurer: The part of us seeking novelty, exploration, and risk-taking, in areas both big and small.
  • The Creative: The part of us that uses our imagination, enjoys being spontaneous and deadline free. This is where we brainstorm and play.
  • The Executive Manager: Keeps us on track, manages impulses, organizes us so we can be productive.
  • The Relational: This part of us helps us find compassion for ourselves and others, and enjoys being in community and relationship.
  • The Meaning Maker: This is the part of us concerned with the Big Picture of our lives; the meaning and purpose, the big ‘why?’

To get to know your Inner Family, and the needs of each member, try the following practice:

For each of the subpersonalities, the authors suggest asking these questions. Then listen deeply and without judgement so that you can understand your emotions and their needs.

  1. What role does this subpersonality play in my life, and how has it shaped me?
  2. What story best captures its biggest contribution to my life?
  3. On a scale of 1-10, how well are its needs being met today, and how important are those needs to my well-being?
  4. What can I do to better meet the needs of this subpersonality?

While the goal is not necessarily to balance all of these voices, it is to make sure that each of them is heard and expressed. When this happens, we find the ability to go beyond surviving, and reach the realm of thriving.

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