From clinical experience and brain research we now know that naming emotional states can calm our nervous systems. According to Matthew Lieberman of the University of California, when you put feelings into words you turn on regions of the brain involved in emotional self-control.
I was recently reading a book on “Positivity” by Barbara Fredrickson. In it she claims that no matter where we are, if we take a moment to ask ourselves questions like, “What’s right about my current circumstances?” or “What makes me lucky to be here?” we can light our inner glow of gratitude. I tend to agree with her. Powerful questions can point us in a different direction and can change our point of view and attitude.
In her book Spinning Threads of Radical Aliveness, Miki Kashtan writes, “I want our needs, desires, emotions, imagination, intuition and faith to be embraced as a route towards changing relations with self, others and nature.” She is “not advocating completely unrestrained expressions of emotions”, instead she believes that “reason is not comprehensive enough on its own to serve as a foundation for human socialization, and that the bias in its favour is at best problematic and at worst dangerous”.
Some of us are very fortunate to have the opportunity to be in close contact with people from many cultures and walks of life. Being exposed to different languages, accents, clothes, food, customs, ideas and spiritual perspectives, gives us the opportunity to broaden our horizons and opens up the possibility of new ways of thinking, doing and being.
As I was growing up, I did not learn how to understand or manage my thoughts, let alone my emotions. And despite a life time of working in the fields of communication, creativity, education and personal development, I only discovered relatively recently, the simple yet profoundly powerful concept that emotions help us figure out what it is that we truly need.
During my early years of trying to understand my life experience and the experience of those around me, I encountered some philosophies which heralded the expression of repressed emotions as a way to release tension, feel better and regain energy. It was liberating to be encouraged to ‘let it all out’, but somehow that did not seem to be the full answer for me.
It seemed to me that acknowledging and feeling the emotions was very useful, but it was not the whole story. Also the expression of emotions was problematic and sometimes very exhausting and at other times quite destructive. I could clearly see that unbridled emotion was not the answer.
About 4 years ago when I first encountered the idea that feelings were there to alert us to our needs, I found the information astonishingly insightful and immediately useful. I had been aware of how thoughts and emotions effect each other and impact our behaviour, but linking emotions to needs and values was a whole new and exciting ball game for me.
This new ball game began when I started to study the work of Dr Marshall Rosenberg, the creator of the Non Violent Communication model. His ideas and insights have fascinated me ever since.I came to see that emotions and rationality together, with the knowledge that emotions would lead me to my needs, was a far more liberating path for me.
When you can figure out what you need, you can think of a variety of ways to meet that need, and in doing so be more resilient, self-reliant and self-responsible. This is the basis of some of the work I do to help people become more confident, resourceful and empowered. I have much to be thankful for in discovering the work of the wonderful, brilliant and recently departed Dr Marshal Rosenberg. He is sadly missed by so many.