Skip Navigation LinksYour Self > At the Heart: Understanding and Managing Emotions > Understanding Your Emotions

Understanding Your Emotions

Explore: Quizzes 'n More

Learn more about your ability to understand emotions. Take the Emotion Smarts Quiz!


How good are you at understanding and identifying your own emotions?

It isn't always easy to know exactly what we're feeling or why.

That may seem strange, since we assume we know ourselves better than anyone else. But sometimes it's difficult for us to identify the specific emotions we're feeling, or to correctly determine why we're feeling that way.

Although this emotional confusion is pretty normal, it can lead to misunderstandings, sometimes serious ones, in our relationships.

It's important to be able to correctly identify what we're feeling and why to avoid relationship problems.

Sometimes our strongest emotions hide behind other emotions because they represent our deepest needs and fears, and it can be scary to express them.

Feelings can be confusing.  And that's putting in mildly. 

The good news about our feelings:  Feelings provide essential information about our reactions to situations. They are often our best clue to the meaning of our current experience -- they are less "processed" and more "raw" than our thoughts. They can provide accurate feedback on our current "inside" state.  

The not so good news about our feelings:  Feelings are very complex. At any given moment we may experience multiple, contradictory emotions. For example we can feel happy and scared at the same time, or frustrated and hopeful. What's that about?!

Certain feelings may also hide, under the radar, behind other feelings. For example, it's not uncommon for fear and hurt to disguise themselves behind anger.  So you think you're angry?  But it might really be all about being hurt.

Sometimes our strongest emotions hide behind other emotions because they represent our deepest needs and fears, and it can be scary to express them. And so we may use secondary emotions (like anger) to mask them.

Unhappy woman in foreground with frustrated partner behind her

Feelings hiding other feelings, some examples... 

Let's say you find out that your partner has talked to his ex-girlfriend/first love recently, and you get really angry at him. It's possible that some of that anger is masking your fear that he might leave you for another person. It's a lot easier to express the anger than the fear, because expressing the fear makes you feel more vulnerable.

"Hard" emotions tend to coverup our "soft" emotions and it is the expression of soft emotions, including our feelings of vulnerability that build intimacy and closeness. 

Or let's say you're really stressed out about your school work, and you could really use some support from your partner (in other words, you need a hug). But instead of saying you need a hug, you say with strong irritation in your voice: "You're never affectionate with me." 

So you've expressed anger and criticized your partner's behavior, that's probably not going to get you the hug you need. Expressing negative secondary emotions like anger, resentment, criticism and coldness often push people away.

On the other hand, if you're in a safe relationship, you should control your negative emotions, get your head and best intentions in charge, and summon up the courage to express that underlying "soft" emotion (that you are feeling worried and vulnerable).   Your partner is much more likely to respond to you with expressions of love and concern.

Don't trust us?  Try it.  Look for those soft feelings and dare to express them.  See what happens.

Fear and hurt are often the underlying emotions in situations where we express anger, annoyance, or coldness.

Dare to question those "crusty" emotions and get to the inner core.

The more often you can correctly identify what you're feeling, understand why you're feeling it -- including what "soft" vulnerable feeling might be driving it -- and take that big risk of honestly expressing it, the better it is for you, and your love life and your sex life. Being self-aware and managing your emotions are skills you can build!

If you are in a relationship, its important to understand your partner's emotions too!  Move on to Understanding your Partner's Emotions.....

Move On!