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How to know if you are in touch with your emotions

Posted Sep 20 2012 3:00am

Wolf River I remember an incident (4 years ago) when my kids were about 2 and 4. I walked into the bathroom and noticed wet toilet paper everywhere; the walls were plastered. The toilet was jammed full of paper and unflushable. I didn’t know such a mess could be made in only a few minutes. I went through the roof and yelled angrily at my poor little experimentalists. I clearly remember myself shaking with rage. Luckily, I was aware enough to take time out after yelling at them. I felt way more anger than was called for in the situation. The thing is, that at most other times I was calm and seemingly normal.


In graphical form that would look like this:

I contrast that with myself now. I certainly still might get angry and explode or get angry and bottle it up for a while, but when I do, I don’t experience the same level of intensity. Emotion comes, informs me, and goes. I often feel stronger and grateful afterwards, rather than drained and guilty. More often I’m feeling anger that is proportional or appropriate to the situation, or that helps me set healthy boundaries or engage in new experiences with strength. My emotional terrain is more variable now, but less volatile. I’m aware of a wider range of emotions, joy, sadness, fear, excitement, etc. on a daily basis.

In graphical form it would look like this:


As a geologist, I can’t help but notice that the first graph reminds me of the pattern of water flow from a dammed or blocked river and the other looks more like a free-flowing natural river. Karla McLaren, author of The Language of Emotions, calls emotions the watery part of us, because they flow move and change. “Movement and flow are the central properties of water, and of emotions themselves. …The word “emotion” even has its roots in the water. It comes from the Latin emotus or emovere: to move outward, to flow outward.”

  • You know what emotion you are feeling right now in this moment. Go ahead and ask yourself, “What emotion(s) am I feeling right now?” Do you get a clear answer?
  • Your emotions come and go quickly and don’t linger– you don’t hold grudges for years.
  • Emotional responses are appropriate to the event or situation.  (The bathroom incident made me far angrier than it should have. I was connected with old anger that was bottled up inside me, just waiting to be triggered and released.)
  • Tuning into your emotions gives you direction, clarity, and all kinds of useful information that resonates as being right for you. For example, you might get information on what career path to take, how to run your business, whether to go to a party or even what foods you want to eat or how much water to drink– all from watching emotions flow by.
  • You are normally calm, but at times you explode and the intensity of emotion scares you.
  • You don’t really feel any particular emotion at the moment.
  • You emotional responses are sometimes way more intense than called for in the particular situation.
  • You have no idea how emotions could give you information about career paths or what to eat.

If your emotional system seems more blocked than free-flowing, no worries. Just as when a river dam is carefully deconstructed, your body has a remarkable capacity to bounce back and return to a natural free-flowing system.

Next week, I’ll talk about ways to deconstruct the blockage and allow the emotions to start flowing again. We do this in a gentle and gradual way, so the flow is not overwhelming. If you want to know why you should care about emotions in the first place, check out last week’s post.


Anu Gupta is a trained mind-body coach, Martha Beck coach, scientist, and business owner.  She loves to help people heal and become whole again.  Learn more about her and her approach at .

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