Knowing others is wisdom; Knowing the self is enlightenment; Mastering the self is true power. ~ Lao Tzu
Recognizing our primary and secondary emotions helps us understand what our core emotions and issues are. I talked a little about core issues in my previous post on body awareness. Simply, secondary emotions occur in response to a primary emotion. Eventually we may unknowingly bury our primary emotions until they are unrecognizable. The problem with this is that we may think our secondary emotions are what we are really feeling, and address those, rather than addressing the true and primary emotions.
Anger is a good example of a secondary emotion. Anger is usually a response to a primary emotion or situation. When we get behind our anger, we may discover that there is a different emotion at the core, such as shame, fear, worry, guilt, embarrassment, regret, sadness, loneliness, etc. Anger, although an intense emotion, is more acceptable and easier to admit to than showing vulnerability. If a primary emotion is shame, people usually don’t want to admit to shame, so they may respond with anger instead. Some will want to push back for safety, and get away from the true emotion with a few sharp words of anger.
Irritability can be a similar response to anger. It is usually a secondary emotion (other than hormonal). What about anxiety? It could be a secondary emotion to fear.
If we don’t address our primary emotions, they likely won’t go away. We may not express them for a variety of reasons, such as habit, upbringing, social situations, etc. Therefore, secondary emotions may end up hindering us because we are not addressing the real issue, nor are we expressing them appropriately. Also, we probably won’t be able to understand what our primary emotions are without understanding how to use self-awareness tools, some of which I have talked about in this blog. Tools such as body awareness, mindfulness meditation, emotion focus therapy, guided imagery, downward arrow exercise, and so on, really help us listen to our bodies and feelings. You may have a different tool that you have found to be effective for you. Something to keep in mind is to keep asking yourself, “what am I feeling…what else am I feeling…what else…what else?”
It’s like deconstructing a recipe. When you taste something, there is an interplay of ingredients that make up the overall taste. But savor the flavors and notice the individual tastes and sensations. What’s making up the taste? For example, you may find that you taste cinnamon, pepper, lemon, etc. So..…what’s really making up your emotions? Try to deconstruct it and see what you find.
Don’t always be comfortable with your first emotion. Try to find out what it is really about. Recognizing deeper emotions can be very helpful part of a healing process!