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Gudrun Zomerland, MFT, CCPS
Licensed Marriage
and Family Therapist
MFC #27617
405 Chinn Street
Santa Rosa, CA 95404
707-575-8468
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Articles by
Gudrun Zomerland:

Addiction and
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shame as a defense mechanism Shame as Self-Care
internet pornography addiction The Dangers of
Internet Porn
teen drug alcohol addiction Non-Violent Communication and its Relevance for Codependents
teen drug alcohol additction Teen Addiction:
An Open Letter
prescription drug abuse Prescription Drug Abuse
windsor alcohol and chemical dependency treatment The Core of Co-Dependency
santa rosa counselor for depression and anxiety Co-Dependent Characteristics
childhood trauma and post traumatic stress support H.A.L.T.: A Self-Care Tool
family and couples counseling in sonoma county The Family Member in Denial
 

Relationships:

treatment for trauma from domestic violence and spousal abuse Non-Violent Communication and its Relevance for Codependents
attachment disorders in adult relationships Attachment in Adult Relationships
healthy communication skills in adult relationships and marriage Getting to Know Your Emotions
sonoma county marriage counselor Communication Skills for Couples - 101
treatment options for alcoholism and drug addiction in marin county Differentiation, or What Makes Relationships Work
santa rosa psychotherapist treating depression and anxiety John Gottman's Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
 

General Topics:

narcissism Rapunzel, Daughter of a
Closet Narcissist
psychotherapy for trauma Trauma: The Shaking Of A Soul
shame as a defense mechanism Shame as Self-Care
narcissistic parents and conarcissistic children Narcissism and Co-Narcissism
counseling for sexual abuse trauma in northern california Sexual Abuse Guidelines
rohnert park PTSD post traumatic stress disorder therapy Book Review:
"Stop Gaining Weight"
The Body Never Lies by Alice Miller and Hidden in Plain Sight by Barry Grosskopf Is Forgiving Our Parents Necessary for Mental Health?
overcoming fear and phobia through psychotherapy Fear of Fear
counseling for gay and lesbian couples in sonoma and marin county Living with the Light and Dark Sides of Life

 

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Getting to Know Your Emotions

by Gudrun Zomerland, MFT

One of the most useful skills we need in order to be in good relationship with others is the ability to identify our emotions or feelings. This article offers a jump-start to learn this skill. What follows is an explanation for the meaning of the word "emotion", the mechanics of emotions, and examples of specific feelings.

The word "emotion" has Latin origins and is made up by combining the prefix "e" and the root "motere". Literally translated it means outward movement. Our emotions are called thus to indicate that any sensations we experience in our bodies secondary to outer or inner stimuli are supposed to move through and out of us. When the sensations get stuck, we experience discomfort, disease, numbness or a variety of other states that we find undesirable or others find undesirable in us.

Emotions are directly linked to our vulnerability on a physical level. Historically, before primates—like us—differentiated themselves from other mammals, our most vulnerable parts, namely our soft underbelly and heart area, were usually hidden. Mammals expose their bellies only as a sign of total well-being and trust or a sign of surrender to a stronger opponent. Either way, such exposure renders the animal vulnerable, meaning it can get hurt. For us humans, this underbelly/heart area is exposed all the time by virtue of our upright stance. Thus, whether we want to or not, we are vulnerable at all times.

Whatever we pick up from our environment through our senses is transmitted to the nerves in our heart and/or belly. If the signals are in any way alarming, we experience a fluttering heart, butterflies in the belly, a sick feeling, or by extension to other areas of our body, a tight throat, chills down the spine, sweaty palms or a myriad of other physical sensations. All of these are called emotions. That's the bad news.

The good news is that through eons of evolving into the beings we are today, we have developed language as a way of communicating. We have given our emotions labels that describe how we feel. There are only three major feelings: happy, sad, and scared. There is one other feeling, which all of us experience at times, and that is anger. However, anger is a secondary emotion, because it only appears if we have first felt sad (i.e. hurt) or scared. All other feeling words are descriptions of these four feelings in either a milder or stronger form. For instance, "ecstatic" belongs in the happy category, "gloomy" in the sad category, "reluctant" in the fear category, and "frustrated" in the anger category.

You have a right to your feelings, whatever they are. There are no good or bad feelings. There is only constructive (good) or destructive (bad) behavior in the face of our feelings. By definition, feelings are not rational. Rationality belongs to the realm of the mind; feelings belong to the realm of the body. Even though it is useful and even desirable to engage the rational mind to deal with emotions, it is not a matter of mind over body but rather of mind with body. Rational thoughts help us choose our actions. The behaviors we then engage in influence our feelings, but sometimes our bodies need their own time to process them. It's important to be patient and accepting. Just like our heart pumps our blood without our nagging, so our body processes feelings without us pushing. All we have to do is pay attention.

There is no prescribed time frame for processing feelings. It all depends on the strength of the feeling and the individual's personality and history with emotions. My experience has shown me that people are doing their best at any given moment. This is not condoning harmful behavior, because obviously, if somebody cannot translate anger into constructive action but is rather destructive, we need to protect ourselves. But all of us grab for the internal resources available at the time. It takes practice, practice, and more practice to communicate constructively about our emotions. The best first step in this direction is to learn to label what is going on and then to say: "I feel . . . (followed by feeling word), when you . . .", or "I felt . . . when . . . happened." If you cannot think of a particular feeling word, describe the sensation in your body to the best of your ability. Now your partner has a chance to hear you, see you and hopefully, understand you.

There are many more challenges in the task of communicating, but being able to state what is going on for us on an emotional level is a very good and important beginning. Good luck!
 
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