Dr. Simon is CEO, co-founder and Medical Director of the Chopra Center
An emotion is the fundamental mind/body experience. We call emotions “feelings” because we feel them in our bodies. An emotion is a sensation in the body associated with a thought in the mind. Emotions are designed to ensure that we are paying attention so we can respond to what is happening around us.
All emotions can be reduced to two primary feelings those of cornfort and those of discomfort. Whether or not we are aware of it, every choice we make is based upon the expectation that the choice will lead to greater comfort. The anticipated feeling drives all our choices.
There is a simple but seldom-recognized principle that can help us achieve emotional freedom: the recognition that all emotions derive from needs. When we feel that our needs are being met, we experience feelings of comfort. The better we are at getting oUr needs met, the more peaceful and comfortable our lives will be.
The key question to achieving emotional freedom is, “How do we communicate our needs in such a way that we are more likely to have them met?”
Drawing upon the work of psychologist Marshall Rosenberg, there are skills of conscious communication that can be learned. Focusing your attention on these four steps can lead the way to emotional freedom:
- Identify the event that triggered your emotional upset. Being an astute observer can help you move out of reactive modes into more conscious communication of your feelings and needs. Saying to your friend, “You are never on time,” will be less useful than saying, “We ageed to meet at the theater at 7:00 PM and you did not show up until 7:30 after the show began.” Be as accurate and precise with what has happened so you not waste precious emotional resources arguing about how a specific event fits into a pattern of behavior.
- Take responsibility for your feelings. When describing your feelings, choose words that express the sensations you are experiencing, as in “I feel…sad, lonely, frustrated, jealous.” Try not to use labels like, “I feel that you are…self-centered, rude, arrogant.” Also, avoid words that reinforce your sense of victimization, such as “I feel…neglected, rejected, betrayed.” When you take responsibility for your emotions, you are informing rather than blaming the people in your life.
- Identify what you want that you are not getting. As infants, we had caregivers continuously trying to figure out what we needed. As adults, identifying your own needs increases the chances that we will get them fulfilled.
- Ask for what you want. Ask for specific words or actions that will fulfill your desires. For example, if you are seeking more attention from your partner, do not ask him or her to just spend “more” time with you; ask to take a walk after dinner, or go to a movie on Saturday night. Express your need in the form of a request rather than a demand. We all have an inherent impulse to resist demands, whereas our self-esteem is raised when we are able to fulfill requests.
Practicing this simple process can be remarkably effective in transforming turbulent relationships into harmonious ones. As we feel increasingly confident that we can get our emotional needs met in a relationship, we can spend more time celebrating, rather than lamenting our lives and our loves.