Week 2: Sketch a profile of your emotion
We hope you had a good starting week and managed to complete the homework tasks. If you tried your best but still had difficulties – you should know that it happens to many people. Starting a new way of thinking about yourself and your feelings is not an easy thing to do, and takes a bit of time to adjust.
Please keep in mind that we have provided tips for each task to help you, along with the weekly homework workbooks that organize your task performance. To receive these materials, please subscribe through the form below the post.
Since you have chosen to proceed to Week 2 of our journey together, you may have figured that you are more ready than unready to make some changes in how you handle negative emotions. If you believe you are not ready enough or are indecisive, however, do not give up yet. Stick with us for a while and give yourself a chance for new insights that may make a difference for you.
Going through your homework, you may have realized that your negative emotions get in your way pretty much and interfere with your life and functioning more than you would like. So what’s next?
The search for your solutions starts with knowing your problem. Our agenda today refers to learning how to sketch your emotion's profile, or finding out:
what your emotion is, i.e. how it is called,
how do you experience it, i.e. the areas where it is expressed, and
how it works through time, i.e. the Perpetuum Mobile that keeps it going.
As mentioned last week, the three basic unpleasant emotions that we refer to throughout our journey are sadness, fear, and anger.
Each one of them is given to humans to signal what to do in order to survive or achieve goals leading to positive functioning.
Just as positive (pleasant) emotions are rewarding signals for us to keep doing what we were doing, negative or unpleasant emotions are signals that we should either learn from our mistakes and change something (sadness), or that we should prepare to protect ourselves in the case of danger, by escaping (fear) or confronting (anger).
But can these negative emotions become unhealthy?
Feeling negative emotions is aimed at signaling us how to best adapt to adverse stimuli that we are facing, or are about to face.
This adaptation means that we:
- DO something that can actually improve the situation for us, or
- ACCEPT that certain situations cannot be improved and adjust our functioning to new circumstances in a productive, positive way.
Therefore, a healthy emotional response is proportional to the stimulus that triggered it, in terms of its:
- Interference with our life and functioning.
When the emotional response is too strong, too long, and too disturbing for our functioning – it becomes unhealthy.
For example, having a strong fear when facing a tiger is healthy, it makes us escape this situation and survive. Having a strong fear when facing a small puppy, on the other hand, makes us escape but the threat is not real and this escape behavior is not going to help our survival much – so it is not proportional, therefore it is not healthy.
For example, feeling sad over not performing well at your exam is pretty normal. It makes you feel bad for a short while, but then you get over your loss and see what you can do about it in the future (such as reorganizing your studying plan for the next exam) and make changes that will lead towards better performance. If, however, you dwell on your poor performance on the exam for weeks – that is not proportional, therefore it is not healthy.
The duration limit that may serve as a rule of thumb for whether we are feeling negative emotion for too long, is about two weeks.
There are certain losses, however, that can make us feel down longer, as a part of the healing process (such as grief over losing a close person in our life).
“Too disturbing for your functioning”
For example, feeling angry over your spouse for not doing her/his part of the chores, may be normal. You could approach this situation as a problem that needs to be explored, and communicate assertively after you calm down, telling your spouse that this behavior makes you feel often tired and overwhelmed and that you would appreciate it if your spouse could do her or his part of the job. This may actually help your spouse understand how you have been feeling and do something about it. It may also make you both feel that you can communicate well in challenging situations, which can further strengthen your relationship.
If, on the other hand, you approach your spouse aggressively, while feeling very angry, yelling at her that she is a terrible person, the worst partner and disrespectful to you, it is likely that your relationship may go downwards. This means that your anger response makes your family life dysfunctional – therefore it is not healthy.
This connects with your homework from the last week, where you had to estimate on a 0-100% continuum how much your feeling disturbs your life and functioning.
Anything over 30% should be further explored, and if it exceeds 50% it should definitely be of concern.
Unhealthy emotional responses
If our sadness is too strong, lasts for too long, and has been disturbing our life too much – it is referred to as depression. This is an unhealthy transformation of sadness.
In a similar way, a healthy fear response can become an unhealthy fear response under similar conditions.
There is an emotion similar to fear, called anxiety. While fear is an emotional response that arises from situations when danger is faced and is directed towards a specific object or a situation, anxiety is a feeling of less specifically directed uneasiness, usually when the feared object or the situation is anticipated in the future. Some small doses of anxiety may be normal and helpful in certain situations (e.g. being concerned about our task outcomes may help our job performance) but may take the form of unhealthy anxiety if too strong, too long, and too disturbing.
When it comes to annoyance, or irritation (or otherwise called the “healthy anger”), it may help us to face our problems with other people and go towards solving them, using assertive ways. However, unhealthy anger is accompanied by giving in to it, letting it increase towards rage, and acting aggressively upon it. Or, if not properly addressed, it may be kept inside and accumulate and then explode later or cause physical illness.
The unhelpful emotional responses of depression, unhealthy fear/anxiety, and unhealthy anger are the ones that need change, and that we will try to deal with throughout this journey. For further reference, we will use terms of depression, anxiety, and anger.
All of our emotions, being healthy or not, appear in our mind, in our body, and in our actions.
As presented in our last week’s video, the CBT model proposes that emotions are triggered by how we THINK about events (the cognitive part of the CBT model). They are felt in the BODY as physiological sensations, that act as a trigger for certain BEHAVIORS (the behavioral part of the CBT model).
We will explore more deeply each emotion separately in some of our further posts, but for this week, please see how depression, anxiety, and anger are expressed through the three areas (thoughts, body sensations, and behaviors) in the video below.
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Therefore, each emotion has typical stimuli that provoke it, and typical expressions through thoughts, body sensations, and behaviors. Since unhealthy emotions occur repeatedly, it is important to try to “catch” them whenever they occur during your days.
What is your emotion? How strong is it?
You can measure this on a 0-100% continuum scale, where 0% means not feeling the emotion at all, and 100% means feeling the strongest emotion ever (or worst possible) (see below).
When did it happen? What was the situation when the emotion occurred?
What just went through your mind? You should also try measuring the intensity of your thoughts that precede emotions, i.e. how much you believe this thought is true, on a 0-100% continuum scale (see below), to be able to follow how your emotion intensity relates to your thoughts.
What have you just felt in your body? Observe your body sensations and note what you notice - map your body expressions of negative emotions as precisely as possible (see below).
And then see what is it that you DO (or DON'T DO) to relieve those sensations (your behaviors).
All the essential elements of emotional response should be WRITTEN DOWN, in a systematic way. One of the ways is to observe yourself and fill in the Emotion Monitor AS SOON AS your emotion occurs (see the example below).
After you have "collected" some information through the Emotion Monitor, fill in the Emotion Profile Record with the elements that most typically occur. To get to know your emotion really well, include a drawing or a photo of your facial expressions during the emotion, as well (see below).
Emotion’s Perpetuum Mobile
So, situations trigger thoughts, which trigger emotion-related body sensations, which then trigger certain behaviors.
However, this is not the only direction of the associations between thoughts, emotions-body responses, and behavior. These associations are, in fact, bidirectional.
This means that behaviors too can affect emotions, directly (serving as a memory reference for future stimuli, stored in our emotional brain) or through thoughts (behaviors may become new stimuli that are interpreted by the rational brain, resulting in thoughts). This is illustrated by the CBT triangle of thoughts, emotions (body sensations), and behaviors (see below).
For example, if you escaped a crowded bus ONCE, fearing that you would faint, your emotion and your escape response are remembered by your emotional brain which does the “quick orientation” in situations that suggest danger. The next time you see a crowded bus, there will be a greater chance that your memory in the emotional brain will activate the alarm, and “turn on” your anxiety response and escape AGAIN.
Furthermore, this escape behavior may be interpreted by your rational brain in the following way: “if I had not escaped that bus, I would have fainted!”. These thoughts confirm that the bus represents a danger, therefore the anxiety response is activated and reinforced by thoughts in a similar situation in the future (see the visualization below).
Emotions/the body responses can, as well, affect thoughts back, also serving as a new stimulus for the rational brain to interpret. In the same example with the bus, anxious anticipation of fainting in the crowded bus will produce unpleasant body symptoms (faster heart and breathing rate, dizziness, etc.). These sensations may be misinterpreted by our rational brain as a sign that there is something wrong with our body, and that we are actually very likely to faint. This fuels the anxiety response, even more, forming a vicious cycle that makes the anxiety grow more in time.
This is how unhealthy emotions are maintained and fed with energy over time. Almost like a PERPETUUM MOBILE, an ideal machine that takes an amount of energy and produces equal or more energy, resulting in endless movement (see below the perpetuum mobile gear and pendulum metaphors of thoughts-body sensations-behavior associations).
Being aware of your emotion’s perpetuum mobile is one of the important steps, since understanding the associations between different parts of emotional expression will set the ground for you to make a substantial change. What have you noticed about the perpetuum mobile of your negative emotion? What is the pattern that's keeping it moving?
Resolving your unhelpful negative emotions starts with getting to know them well.
Sadness, fear/anxiety, and anger may become unhealthy (depression, unhealthy fear/anxiety, unhealthy anger) if too intensive, lasting for too long, and interfering with your life and functioning too much.
The emotions are expressed in three areas of our functioning – in our mind (the thoughts), in our body (the body sensations), and in our actions (our behavior).
Mastering how to measure the intensity of emotions, as well as how much you believe in your triggering thoughts, may help you make and follow up on the change in a more subtle way.
Three expression areas of unhealthy emotions are interconnected in the way that forms a perpetuum mobile – it is a system that reinforces itself!
For your homework …
In the following week ...
... try catching your negative unhealthy emotion whenever it happens, and track the thoughts, body sensations, and behaviors associated with it. Do not forget to measure the intensity of your emotion, as well as how much you have believed in your thoughts at that moment. Use the Emotion Monitor.
Analyze the information from Emotion Monitor and fill in the Emotion Profile Record with the elements that typically occur.
Think of those typical elements from your Emotion Profile Record. How they interconnect? What triggers what? Describe in your own words how your emotion’s perpetuum mobile keeps moving.
Do not forget the 9 rules to follow this blog for the best practices.
For homework reminders and weekly workbook materials ...
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Have a successful week and observe your emotions to find your solutions!
NOTICE: Please note that this self-help blog program is for informational purposes, and cannot replace mental health treatment. Research has shown more potential in CBT self-help if using such a program is guided by a mental health professional throughout the process.
If you have been experiencing significant distress, mood challenges, behavioral dyscontrol, or similar mental health dysfunction, please contact your mental health service provider without delay. Mental health diagnosis and treatment can only be done after conducting a one-on-one clinical examination of the client by a mental health professional. The owners of this website and the writers of the content provided do not take any responsibility for the mental health outcomes of readers.