Working Through Emotions: Peel Back the Layers of the Onion


Sometimes we know what we are feeling but we don’t have a clue what it could be trying to tell us. Practice will make this easier but in the meantime here is something that might help.

The feelings that we notice are not always the core Feelings. What I mean by this is that sometimes we feel something, but there is another Feeling hiding behind it. It’s hiding because it might be a Feeling we don’t like to admit to, a Feeling that is unfamiliar or simply because it’s just too uncomfortable.

Steps to Finding the Core Feelings

When there is a Feeling that we don’t understand it’s time to peel back the layers of the onion. Ask yourself: “What Feeling is behind that?” and go with the first thing that comes even if it doesn’t seem to make sense. Then again, ask yourself “What Feeling is behind that?” until you can’t come up with anything new anymore. That is the core of what you are feeling.

This process of peeling back the layers sometimes comes very easily and other times is more complicated. Sometimes the layers make sense to us and sometimes they might seem totally crazy. Trust them. Just go with it. This is about exploring. We don’t always know what it is we are looking for, but when we find it we will know. It just makes sense.

Example From My Life

Recently I got an opportunity that I had wanted for a long time. It just happened. I barely had time to realize what was going on. I thought I should have been jumping up and down with excitement. I should have felt Thrilled, Grateful, Happy and Optimistic. But I wasn’t. I was feeling Sad, Confused and Withdrawn. Part of this was to do with the expectations I had but that wasn’t all.

The Sadness was immediately clear to me. Sadness is about loss - a person, a place, a hope, a dream - it reminds us what is important to us. I was Feeling Sad because I was losing the lifestyle I had before this opportunity came along - a certain freedom, autonomy and sense of possibility. But there was more to it. I asked myself: “What is behind this Confused and Sad Feeling?” Relief. I could understand why I was Feeling relieved. I had hoped for this opportunity for a long time and it finally becoming a reality. What else is there? Fear. Fear? Really? Then I realized that I was Afraid that this long hoped for opportunity wouldn’t be all I dreamed it to be. That thought led me to feel Afraid.

What Category Does the Emotion Belong To?

Other times, we get stuck on a Feeling and can’t seem to find any other layers. In these cases we can then see what category of Emotions the Feeling is part of. Say I am Feeling Annoyed and I can’t think of anything behind that. I can then use my Feeling Magnets to identify that Feeling ‘Annoyed’ is an Emotion in the ‘Anger’ category. We feel Anger when we believe we were treated unfairly or when our boundaries have been crossed. Knowing this, I can then begin to understand my boundaries and beliefs and how I want to respond to this situation.

Feelings are always linked to something - a thought, a belief, something that has happened. Finding the core Feeling and tracing it to its source is the key to truly understanding ourselves. Take time to peel back the layers of your Feelings. Write them down. Surprising things come when we do this.

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