I always remember learning about the concept of meta-emotions (emotions about emotions) at university and the lecturer making the point that we seem to be the only creatures that do this!
Lions don’t feel guilty about feeling happy when they caught the gazelle.
Dogs don’t feel ashamed of feeling over-excited on their last walk.
Fish don’t feel embarrassed about feeling anxious whenever they hear the song Baby Shark!
Actually, I’m not sure what the emotional experience of a fish is, but you get the point.
Adding to our emotions
I don’t know if it is technically correct that other creatures don’t have meta-emotions but it does raise an interesting point about what we humans do with our emotions.
Rather than allowing emotions to be there and to pass by, sometimes we will add an emotion in response to the first emotion.
Have you ever felt guilty for feeling happy?
Have you ever felt ashamed of feeling angry?
Have you ever felt sad about feeling sad or anxious about feeling anxious?
Judging our emotions
It seems to me that when we experience meta-emotions they usually come heavily laden with negative judgement. We are judging the primary emotion as being wrong, inappropriate or harmful in some way or judging ourselves negatively for having the emotion at all.
The difficulty is that when we judge our emotions and ourselves in this way, we are usually inviting in a whole load more negative emotion than if we had allowed ourselves to just feel as we felt.
The good news is that there is one meta-emotion that can end this cycle of negative emotions about emotions! And that emotion is…
If we learn to be compassionate towards our emotions rather than judging them harshly, trying to avoid them or suppressing certain emotions because we think we shouldn’t feel that way, maybe we would feel a whole lot better!
Two simple questions you can ask yourself if you think you are judging your emotions or yourself too harshly are:
- What would I say to a friend in this situation?
- What would a compassionate person say to me in this situation?
Maybe then we can learn to feel compassionate about feeling angry, kind about feeling sad and understanding about feeling anxious.
If you have been spotting and naming your emotions since reading How Are You? maybe you can level-up and start spotting your meta-emotions!
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