Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

What is Emotion? 

Riding the Wave of Emotional Well-Being

By Dario Martinez

To understand how emotion works, it can be useful to think about it as “E-MOTION” or “energy in motion.”  The energy of emotion can be described as a wave-like formation that moves through five distinct stages:

  1. Awakening – A feeling emerges -  which causes energy to begin moving through us.
  2. Increasing – the intensity of the energy begins to build.
  3. Peaking – emotional energy reaches it’s natural peak.
  4. Containment – we allow ourselves to sit with the energy at it's peak and feel it fully by "containing" it.
  5. Completion – Energy dissipates, and we return to a relaxed state.

As the energy of emotion moves through us, we experience it in three primary ways:

  1. We have a feeling (such as fear or happiness).
  2. Feelings are accompanied by physical sensations and activation of physical processes that are unique to each feeling. For example, when we feel fear, our heart starts racing, we might sweat, breathing increases, our stomach tenses up, etc.).
  3. We might take action in response to the feeling and the physical sensations that we experience.

It’s important to emphasize that nobody has ever gotten into trouble for having a feeling or experiencing body sensations. Strong emotions like anger only become problematic when people take ACTION -- such as punching in a wall or substance use -- in response to what they feel

All feelings and the bodily sensations that accompany them are normal and valid. I encourage my clients to fully feel whatever feelings come up for them. It’s the actions that we take in response to our feelings that we must learn  to manage. 

Because emotion management can be so challenging, many people begin to compulsively interrupt and suppress the natural wave of emotional energy. For example, some people are taught that "good people don't get angry." The minute these people feel anger awakening, they find ways to shut it down.

While this might sound great to people with anger management issues, chronic suppression of  emotions can be very problematic over time. Like other forms of energy, emotional energy doesn't just go away when it isn't expressed. Instead, it festers and builds. For some people, the buildup of anger can lead to an eventual explosion of rage. For others, built up anger is turned inward and can take the form of Depression, Addiction and self harming behaviors.

To avoid this type of build up, emotions must be given the opportunity to cycle through all five stages of the emotional wave. This can be challenging because most people have one or more emotions that are uncomfortable or feel unsafe. Therapy provides useful tools and processes to facilitate the movement of emotional energy. Here is a practice that I frequently share with my clients:

When you feel an emotion starting to awaken, see if you can "track it" by following it as it moves through all five stages of the emotional wave. This is especially useful for "negative" emotions such as anxiety. Most people try to suppress their anxiety by distracting themselves or avoiding anxiety-provoking stimuli. While distraction and avoidnce can be a useful short-term strategies, chronic avoidance of anxiety actually intensifies it in the long-run because the brain is never given an opportunity to learn how to manage it.

The brain can be thought of as a muscle that gets stronger everytime we allow ourselves to sit with difficult emotions. By doing this practice, we're providing our brain with an "emotional workout" --  giving ourselves an opportunity to learn how to manage challenging emotions instead of constantly trying to avoid them

If you have specific questions or if you'd like to set up a free 30-minute initial consultation, please feel free to contact me here.

Copyright © 2020 Dario Martinez. All rights reserved.