A very brief guide to your emotions

What emotion are you experiencing right now?

Do you know? Can you name it?

If you can’t, let me help. We can divide all emotions into five groups:

  • Happiness
  • Sadness
  • Fear
  • Anger
  • Shame

When you feel bad, you’re experiencing sadness, fear, anger, shame, or a variation on one of these basic emotions.

Why does this matter?

Yesterday I shared with you a language trick that helps you stay more balanced. It works by reminding you that:

  • You are not your thoughts, and
  • you are not your feelings.

Maybe you’ve tried this language trick a few times now. Maybe you’ll even have noticed that it works! 🙂

But sometimes, you might not know which emotion you’re experiencing.

The first time I met with the psychologist who helped me recover from burnout, she asked me how I was feeling. I thought about it for a few seconds before I realized that I had absolutely no idea how I was feeling

It was a terrifying realization. I knew I felt “bad” in some way, but I had no idea which flavor of “badness” it was.

Yet naming your negative emotions is a key part of handling them. So the first thing my psychologist did is teach me about the four basic negative emotions. Then she instructed me to simply go down the list whenever I felt bad: Was this fear? Sadness? Anger? Shame?

If you’re feeling bad, you can use this technique to feel a little better.

When you experience a strong, negative emotion, ask yourself whether it’s sadness, anger, fear, or shame. Then, use the language trick we talked about yesterday: say “sadness is passing through my consciousness”.

Do this again and again and again, and you’ll find that your emotions don’t tug you around quite as much.


— Peter

P.S. Naming your emotions and reminding yourself that they are just passing through is the essence of a meditation technique called noting. Check it out.

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