Understand Your Emotions

Why do we experience emotions? What are they? What purpose do they serve? Can I control them? Why is emotional intelligence important for a relationship?

Most men think that they don’t have a wide range of emotions and that women are the emotional creatures. Women may typically act on their emotions more than men, but men too have emotional thralls that influence their behavior. The most common difficulty my clients bring into therapy is that they want to increase their quality of communication. What they don’t understand is that there is a vast gap of emotional intellect between men and women. It is almost like they are speaking a different language to each other. Yet, this only happens when emotions are all encompassing.

What Are They & What Purpose Do They Serve?

Emotions serve the sole purpose of our continued survival. Think about it. We feel positive emotions when we get a raise (Money/Resources) and eat. The two strongest emotions are falling in love (possible pair bond that leads to future offspring) and fear (anything that leads to the possibility of death).

A Mind In Conflict (The Elephant Is In Control)

People often think that our minds are divided. Some use the metaphor of the heart versus the brain. Others say it is our emotions versus our logic. Jonathan Haidt has revamped this metaphor to make it more accurate. He says that an elephant is our emotions and the rider is our rationality. He is author of the “Happiness Hypothesis” & “The Righteous Mind”.

The elephant is our primal brain that has been reinforced over thousands of years of evolution. It’s decision-making processes, according to Mr. Haidt, are automatic. He uses an elephant because in reality that is how much control we have over our emotions when they go wild. For the most part we maintain mastery over the elephant when things are calm, but if the elephant fears for its life or sees a potential mating opportunity, HOLD ON!

The rider is just there to make cognitive rationalizations to explain the elephant’s decisions (emotions). We can learn to control the elephant better by understanding him.

Follow The Hurt (Understand The Elephant)


Let’s look at anger. Why does someone get angry in a relationship? Men get angry when they are cheated on. A good amount of them even feel a blind rage to kill the man that cheated with their partner. Why is this?

Anger is a ‘surface’ emotion. This means that there are deeper and more important emotions underneath. When someone is angry, they are usually feeling hurt. Going deeper down we see that this hurt stems from being disrespected, helpless or not appreciated. Below is a model that shows this emotional unveiling.


Let Them Out (Expression)

“Unexpressed emotions will never die. They are buried alive and will come forth later in uglier ways.”
―Sigmund Freud

When emotions are not expressed, they are stored up, recycled and re-used in bad ways. It is like putting the elephant in a cage and then constantly provoking it. As soon as you let the elephant out, it will go crazy and become uncontrollable. This was shown in the hydraulic model of stress. Understanding your deep emotions and staying with them by allowing them to be creates acceptance.

Below is a chart of many different deep emotions.

Emotion Wheel

Know Your Triggers

Increasing your emotional intelligence and awareness will improve your relationships. Look at your first experiences with your parents and first partners. Figure out when you were most hurt. It is most likely that you get angry or argumentative when your current partner elicits similar triggers to those painful events.

The Power of Emotion

Emotions guide our everyday actions. What you have to realize is that they are fleeting. Just like your thoughts, they are not you. When one emotion is controlling you, it is like you are wearing glasses in which you only see reality through that emotion. When you are angry, your thoughts formulate angry thoughts and only seek out events that feed on that anger.

To understand more about your emotions and how the elephant controls our impulses and behavior read “The Happiness Hypothesis” by, -Jonathan Haidt



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