One of the biggest turning points in my life of Emotion work was when Allison recommended The Language of Emotions to me, by Karla McLaren. Allison prefaced it with something I wrote on a little notecard and stuck in my kitchen: “Emotions are messengers to you.” This was a completely foreign concept to me. Emotions are trying to tell me something? What does that even mean? I wasn’t sure. But I liked the thought of it. I liked the prospect that I didn’t have to conquer the unbeatable battle of anger or sadness. And I felt peace about this new idea. So I ordered the book.
The Language of Emotions is a self-help book divided into two parts: Part I which lays the foundation for empathy and emotion work, and Part II which is designed as a reference guide for fourteen categories of emotions.
In Part I, Karla gives the background story of her journey as an empath, her childhood trauma, and how she healed from it by acknowledging her emotions rather than repressing or expressing them. She introduces the quaternity model of earth/physical, mental/intellectual, water/emotion, and fire/spiritual, and suggests our emotions exist in three states: soft, mood state, and intense.
I found this all interesting, but really, I just wanted to know: why was I angry? What was it telling me? What was my anxiety trying to convey to me? I got a little impatient in the chapter on addictions and our need for distraction, and then I glossed over the discussion on healing from trauma. This was all good stuff, but it wasn’t addressing my questions.
Just before Part II, there is a chapter on five empathic skills that we can practice and that will help us as we navigate through life with our emotions. I took note of a few of these. I would return to this chapter after a while.
Finally, I arrived at Part II. THE GOLD. This is the portion I study again and again and again. This is my reference guide, my “Google,” my “Wikipedia” of emotions.
Each chapter in this section focuses on an individual emotion, highlights its gifts to us, describes its roles, and identifies the question(s) we should ask when we feel that specific emotion. For example, anger’s gifts to us are a protection of ourself and others, proper boundaries, and honor. Its role is like a castle sentry or an ancient sage, as McLaren describes it, protecting us inside the gate. And the question we ask when we feel anger is “What must be protected? What must be restored?” Asking the specific question uncovers the message the emotion is trying to give—the actions and information we need to know of what to do.
This all seemed a bit confusing to me, and didn’t really make sense. (When I’m frustrated with my toddler’s tantrums, what does “what must be protected?” even mean?)
But as I began trying it out, something happened—every time. I would ask myself the question, find the answer, act on it, and the emotion would dissipate, leaving peace in its place! It was amazing. And it would happen, again and again.
I continued to practice this process, and now, any time I recognize an emotion in myself, in one of my children, or a friend who comes to me for help, I always go back to this section of the book. We learn about the emotion, ask ourselves the questions, discover the message, and then know for certain what we are to do. We are always left in peace.
If you’re interested in learning and discovering what your emotions are trying to tell you, I highly recommend this book. I have not found any other resources that present the information in this way—and I have not found this information anywhere else (except Karla’s other book: The Art of Empathy).
I’ve marked and highlighted and underlined and circled and noted in the margins of this book. And I think about it every few days as I recognize another emotion flowing through me or one of my kids. It has changed the way we “deal with emotions.” It has brought answers and a peace to me that I’d been searching for for a long time.
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My only complaint about the book is that it’s short on examples. Karla gives a few, but I needed real-life, ample situations similar to my own to help me grasp the concepts. Since there were none, I decided to start keeping track of our own, just in case they might help someone else. As I’ve discovered the messages in my emotions, practiced it, and helped others, I’ve seen the peace and relief come again and again. This blog is a record of all those experiences. Come back to read them, try it out for yourself, and let me know of your own stories!