Understanding the Difference Between ‘being emotional’ and ‘discussing emotions’

In many Emotional Intelligence workshops I have facilitated, I often come across questions like, “If I am okay the way I am, wouldn’t discussing emotions make me an overthinker?” “Isn’t it likely that talking about emotions would make us more vulnerable and emotional than we already are?” “Wouldn’t reflecting on emotions make our decision-making process more complex?”

All these questions stem from how we perceive emotions in our culture. For some of us, emotions denote weakness because we view them as getting in the way of operating rationally. But emotions have an all-encompassing role to play in our lives. Emotions matter. They impact our learning and the way we make decisions. They affect the way we treat other people. Most importantly, they impact our well-being. No human is exempt from feeling emotions, but what separate the emotionally intelligent ones is their ability to be aware of their emotional patterns and how one manages them.

Reflecting on our emotions doesn’t have to mean ‘overthinking’ or ‘taking things too seriously,’ as is usually perceived. There is a distinguishing difference between the two. Reflecting on emotions to understand ourselves and our patterns better is much different from playing thoughts repeatedly in our heads. Emotional self-awareness is the process of reflecting on how we feel (pleasant or unpleasant emotional experiences) as induced by different situations or interactions (triggers) and what do those emotions signal (fulfilled or unfulfilled needs).

There was a point last year when my brother wasn’t getting as good grades as he did previously, and it was affecting my parents. My mother especially had a hard time processing it because she is an educator and values learning above everything else. Whenever she saw my brother using the phone or laptop, she would start telling him how incompetent he was becoming because of his over-indulgence in gadgets. She would blame him for his carelessness and incompetence. And, as a natural inclination, my brother would either shut himself completely or start quarreling continuously. In one of those recurring situations, when it became too much to take, I decided to intervene. Of course, such intense cycles of blaming and accusing wouldn’t stop after a single conversation, so it took quite a lot of effort on my part to help them express and understand what they were really trying to tell each other.

I eventually found out that what my mother wanted to express was the feeling of disappointment. She didn’t want to accept the fact that while she helped other students improve their learning, her son wasn’t doing well academically. Her need was to be helpful to her son. On the other hand, my brother felt hurt because instead of receiving generous concerns and a helping hand from my mother, he was at the receiving end of blame and criticism. He needed his mother to understand why he wasn’t doing good and help him find a way out.

When both of them were able to connect with each other’s feelings and needs, I witnessed them becoming more open toward resolving the problem. They worked together to improve my brother’s grades. There are many high-stake situations like these that we encounter in our relationships. In such situations, if we can make efforts to take a pause and reflect on our feeling and needs—we can respond in an emotionally mature way rather than getting trapped in a continuous cycle of blame and judgment.

Another common notion when it comes to emotions is that it’s equivalent to sadness or vulnerability. ‘Pheri senti kura garna khojyo’, ‘dherai deep naho depression hola’, ‘chod yesto kura, drink garna jum baru’ are phrases we often hear from others when we want to express our true feelings. However, when we say that being emotional is more or less similar to being sad, we make a false claim. Sadness is just one emotion out of an array of different ranges and intensities of emotions that we get exposed to in our daily lives. Being emotional could mean anything—it could be mean being happy, anxious, stressed, disgusted, joyful, calm, angry, hopeful, so forth, and so on. Sadness is also one of the emotions we experience—it’s not the entirety of our emotional experiences. Emotional vulnerability helps us acknowledge, understand, and express a full range of our feelings. When we engage in relationships that don’t give us permission to feel, we might feel overly observed, judged, ashamed, or rejected.

Self-awareness enables us to respond in helpful ways and sometimes this could mean helping reduce emotional distance in relationships. Of course, this process isn’t complete over night but the investment we are making in understanding our reactions and patterns can make our personal and professional lives so much better. To do this, we have to learn to distinguish between ‘being emotional’ and ‘discussing emotions’.


Aprajita Jha

Aprajita Jha is Linchpin at My Emotions Matter and can be reached at [email protected].