Someone has wronged you
Anger is telling you that you didn’t receive what you were owed, that someone endangered or harmed your loved ones, that someone is taking advantage of you. When you feel anger you can begin to process it by asking yourself, “In what way do I feel wronged?” Then you can decide whether or not that’s a valid response to the situation.
A lot of people with a lot of privilege tend to struggle with anger because they feel entitled to things that everyone else has long since accepted are contingent. If this is you, it’s not a moral failing, it’s just a part of your role in the giant late capitalist hellscape we’re all living through, but it is your obligation to work through it so that you can lead a richer life and stop scaring the other people in your life.
You’ve lost something
Sadness is telling you that a part of you is no longer there. People, places, objects and ideas all become a part of us when we engage with them, and when they mean a lot to us they become important parts of us. Losing them — through death, estrangement, relocation, misplacement or growth — is painful, because it’s losing a part of ourselves.
Sadness is just trying to make sure we know that this has happened. We can process sadness by asking ourselves “What have I really lost?” and then deciding whether or not your emotional response is appropriate to the situation.
You are in danger
Fear is complicated, because it’s primed during childhood to define signs of danger and those are all specific to our individual upbringings. But if your parents were angry a lot, for instance, you may experience a lot of fear when people in your life get upset.
This feeling is just telling you that it doesn’t feel safe, and you can begin to process it by asking “What am I so afraid of?” and then deciding whether or not your emotional response is appropriate to the situation.
Something is a potential hazard
This is useful for things like rotten food, but sometimes we feel it in the presence of people who have experienced disease or disfigurement.
NB: Though the feeling is trying to keep us safe, it’s really important to understand that it can flag disability or deformity as danger, and we have to be cognizant of what we’re allowing ourselves to be disgusted by. Ask yourself, “What hazard or risk is this feeling trying to protect me from?” and determine if the answer is actually a threat.
You feel safe with someone
Trust is an affirmation that the subject of the feeling is a safe social connection. Humans are pack animals, we need other humans to co-regulate our emotions and validate our experiences. Trust tells you, “this person is in the in-group and is safe to be vulnerable with”.
Note that like other feelings trust can be wrong, and this can be used against you — autistic people in particular tend to trust more easily than others, and this can lead to abusive relationships and exploitative friendships.
You have to ask yourself “Is it really safe to trust this person, based on their words and more importantly their past actions?” and go from there.
Your needs are being met
Joy is pleasant and important to appreciate. We have to process our joy like any other emotion because it’s a strong signal as to how to live our best life.
Kurt Vonnegut, in a lecture I attended near the end of his life, advised us to remember to ask ourselves, “If this isn’t nice, what is?” during the good times, and that’s really good advice.
Ask yourself: “What need was met that I’m appreciating so much?” and then build systems in your life to make sure that need stays met.
You have caused harm
Guilt is difficult to live with and compels us to repair the harm we’ve done. Sometimes when we’re abused we learn to feel too much guilt, or to take on guilt for other peoples’ actions — it’s important to process guilt and understand whether you’ve actually done something harmful, and then if so you can alleviate the guilt by figuring out how to repair the damage done and making amends.
If you feel like once you’ve done something wrong no repair is ever possible, that’s trauma my friend and you don’t have to live like that! :)
Others are upset with you
Shame is a , because it’s easy to confuse with guilt but it works completely differently. We feel shame when we are instructed by other people to feel it. It’s an emotion that exists purely in the social space, and it means “someone disapproves of something I did”.
There are times — like when we’ve caused harm — that it’s appropriate to feel a small amount of shame until we make amends. But abuse often causes its victims to feel what’s known as “toxic shame”, e.g. an unbearable amount of shame just for existing. If this is you — you don’t have to carry all of that shame.
A big part of healthy life is putting down shame that other people tell you to carry when their demand is inappropriate.
Shame ultimately shouldn’t be a huge part of your life — if it is, really ask yourself why you’re carrying it. It’s okay if some people disapprove of your choices — never accept criticism from anyone you wouldn’t go to for advice. Here’s a great twitter quote bomb of , it’s glorious!