Four Signs You're Ignoring Primary Emotions.
Updated: Jan 3
I've talked a bit about primary versus secondary emotions over Instagram and Facebook.
Chances are you're dealing with your secondary emotions (or the secondary emotions of others) without really paying attention to (or addressing) primary emotions.
We sometimes suppress a primary emotion because we feel it's not worth our time to address it, we're nervous about someone else's reaction, the issue will just go away if left unspoken, and/or we've been trained/programmed to just "move on" or hide our feelings by just "getting over it."
Why?! IDK! 🤷♀️
Primary emotions are feelings we experience/choose first. We're going to use this example later, so remember it! If you and your friend are planning to meet up for a drink after work, you might feel excited. You might also feel nostalgic for all of those times you hung out in the past and had a great time, but now are busier with life and work.
Typically, primary emotions are early feelings, usually not a result of processing or extensive thinking. However, primary emotions are often quickly replaced by a more complicated feeling. Each emotion is compounded by the previous emotion and the new event you might be reacting/responding to. For example, if your same friend now cancels said evening out, you might feel disappointed--disappointed that the evening out is canceled, but also disappointed that you won't see your friend. Now, perhaps you're also sad that you have to wait.
Secondary emotions always follow primary emotions. They are often a direct result of an outcome of your previous feeling and an event--most of the time, secondary emotions are louder, more intense, and every secondary emotion is more visible than the previous.
Here are four signs you're ignoring primary emotions in favor of simply shutting up the secondary ones.
1) You're Reacting Not Responding
It's more productive to respond to a primary emotion. Why? If you're reacting only to an intense secondary emotion, you're only moving back one level to quiet the loudest feeling, versus attacking the issue at the foundation. Responding means thinking, planning, and committing to action.
While secondary emotions can give you a glimpse of how a person is feeling, you really need to dig deeper to move past rationalization and reach the opportunity for addressing the issues at the center of the feelings.
2) You're Not Talking To Yourself. Now, I don't mean talking to yourself so everyone can hear you. But, asking powerful questions, requiring a pause and articulation of how one is viewing a situation alongside their internal thought processes, helps us understanding how secondary emotions are reached. Let's go through an example I use in my class. In this video, you'll watch a tennis player, Mikhail Youzhny, have an ANGRY outburst around the 0:40 mark. You know this because he HITS HIS HEAD WITH HIS TENNIS RACKET!!But, I'm not asking you to dissect his hit, or what comes after (embarrassment or shame). Instead, focus on what emotions/feelings you observe are happening every 5-10 seconds from the moment you hit play! Grab a piece of paper and then, every 5-10 seconds, brainstorm and jot down a feeling word. OR, use this graphic to visualize the feelings. Start from the center and work your way out.
Use this worksheet to brainstorm foundation/primary feelings (in the center) and then spin off the secondary emotions as you move towards the outer circle. Go ahead, I'll wait.
3) You Convince Yourself of the Worst So, here are some of my thoughts! Early in the video, we see Youzhny confident in his game (BTW, I've taught the anger lineup for nearly 10 years using this video--and still really only know a few terms about tennis 🤷♂️ !!). My guess is that he felt prepared. "I can do this." "I practiced." But as the rally continued, he began to get worried. Perhaps his mind began to race and he began to ruminate, or overthink. When we overthink, we convince ourself of a reality that might not be based on truth. I call this our inner gossip queen that needs to be told to shut the hell up, but it's really easier to listen to the gossip than to tell the gossip queen to move aside and mind their own business (just like in real life, unfortunately). "What if he's better than me?" Then, perhaps he's physically getting tired. Perhaps he's running out of plays to win. All of these negative thoughts are caus his mind to overthink the situation. Perhaps he's overwhelmed. "I'm going to fail." "Everyone is watching." Next, he hits the net. And, from what I've learned from watching this video over and over, he didn't just lose this portion--it was his own hit that made the ball hit the net. Nothing that the other guy did. The other guy didn't have a powerful shot. Instead, it was just Youzhny's hit that ended the rally. So, now he's frustrated and disappointed in his own performance. And, he feels watched and hasn't regulated his emotions up to this point, so why should he now? "I'm a loser. WTF is wrong with me?!" He hits his head in anger and we see the outcome drip down his forehead. You also see him tap his head, as if to say, "I got stuck in my own head!" 4) You Experience the Aftermath And, usually when there's loud, intense secondary emotions, there's shame and embarrassment after. Perhaps pity or fear from others (you notice the opponent's reaction?). The aftermath of a quick rise is an even quicker fall. Let's revisit our friend example from earlier. What if you went out to the bar anyway and then saw your friend out with someone else. You might feel insulted. If that culminated in ANGER, you might walk up to her and call her a name, and then walk away. Next time you saw her, you'd have to address the name-calling (yes, you shouldn't call people names) EXCITED> NOSTALGIC> DISAPPOINTED> SADDNESS> INSULTED> ANGER 😜 >😊 >😞 >😢 >😤 > 😡 But, what if you realized you were disappointed or sad, and why? What if you infused an affirmation to address the primary emotions, instead of letting the ANGER take control? "Don't jump to conclusions--you don't know what happened." "What can I do to communicate my disappointment with this situation?" "What if I walk away right now, and tell her later how I felt/ask her later for the truth?" In this scenario, you're communicating all of the REAL issues and regulating an earlier feeling before the spiral out of control.
"I was really excited to see you and disappointed that you canceled. To tell you the truth, I saw you at the bar that evening and I started to really feel insulted. What's going on between us?"
Otherwise, you'll need to address the more intense emotion (loudly calling her a name and maybe getting physical, which you might not regret right away, but you can be sure will be the highlight of both of your evenings, and not in a good way!). If you choose the latter, you're never really communicating what you cherished (the friendship) and that letting go of that friendship will be hurtful. Plus, what if you really, really overreacted as a result of your anger? What if your friend canceled the bar night because another friend of hers had a dog who passed away, and she really needed to talk. You don't know everything, and while it might really be your friend is a jerk and dropped you with disregard for your feelings, why not give the benefit of the doubt if it helps you regulate your emotions? So, sound off. What were your primary/secondary emotions for the video? Do you have an example of primary versus secondary emotions? Go for it! Looking for a free-write journal that will inspire self-reflection? Check out some options here!