The S Curve of Feeling

“You’ll feel better when you get better at feeling.” –– Emma McAdam

This week the Thanksgiving holiday is celebrated in the United States. It’s a day when we try to focus on the goodness in our lives and express our gratitude for it. I wrote about several things I’m grateful for in the LinkedIn newsletter, so I’m going to talk about something else here.


Most everyone (probably everyone) reading this newsletter has gone to school. We learn so much in school, but one of the things we don’t typically learn is how to manage our emotions. If we’re lucky, our parents teach us this vital subject, but usually, our parents didn’t receive this education either. This is why I have loved going to ‘school with Emma McAdam’, a licensed marriage and family therapist known for her YouTube channel, Therapy in a Nutshell. Her advice is practical and tactical. It is useful for my clients, family and friends, and especially for me.

Emma is our podcast guest this week. You are going to love this episode, but let me expand here on something we don’t talk about––the emotion of anger.

Anger can be a holiday season guest; it’s a time when our expectations can be high and unmet. Anger follows not far behind.

Sometimes I get angry. With family, with people I work with, with people in my community. On my best days, I remind myself that anger is a mask, a secondary emotion.

It’s an emotion about an emotion.

It masks primary emotions like fear, sadness, helplessness, disappointment. These are emotions we don’t want to feel because they are too painful. So, we mask them in anger instead.

Anger can be good. It provides us with information, and it energizes us to take action. But lingering anger is unhealthy. We get numb; we shut down, we avoid, we try to will it away. It only gets worse.

To be clear, I am not a therapist. I’m sharing what I have learned and what I am learning.

But, If you find yourself getting angry over the holidays, ask yourself, what am I actually feeling? The anger has gotten your attention. That’s a good starting point. But now the mask needs to come off.

What am I feeling? When we know what we are feeling––about someone or because of a situation––we can discover an emotion different than anger, a more tender, raw, and vulnerable one. Identifying these emotions allows for connection, asking for what we want or need, grieving, finding a way to soothe ourselves, identifying the actual problem that can be solved, and pulling others closer to us. You can read more here.

My invitation to you this week is if you find yourself feeling anger (or shame, also a secondary emotion), say thank you for the signal, and then stop to uncover your primary emotion. It is this primary emotion that will allow you not to distance, but to draw closer, to feel connected to ourselves and others.

When you take off the mask to see the face of what you are feeling, you can face it.

In gratitude for you,

P.S. If you want to do more work on this, listen to previous great podcast guests talk about handling emotions (in alphabetical order):

Peter Bregman
Susan David
Carol Kauffman
Meghan Rothenberger

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