Skillful Counselling: Understand Emotions

To understand emotions is central to skillful counselling. Emotions working well are the gateway to health. And when not working, emotions are the source of most mental distress.
understand emotions

Your emotions need to be understood and then be working for you

Understand emotions and you realise they are a call to action They are an impulse and expectation that something will be needed – such as to fight or defend yourself (anger) or to plan and implement necessary change (worry).

When you can hear what your feelings are saying to you, you can act decisively. Or you can dismiss the call quickly as not needed.

The Observing Self

The ‘observing self’ is that part of us that can step back from emotions and be aware of ourselves as a unique centre of awareness. Then we are apart from intellect, emotion and conditioning. This inner core of our being, this essence of ‘me’ that nobody else can access or take away doesn’t have depression or anger or pain or MS or anxious worrying or …. anything except calm awareness.

Your observing self has the power to attach and detach from the world at will and therefore see things from many different points of view and be more objective. The more we lower our emotional arousal the easier it becomes to enter our observing self, the wider the perspective we can see, and we can figure out how to overcome the obstacles we face.

Being aware of ourselves as a unique centre of awareness, apart from intellect, emotion and conditioning is a special human talent and enables us to reflect on our own thoughts and feelings.

Skillful Counselling will make it easier to access your Observing Self and so understand your emotions.

The Whirlpool of Emotions

High arousals are the source of mental distress. When emotions are too strong it will inhibit sensible action or freeze you in inaction as you desperately try to cope with the stress you are enduring.

Eventually it could be that effective action becomes impossible – as worries, strong feelings and negative projections are screaming out to you.

Falling into the Whirlpool of Emotion

Bwo C med


What happens when powerful and negative feelings are out of control? 

Depression will arise if your worry destroys your capacity to dream and sleep properly. This then erodes your energy and motivation.
Anxieties might worsen and also evolve – taking on different forms such as phobias, social anxieties, agoraphobia and uncontrollable worry and projection.
Addictions and Obsessions might also feed on the situation. This would initially be an attempt to self medicate or gain control but this then grows and grows until taking over.


The result will always be collapsing self confidence and high stress as life and relationships become more problematic and attempted solutions fail badly.

Reducing arousal is the route to understanding your emotions

When you are highly aroused you cannot think straight.

In one way or another, high and uncontrollable arousal is the condition and source of mental distress.

The best way to view mental problems (be they depressions, anxieties, addictions, obsessions or whatever) is as the failing response to arousal levels that are intolerable. And that this response not only fails but actually makes things worse.

Even so, the strong feelings are still communicating something and must somehow be heard.

High arousal must not be shunned or driven away. Understand emotions and act upon them. And maybe, if your arousal is too loud to be heard, you need some help to quieten it down.

Just as we can appreciate the benefits of pain (it will demand that we take our hand away from a hot stove), so high arousal is also our friend.

The first purpose of finding ways to relax is so that the high arousal can be quietened down enough to be understood and then acted upon.

Counselling for Reducing Arousal

  1. Remove traumatic memories if they are there.
  2. Offer hope and explanations of where you find yourself – normalising in other words, the purpose of which is to remove you from the central cause of your difficulties.
  3. To be respectfully listened to and to be understood – that will also calm troubled minds.
  4. Learn and practise self help relaxation methods – such as around breathing, meditation and distraction.
  5. To have a direct experience of relaxation, most obviously in trance.
  6. To have a process, interpretation or past experience reframed – so it is now seen and felt differently


The bottom line is to be in a calm enough position to hear and accept what the emotions are trying to say to you. So that you can take the action that is needed or be able to dismiss the call to action without difficulty. 

The Emotional Competency website is a fantastic resource – albeit mainly academic in terms of inspiration and sources.


  • A guide to how academics mainly have defined the variety of human emotions. Click here – with many links from this page to much else.
  • An additional resource linking through to many definitions and concepts. Click here to understand emotions 

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