The 7 Emotion Skills. Do You Have Them?

Emotions may seem vague, insubstantial, or useless to many. But, in truth, they are actually very, very real and very, very useful.

Emotions are physical sensations that take place in your body. They are, in fact, messengers. They are your body’s way of alerting you to watch out, take care, protect yourself, or seek something, for some examples.

Emotions are messages from your body. It is crucial that you listen to them. It’s not that they are always right, but they tell you about your deepest self and so they matter.

What are Emotion Skills?

Most people would not put the two words “emotion” and “skill” together. In fact, every time I type “emotion skills,” the Word editor tries to correct me.

But, the truth is, that just makes me want to write about emotion skills more! They are, in fact, an incredibly key factor when it comes to your quality of life. They are also far too seldom identified and discussed.

I find myself writing and speaking about the 7 emotional skills quite often because of my specialty in treating Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN.

CEN is extremely common in today’s world. It simply involves growing up in a household where your feelings are ignored or discouraged. Folks raised with CEN tend to be disconnected from their own feelings and blind to emotions in general, so they have little opportunity to learn the 7 emotion skills in their lifetimes.

I teach these skills every single day to the clients I see in my office and discuss them with the CEN folks in my online CEN recovery program, Fuel Up For Life.

The 7 Emotion Skills

  1. Emotional Awareness — This skill involves being aware when you are having a feeling. Life is full of distractions and external events that pull your attention away from what’s going on in your body (your feelings). On top of that, society in general tends to treat feelings as annoyances and weaknesses. If you grew up in a CEN family, you may be blind to emotions in general. Yet all emotion skills are built upon this one. You must be aware when you are experiencing a feeling before you can practice any of the feeling-related skills.
  2. Identifying Your Feelings — Once you have emotional awareness you know when a feeling is present in your body. Now, it is important to be able to identify and name that feeling. This requires you to discern each feeling from every other. The more able you are to identify different kinds of feelings like angry types vs. sad types vs. fear-based types, the better. Then, you can take a step beyond that and make more subtle and specific differentiation. So, instead of settling for “I feel down,” you also take it further. Is this sadness? Is it regret? Despondence? Grief? The finer tuned your ability to identify and name a feeling, the easier it will be to take the next steps.
  3. Accepting Your Feelings Without Judgment — Once you know what you are feeling, it is crucial — and powerful — to accept that feeling, no matter what it is. If you were raised to believe that you choose your own feelings or that your emotions are shameful or a sign of weakness, you are at risk of judging your feelings and rejecting them which is harmful to you and does not work at all. Since none of us are able to choose our feelings, we cannot judge ourselves for having them. It is only by accepting our ugliest emotions that we are able to understand and manage them.
  4. Attributing Your Feeling to a Cause — Once you have noticed your feeling, identified it, and accepted it, it’s time to consider why you are having it. Many people assume it must be caused by something happening right now. But, in reality, we all carry many old feelings within us that might be touched off by a current event or situation. In this case, you may feel far more intensely or complexly about a current event than it deserves. Being able to sort out a feeling and the reason you are having it enables you to then take the following steps.
  5. Tolerating Your Emotions — All of the skills above and below this one require this skill that seems very simple but, in reality, can actually be quite hard. When you experience a feeling that is painful, intense, or unpleasant in some way, it is natural to want to escape it. But, to make full use of this message from your body, you must be able and willing to sit with it and feel it. This means you don’t use distraction, alcohol, food, shopping, or any other crutch to suppress it right away. Instead, you allow yourself to consider the feeling as you are feeling it.
  6. Managing Your Emotions — Every feeling is a message from your body. So every emotion is important, yes. But that does not mean that any emotion should be allowed to take over and run the show. We cannot choose what we feel but we are responsible to manage what we feel. This means noticing and understanding your feeling while also considering the message your body is sending you. Once you discern the message, then decide if it’s a healthy message for you and whether you need to listen. What is this feeling telling me to do? Should I do it?
  7. Expressing Your Emotions — One common message that our feelings send us: “You need to say something.” Being able to do this is a vital skill that helps you manage your feelings. Your anger may be telling you to stand up to someone. Your hurt feelings may be telling you to protect yourself. Your concern may be telling you to change something. Your warm feelings may be pushing you to tell someone you love them. We are often called upon to explain our feelings to someone, and this is a complex skill that many people struggle to develop throughout their entire lives.

The 7 Skills and You

I hope that as you read the 7 skills above you were thinking about yourself.

How often have you used any one of these skills? Are you better at some skills than others? Is there one or more of the skills that seem foreign to you or particularly difficult to understand?

Three amazing things about the 7 Emotion Skills are: first, you probably never thought about them; second, once you’re aware of them, you can learn them; and last but not least, developing and improving these skills can literally change your life from the inside.

I could write volumes on each of these skills, so I will. Watch for a future article, Examples of the 7 Emotion Skills in Action.

Wonder if you have Childhood Emotional Neglect? Take The Emotional Neglect Test. It’s free.

Jonice

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below
Jane - September 15, 2020 Reply

Thanks so much for this article. It’s a favorite for me too, especially now that my “wall,” is down and I have been willing to acknowledge and be with my feelings.

I realize how feelings were judged as not useful and a sign of weakness by my mother. In contrast, my father was very emotional, but not in control of his feelings. Feelings were discouraged, so I pushed them down and used food to self medicate.

My question is, How do I decide on, and work with one emotion, when I often feel overwhelmed and flooded by many emotions? This happens as the day goes on. By afternoon, I’m exhausted.

Do I ground myself and just chose one to deal with? Are
there patterned responses with a core emotion, like fear always present?

I am thinking that I’ll try to pick a feeling and write on it in order to get greater clarification. I’d appreciate any suggestions. Thanks.

    Jonice - September 16, 2020 Reply

    Dear Jane, these are really good questions. I’d have to type all day to answer! You’re in my Fuel Up Program, right? Please ask this question during a Q&A Call. I’m happy to give you lots of help on this.

Ross - September 14, 2020 Reply

Very insightful Jonice….thank you.

    Jonice - September 16, 2020 Reply

    You are welcome, Ross.

mira - September 14, 2020 Reply

thank you so much for your amazing work! its changing my life! I always questioned #3. are we not liable for our feelings? i.e. if I were to be a person who has no expectations, I would not experience anger when something doesn’t go according to my expectations. so why would I not judge myself for having unrealistic expectations? or if I were a person who genuinely wishes well for others, i wouldn’t experience jealousy. so in essence my feelings DO say something about the person I am. So instinctively I shut down to avoid feeling those emotions that say I am a ‘less than’ person. any thoughts?

    Jonice - September 16, 2020 Reply

    Great question, Mira. It’s all in how you look at it. Everyone experiences these feelings deep down of wanting things their way, jealousy, pettiness, rage, disapproval, superiority, you name it. We all have these feelings because we’re human. It’s our job to own those feelings and decide what to do with them. That’s not the same as shutting them down immediately because you think they say something bad about you. The thing that determines who you really are is your decision about what to do with your feelings.

Joyce - September 14, 2020 Reply

Thank you for the insight to feelings. Great article.

I have read your book “Running on Empty” and it has given me so much insight. I would like to make sure I do not just assume it was neglect vs. emotional abuse. Can you help me find reading sources regarding emotional abuse. There is this stuff on Youtube about the NPD people who destroy our lives, if we let them, but not much on childhood abuse, whether we can capture verbal or physical. I have to tell you Dr. Webb, something is awfully skewed and it seems no one is addressing it. Realizing of course it must be an awful subject to address, and girls are turning up with Borderline (it appears) disorders. They appear so angry and out of control. Are you able to address any of these concerns?

Thank you for your work.

alive1 - September 13, 2020 Reply

Hi Jonice. This article was interesting. (Sorry my comment got long, but I hope it’s also interesting or thought provoking.)

Can I ask some questions: how long does it take for someone to go from step 1 to 2? How long was the longest a client of yours ever took to go from step 1 to step 2? Days, weeks, months or years?

Also I have comments. It to me feels like, I can’t do things in this order from step 1 to 7. For me it’s like, I need to do 4 before I can do 2. But to do 4, I would need to have some idea of 2 (ie. what’s being felt). So it’s kind of a real catch-22 at that point. I don’t know if you are familiar with this catch-22 and if so then if you have any techniques to deal with it…?

But yeah, without linking the feeling to the cause in a situation or in my life, I don’t have any grounding to be able to identify the feeling if it’s new. And I have had many new ones, so… And if it is a known feeling, then I just don’t have any grounding to do anything to do with it to move on to the next steps from step 2, like I cannot truly accept it either, as in step 3, let alone do emotion management, etc. Because just trying a word for the emotion does not really identify it for me if it is a new emotion, and if it is a well known emotion then it just doesn’t identify it in a way that I can truly relate to the feeling then. I don’t know if this makes sense.

So for example if I know I feel regret, I only know that it’s regret because I can think of the actual situation to which I react with regret and so I can think of why, what makes me react with regret, and if I know the why i.e where the feeling came from, what it is linked to, what it is a reaction to, then I can fully identify it as regret if I never specifically felt this kind of regret before. Or if it’s an already well-known feeling then I can fully relate to it and to the situation at that point. Did this make sense?

But again, if I don’t know what I’m feeling, it will be vague and that means it will be hard to link it to a situation or whatever other cause.

And the catch-22 is especially there, if you never felt the particular feeling/emotion before (which is really about step 1/skill 1). If you have already felt it many times, then there is more chance for it to be not so vague, and if you have already identified it in many situations before, then it is easy to identify it right away, because then you really are familiar with how it feels. And then it’s easy to attribute it to a cause too then. It’s like all these things work together or in parallel or something and have to be in sync together.

All this is also why I asked the question above, how long was the longest you’ve ever seen for someone doing this, i.e. get fully aware and them be able to move on to try and identify the feeling and then successfully identify it…?

Ah one more thing I thought of. That also it helps if the flow of feelings is available in the moment, and not blocked, like, in some situations my reactions are immediately available to me even if they are hard to notice. And then I immediately know what I reacted to and then Step 2 and 4 are not causing a catch-22 so much. I might not identify (step 2) the emotion very precisely but it doesn’t always seem to be necessary. In complex emotional (personal) situations it sure can be a problem if it was not identified precisely, though. That has bitten me in the ass many times before. : p Anyway, if that flow is broken then this sync will be off in terms of timing, it’s just hard to figure out in retrospect unless maybe you can relive the situation in retrospect in your imagination but then the flow of feelings can still be just as broken, if the reason for it being broken is still there. (Whatever the reason may be, there can be many reasons for it I think.) And then it’s hard to relive the feelings “in sync”. So that causes catch-22’s easily.

And I think when it’s all nicely in sync then in most situations I’m still like an outsider to the feeling, I view it and feel it without being fully “inside” it but that actually does help with emotion management so maybe that’s not a bad thing. I do feel comfortable that way. (Tbh I call it emotional control, not emotion management… emotion management seems more complex, consists of more than just emotional control.)

Also about accepting feelings without judgment, I don’t think I have a choice there. Which causes issues too, sometimes. I usually just accept them, but when I don’t, because I just plain think so differently about the issue, then I just cannot even feel the feeling so I don’t really have a choice. (This is one possible reason for the sync and the flow to be broken.) Then if my brain gets enough of a “glitch” and the feeling gets lucky and overwhelms my “normal brain” then not only do I feel I’m fully inside it but it can feel like it stole my reasoning capacity to give its own *verbal* message (very nonverbal by default) and it feels almost like it’s not me. That is why I used the word “stole”. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not schizophrenic:), or DID (multiple identities), I do feel it’s me enough still, the feeling feels like it’s me just fine, I just really don’t find it a usual experience when it also gives me such “verbal thoughts”, and it’s like I cannot agree with the reasoning the feeling gives me in such cases. Because I just think so differently by default. Have you had clients with this issue/have you got experience with such issues?

About tolerating emotions. I don’t know if you have ever read about Lisa Barrett’s emotion theory, but it’s good stuff I think. She has a concept of the body budget, this is the balance of the energy of the body to keep you alive and well. And the emotions are based in this body budget and convey signals about it. And so with negative emotions, if you have a strong and extensive and deep enough negative emotion that was just not tended to before, and it does mean that your body budget also suffers, then it will be tricky to manage that body budget. It’s like, this is just my own idea but if it is too bad then your body just shuts down. And to try and get out of that, and experience and tolerate these extreme negative emotions, then their experiencing even for a second, it can draw from the body budget really really fast and a LOT. I.e. draining it really fast (since I guess that’s why your body got shut down in the first place making you numb). And then say, you try to tolerate it for more than one second, it can be even more draining to the point of draining the body budget to literally zero. So you have to lie down and you cannot move for hours because you have to rest from that. I would also introduce the concept of “brain budget” lol, like, the brain is part of your body, and it also would have its own energy budget then. And with some emotions, to try and tolerate them it can be as bad as draining that brain budget too. And then you cannot focus or think and it can feel like you’ve just had a seizure. (Not an actual seizure, but the recovery period feels very similar to what you supposedly have after certain types of seizures.)

So, I wrote about this for two reasons. One reason is just to share it that such a thing also exists. And the other reason is, I’m just curious if you have had clients with this experience/if you have had experience with this. As it definitely causes a problem with emotion tolerance, obviously.

As for managing emotions, yeah, I think if the first 5 steps are fine, then you can manage them alright. I think I totally agree with putting this step near the end of the list. And the same for expressing them.

Thanks for the article, it was definitely thought provoking for me as you can see. Thanks for any answers to the questions I asked.

Kath - September 13, 2020 Reply

I have used 6 of the 7 steps for 2 yrs every day. Every day I have feelings of fear and anger which I try to manage. I feel very grateful for steps 6 and 7. I am starting to feel exhausted from my daily task of managing the fear and anger but having my strategies affirmed by you as well as adding step 7 has given me renewed motivation.

    Jonice - September 14, 2020 Reply

    I’m so glad, Kath. So much of recovery is persistence.

    Steffanie - September 14, 2020 Reply

    Just another fellow CEN’er here but have you identified why you are so afraid and angry? Have your tried sitting in a quiet place with a pen and paper to write down what thoughts come up when you begin thinking about your anger or fear? I would suggest doing that and write every thought down! That is very important, do not prejudge your thoughts and push them away. If, say you think of fear, and immediately after comes to mind the thought of dying write it down, then move to the next thought, then the next writing each down. Then once no more thoughts come immediately to mind go back and start digging into your thoughts, like why are you afraid of dying? Why do you fear it? How is that affecting your life? How can you prepare your life for your death? Ultimately how much control do you really have over your death? And lastly, understand deeply what you can and can’t change. Something’s you won’t be able to change it, like with death, we all die as humans and mortal beings we must accept it is a fact of living and not dwell on it. We must make the most of the life we have, not dwell and being consumed by it’s ending. This process (which took me weeks btw to chase each thought to it’s end and resolution) cause me to see I was living my life completely opposite of what I truly wanted (once I really sat with my emotions)! I was shocked to find I had let others so dictate my life to me though my all consuming need to help that I had completely abandon the things that were important to me and my emotional health for 10 years! When I started changing it was hard but so fulfilling. I lost people along the way as they were angry they could no longer control me but I quickly replaced them with people who genuinely cared about me and my hopes and dreams and would never dream of controlling me because they truly love me. I hope this helps you find a way to actually figure out why you have anger and fear and deal with the problem, not just the exgusting task of manging them. Also DO NOT talk about this to anyone while you do this task (unless it’s your thearpist). DO NOT let others try to dicitate thier judgement on the way you feel. People are manipulative by nature, some try to do it because they think they know best, others because they want to control you. In this venerable task only YOU can decide what is causing YOUR emotions and what YOU need to do. Best of luck and God bless you.

Deborah - September 13, 2020 Reply

Thank you so much, Dr. Webb, for all your work around the topic of CEN. I am a 67 year-old widow and learning about CEN has been a huge and transformative experience for me! after years of feeling “off”, I immediately resonated with the CEN material and am eager to learn more.
I bought your second book because my main concern in understanding CEN is how to support my adult son so that he doesn’t repeat the patterns I may have generated in him when he was a child. But I also see that I need to do more work on my own healing, so will order your first book as well.
I look forward to reading your upcoming articles and watching your instructive videos. Much appreciated! D.B., Bowen Island, BC, Canada

    Jonice - September 13, 2020 Reply

    Dear Deborah, you are right. The best thing most parents can do for their kids is to heal their own CEN. When you see and feel your own feelings, you can then see and feel your child’s feelings and your child notices the change, regardless of their age.

Kat - September 13, 2020 Reply

You are so insightful. Thank you for the work you do <3

Dan - September 13, 2020 Reply

Jonice;

Thank you so much for the emotional skills article. I learned a lot just by reading the summary of each skill. I look forward to more information on this subject.

Dan

Rene C. - September 13, 2020 Reply

I was strapped by my Father since I was 18 months old and it only stopped when I was 7 yrs old. I developed social markers as being a prime candidate for bullying. The bullying went on until 6th grade when I got into a fight with a classmate and broke our principals arm through collateral damage. I was sent to public school where the trend continued until I graduated high school. I actually had gotten so used to it that I felt it to be normal and never though about it until one of the girls from my grade school class pointed it out to me and had apolgized for not standing up for me. When she apologized I told her I couldn’t think of s reason she should apologize.(I had liked her a lot and due to my low self esteem neglected to ever tell her.) Consequently I bought a house and am settled into my final years. I have been here going on 2 years and ran into a situation where a neighborhood teen came to my door asking if he could cut my lawn. I am on a restricted income and mainain my own yard. I declined. A month or less later he came back, I declined and asked him to stop coming back. Well Excuse me but his indignation does not make him harmed or give him license to harrass me . He started by making rude comments to me after walking down my sidewalk and asking me if I wanted to sell my home. My response was I live here , why would I want to do that.
The night after the rude comments my home was vandalized, 2 & 2. I called the police not knowing his name and only where He lives I sent the officer to speak with him. I never initiated any conversations with this person and am within my constitutional rights to choose who I associate with and Who I don’t. The harrassment evokes anger and a desire to retaliate. I am trying to practice spiritual principals in my Life and am processing this event as best I can. I don’t want to regress to the anxious, Fearful 2 year old , or to have this person harrass me to the point that I no longer want to live here. ( Prposed that I would die here just not in the time frame this person would like. I would very much like to express my concern for this angry young man in that his harrassing a senior citizen has serious consequences, Felony minimum 5 years, a charge that never gets off your record and can influence his ability to get a job later in life.

Deb - September 13, 2020 Reply

I know that I have difficulty with #7. This one affects me the most. Most times I stay silent when I know I should have spoken up and that makes me mad at myself and also a doormat. I am always full of self doubt.

    Jonice - September 13, 2020 Reply

    Dear Deb, it takes practice practice practice! You can learn it.

Lesley - September 13, 2020 Reply

Hi Jonice.
I absolutely love this.
I always read your posts but this is possibly the most significantly helpful one I can recall.
It lays out each emotion skill clearly, step by step and in order.
For CEN people like myself this step by step approach is so needed until we are able to hopefully do this easily and spontaneously. Almost like an instruction as I really haven’t so far had much of a clue as to how to approach this, although I’ve deeply wanted to and have seen a real need.
I now have a tool kit to try this myself.
Thank you!

Nancy - September 13, 2020 Reply

Super excellent material. Thank you.

Catherine - September 13, 2020 Reply

Hi. Really appreciate all you offer. Really helpful list. Thanks.

#4 “Attributing your feeling to a cause” confuses me because it sparks of telling yourself a story. I’m always told not to go there. “It’s not about your story.” … “story-telling is victimizing.” Can you see where I am confused? Thanks

    Jonice - September 13, 2020 Reply

    Dear Catherine, I’m afraid I don’t. This is not storytelling, it is self-reflection. You may not have an answer right away, but it gets easier the more you do it. It has nothing to do with making up stories. I hope this clarifies.

    alive1 - September 14, 2020 Reply

    Catherine, I think whoever told you that was trying to shift blame onto you. Please do not buy into that. I say this because this thing you were told makes no sense whatsoever. So that is why it smells of blame shifting and somewhat gaslighty too. Whoever this person is, don’t listen to them when they try to blame you for everything like that. This way of talking, “it’s not about your story” is highly invalidating as well. Hope this helped.

Uta - September 13, 2020 Reply

Thank you, Dr. Jonice. This is eye-opening. Now I know which areas to focus on. Looking forward to your real-life descriptions.

    Jonice - September 13, 2020 Reply

    I’m glad, Uta! I look forward to writing it too.

Li Li - September 13, 2020 Reply

Best article you’ve ever written Jonice! Absolutely clarifies the problems and the action steps. You nailed it. Thank you for such good work to those of us who suffered in silence as children and are trying to find and reconnect with our feelings and emotions as adults.

    Jonice - September 13, 2020 Reply

    You’re welcome, LiLi. I’m glad you found it helpful!

Daniel Turner - September 13, 2020 Reply

A good list. Did you mean to say “Folks raised with CEN tend to be disconnected from their own feelings and blind to emotions in general, so they have little opportunity to learn the 6 emotion skills in their lifetimes.”

    Jonice - September 13, 2020 Reply

    It’s supposed to be 7. I fixed it, thanks, Daniel.

Leave a Comment: