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Sometimes I struggle to identify my emotions and talk about them. For example, the other day, I was frustrated. I was grumpy with a colleague at work, and I didn’t really know why. Frustrated isn’t really an emotion, so I spent some time trying to figure out what exactly I was feeling. What came up for me was that I was overwhelmed with my work commitments, and I was feeling scared that I wouldn’t be able to get everything done. I was also angry that I was working so much, and not having much fun.

One reason why it is important to identify and talk about our emotions is that our emotions provide information about our needs. If we can’t identify and talk about our feelings, we don’t know what our needs are. And if we don’t know what our needs are, we can’t take steps to get our needs met. In my example above, when I was feeling scared, I needed affirmation and assurance that I was going to be okay. When I was feeling angry, I needed protection, and I needed to set a boundary with my work.

Emotions can help us identify our needs. When talking about emotions, I like to use the acronym SASHET—sad, angry, scared, happy, excited, and tender.

Sadness involves feelings of loss. When we feel sadness, we usually need comfort.

Anger involves a boundary being crossed. When we feel anger, we usually need protection, or help setting a boundary.

Scare involves feeling as if you are in danger. When we feel scare, we usually need affirmation or assurance.

Happiness involves feelings of joy, as if everything is right with the world. When we feel happy, our needs are being met.

Excitement involves anticipation that something good is going to happen. When we feel excited, we anticipate that our needs will be met in the future.

Tenderness involves deep connection with others. When we feel tender, our need for comfort is being met.

Discussion: Do you ever feel as if your needs aren’t being met? Try this exercise to identify what you are feeling. Once you have identified your emotion, think about the need that is connected to that emotion. Then see if there might be a way to get that need met in a healthy way.