Yesterday was a snow-day for the kids. Skiing, sledding, playing in the snow – I was on snow removal duty, outside and inside, the whole day.

But, I promise you, keeping the snow that was kicked in, out of the house was an easy job compared to clean-up, after the kids, then too cold to go outside, decided to try a new cookie recipe.

Everyone is back in school today. I thought I would nap all morning. But my mind is too busy. I want to talk about layering emotions.

“When you think about a primary emotion, that is just the emotion that feels appropriate in any given situation… It’s emotion that is necessary to process.”

Jody also refers to it as a “clean emotion”. Like when I don’t know the answer (or even the question) when the teacher calls on my in Sunday School. The primary emotion would be embarrassment. It’s fine to be embarrassed. And we can get through embarrassment.

A secondary emotion would be shame. “I can never do anything right.”

Or when my son calls from school and says he forgot his lunch at home. I can feel frustrated. It doesn’t need to mean anything. It doesn’t need to escalate. I can get through frustration.

A secondary emotion would be anger. If I let my thoughts run wild, it can easily go from, “Shoot, I will need to bring him his lunch” to “He is always forgetting something. He doesn’t respect my time. He thinks he can just call and I will drop anything, anytime to bail him out!”

“Many years ago a therapist told me that anger is a secondary emotion… it is healthier for people to stay in a primary emotion.”

Remember the model:

  • CIRCUMSTANCES are neutral. They just happen.
  • THOUGHTS are what we think about the circumstance.
  • FEELINGS are caused by my thoughts. The thoughts cause a vibration in my body – this is the feeling.

Let’s look at an example from my life this past week, to better understand primary emotions and secondary emotions:

  • CIRCUMSTANCE Bryant was late coming home from work to take me on a date Friday night.
  • THOUGHTS Bryant isn’t as excited about this date as I am.
  • FEELINGS Disappointment

That emotion, disappointment, can cycle through me. It is an appropriate emotion, at this stage in my life and emotional development. Ha ha! But, if I don’t manage my thoughts – if I don’t pay attention, my thoughts can easily run wild, and it can escalate. These thoughts, unmanaged, can easily add other layers of negative emotions to this experience, right? It can easily become angry or fearful, even. As if him being late is a reflection on his feelings for ME. That is harder to get through.

I can work my way through disappointment. It is doable. But all the rest only happens when we don’t pay attention and manage our thoughts.

“These layers of negative emotion we call DIRTY PAIN. They keep us in this spin. They keep us stuck. I am adding all sorts of unnecessary suffering in myself.”

And then, I think we have all experienced even further escalation:

“When a circumstance triggers thoughts for me, that creates feelings, sometimes I ride those thoughts to other thoughts and I layer on additional feelings … anger, overwhelm, resistance, and we typically don’t show up as our best selves… and then we add even more layers of emotion by feeling guilty about it, beating ourselves up for what we’ve done…

The more layers we add, the more we suffer, the more stuck we feel. We believe our circumstance must change in order to for us to feel some relief… The more layers we have, the more we look ‘out there’ to feel better, and ‘out there’ is unreliable and unpredictable … So stop with the layers! Just stop!”

The way you stop is to ask yourself, What is appropriate for me to feel in this situation?

“I like the love and logic method of parenting, where they say that the consequence for the child misbehaving should be appropriate to what they’ve done… let’s allow them to experience that…

That is how I like to think about the (primary) negative emotion. What is appropriate in this situation. What is necessary. What if I embrace it and allow it and process it, to help me to move through this. I am willing to do bored or disappointed in order to move to the other side.”

Now let’s talk about positive emotions – layering positive emotions. Does this same principle apply? Jody’s answer was fascinating to me:

“With positive emotions, we want to do the opposite. We want to layer them on.

JOY is a secondary positive emotion, JOY creates change in us, JOY imprints on you and carries you forward, closer to becoming your ideal self.

(Men) are that they might have joy.”

And then Jody taught this principle:

Take any primary positive emotion – relief, fun, awe, inspiration – layer on gratitude, and it will lead you to joy.

Let’s look at an example from my week again – a positive example, to redeem myself, right? This past week a friend of our’s passed away. He was our age. Children at home. It was sad. After talking to his wife for some time one night, I felt peace, I felt so inspired by this man’s life. And when I prayed that evening, expressing gratitude for this man’s life, I was absolutely filled with joy. It absolutely spilled out of me, and onto my children, and into my husband’s arms.

I want to close with this man’s last journal entry, made just days before his death:

“It is those crazy things in life that make us who we are. (Gratitude) is sometimes easier to do in retrospect, but we need to find ways to appreciate through the entire journey, and recognize God in all things. We have His work to do on earth, as well as our own work and survival. Blending the two is where the magic is. Also, blending our lives together, even if only for a few moments, for the benefit of others, is a great accomplishment.”

Chris Carr, 21 January 2020