Overcoming Anxiety by Understanding Primary Emotions

Anxiety often arises when a person is unable to fully process and understand their emotions, resulting in the underlying emotions being suppressed or ignored.

This can lead to ongoing struggles with anxiety, as unacknowledged emotions continue to build up and manifest themselves in various ways such as worry, physical discomfort, and perfectionism.

We may feel overwhelmed or unable to name what we are feeling, but understanding primary and secondary emotions can help us gain clarity on our inner experience.

What are Primary Emotions?

Primary emotions are the most basic and intense feelings we experience. They include joy, sadness, fear, anger, surprise and disgust.

These emotions serve as a foundation for more complex emotional states. They are often short-lived and easily identifiable; for example, if you were in a car accident your first reaction may be shock or fear. This is an example of a primary emotion being triggered by an external event.

But, sometimes primary emotions arise without an obvious external cause. Even the slightest of triggers can cause adults to experience intense feelings, such as shame and anger that stem from painful experiences they endured during their childhoods due to trauma and neglect.

What are Secondary Emotions?

Secondary emotions are more nuanced than primary emotions as they stem from multiple sources.

For example, a complex emotion like regret can result from many different experiences or beliefs such as feeling ashamed of your body due to cultural pressures to look a certain way. Or you may feel guilty about not speaking up in a situation where you felt uncomfortable after you’ve had some time to reflect.

Secondary emotions tend to last longer than primary emotions because they arise from multiple sources rather than one single event or trigger and we often stay stuck in them by replaying events in our mind and re-thinking about the circumstances that caused them.

It is important to identify the underlying sources of your secondary emotions (primary emotions) in order to explore them further and reach a place of understanding within yourself.

How Do I Identify Primary Emotions?

The best way to identify primary emotions is by reflecting on your current state of mind. Ask yourself questions like “what am I feeling right now in my body?” or “if I stop thinking and slow down, what do I feel?” Reflecting on your bodily sensations (not thoughts) allows you to gain insight into the deeper layers that make up your emotional state at any given moment.

You don’t have to have the perfect word or term – but get an idea of the quality and experience of the feelings you are having.

Once you have identified the primary emotion, pause for a moment and allow yourself to reflect on why you might be feeling that particular emotion—this will help you identify any secondary emotions present in the mix. Understanding these underlying causes helps us become more aware of our inner world and how it changes over time due to various external factors such as relationships, environment or life events.

How Therapy Can Help

Therapy can be a powerful tool in helping you better understand our primary and secondary emotions. Through therapy, you can explore the underlying sources of your feelings and gain insight into what is causing them. By exploring these deeper layers with a therapist who can guid you in the right direction, you are able to identify the primary emotion that is at the root of your anxiety.

After recognizing the underlying source of your feelings, you can start processing them using practices such as mindfulness and self-compassion. These approaches will assist in becoming more conscious of how your inner world influences you without pushing it a way or shaming yourself when difficult feelings arise.

When you learn to fully feel and process your emotions, you can learn to manage and regulate them in order to feel less anxious overall.

By exploring both types of emotions you open up to gaining insight into what drives our internal dialogue so that you can begin taking actionable steps towards healing.

Identifying our core issues can be difficult, but with patience we can work through them in order to find peace within ourselves once again.

Hello, I’m Miriam. I’m a psychotherapist with an online practice in California and Illinois.

Learn more about me and how I can help you here.