Emotions: What, How, and Why?

Natalie Bernstein, Psy.D. on Dec 01, 2022 in Mood and Feelings

While we all experience a range of emotions, we tend to focus upon the positive ones and avoid the negative. We have this idea that we can control our emotions and approach them with judgment — “I shouldn’t feel this way” or “I know I’m an awful person, but I feel…”

The problem with ignoring emotions, however, is that they don’t really go away. They persist through feelings of anxiety and depression or even irritability or exhaustion.

By recognizing and accepting all the emotions we are feeling, we can more easily process them, move on, and learn something about ourselves too.


Anger is one of the most easily understood yet misdirected emotions we experience. Anger is a front-line defense, there to protect you from uncomfortable feelings. But anger has been described as an iceberg as there is typically a more accurate, descriptive emotion underneath it.

In moments of anger, it is helpful to look a little deeper and consider what it is that is upsetting about the situation. Ask yourself: What is this anger protecting me from? Is it hurt? Embarrassment? Rejection? Fear?

Understanding the true emotion better allows for us to move past the emotion and also more clearly express what it is we need in order to resolve the situation.


Anxiety arises when we spend time living in the future, bringing our fears and uncertainty into our present day. We crave security, and when we are unsure of how a situation will resolve or how our lives will turn out, we can feel anxious. It is helpful to acknowledge and address anxiety in order for it to calm down.

During anxious moments, bring yourself into the anxiety by naming it: “This is my anxiety speaking.” Express why it is there: “It’s here because I have a presentation tomorrow for work/school, and I feel pressure to do well.” Offer yourself reassurance: “You’ve done many presentations before. You’re prepared. You can handle this.”

Anxiety wants you to be a fortune teller and predict how every situation will unfold, but most of us don’t have that ability. We have to learn to be okay with moments of uncertainty.


Jealousy is an emotion that feels like it’s about what someone else has, but it’s really about what we think we don’t have. We live in a world of comparison, and we learn about ourselves by looking at others around us. When others seemingly have an “easier” life or achieve successes, we feel resentful because the same isn’t true for us.

Rather than look at what emotion we are feeling, we project outward. We may feel a sense of shame or “feel bad” that we can’t be happy for these individuals, but what is more helpful is to explore the reason for our jealousy.

When you find yourself feeling jealous, take a moment to reflect about how it is affecting you. Are you feeling disappointed because you wanted that promotion? Invalidated because you did this same activity in the past but didn’t receive any recognition? Or perhaps you’re feeling sad because your life isn’t unfolding as quickly as you would like? It’s easier to judge others’ successes than it is to sit with our sense of failure.


Unlike other emotions that can be soothed or resolved, grief is a process. Grief is an individual experience that brings a lot of external dynamics along with it. Most people know about your loss, so you can’t hide it. It takes a lot of time and energy to stay in both worlds — the world where you can grieve and process your life and the world where you have to return to “normalcy” and get back to work and everyday living. Grief also includes a lot of shame and judgment from others: “How long has it been?” We judge ourselves too: “I should be over this by now.”

Recognize that grief takes time and is ever-changing. Allow yourself moments to grieve and accept the days where it comes out of nowhere. Don’t judge yourself for not grieving as you “should” or for grieving longer or differently than someone else. There are no rules for grief.

The more we recognize our emotions, the good and the bad, the more easily we can understand ourselves, learn to let things go, and ask for what we want.

Natalie Bernstein is a Clinical Psychologist in Pittsburgh, PA.

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