What Does Emotional Processing Mean?

We are hearing a lot about processing emotions these days. But what does that really mean? I am glad you asked.

Before I answer that question, let’s talk about what emotions are.

What Are Emotions?

Emotions are made up of energy. As you may have learned in science class many years ago, energy cannot be created or destroyed; it can only be transferred. Because emotions are energy, the same is true for emotions.

The energy from emotions is “transferred” from the brain’s emotion center (amygdala) to the body through our nervous systems. Once the nervous system is kicked up, a countermeasure needs to take place to calm it back down. This is where emotion regulation and processing come into play.

Our emotions have different intensities at different times. The intensity of the emotions is based on the strength of our beliefs. I will come back to this thought a little later.

We were created with the ability to think and to feel. Our Creator said that what He created was good, which means that both our thoughts and emotions are good. Actually, the exact words that were used were “very good!”

But why is it that these “very good” emotions don’t feel good all the time? We have what some call “positive and negative” emotions. I don’t like these terms because they suggest that some emotions are good and others are bad. I prefer the terms “comfortable and uncomfortable” emotions. Those uncomfortable emotions are the ones we want to avoid. But it is those very emotions that we need to pay attention to.

The Importance of Emotion Processing

So far, we have learned that emotions are made up of energy and have differing intensities. We have also learned that our emotions are neither good nor bad and that having emotions is “very good.” But they don’t feel good all the time. They can feel uncomfortable. When emotions are intense and uncomfortable, we can feel overwhelmed and unsure of what to do. This is where emotion processing comes into play.

Steps to Process Your Emotions

Emotion processing is identifying the emotion(s) being felt and being curious about why they are there. So the first step is stopping to check in with yourself to determine what you are feeling. The intensity of emotions can be decreased significantly just by naming the emotion. But stopping at this point does not help us process it. We need to take a few more steps.

After naming the emotion, we need to determine why we feel the emotion. Using the statement, “I feel ___________, because _____________” can help. Choose an emotion word to put in the first blank. Then complete the statement with the reason. An example could be: “I feel anxious because I have too much work to do.” In some situations you may have multiple “I feel/because” statements for one emotion. This is okay. Take your time with this step.

After you better understand the exact emotions you are feeling, use those I fee/because statements to determine the message that your emotions are sending to you. By asking yourself the question “If this because statement is true, what does that mean?” you can begin to discover the answer. Using the “I feel/because” statement from above, you would ask yourself, “If the statement ‘I have too much work to do’ were true, then what does that mean?” The train of thought may go something like this:

  • “It means that I might not get all the work finished.”
  • “If I don’t finish my work, then people will be upset with me.”
  • “If people are upset with me, then I have let them down.”
  • “If I have let them down, then I am not a good leader.”
  • “If I am not a good leader, I’m a failure.”

Uncovering the Beliefs Behind Your Emotions

Notice that at the end of this process, a belief was discovered. The situation you are in is stirring up anxiety because it is hitting on your fear of failure. We don’t know how that belief got there, but it is there, and the emotion is sending the message to let you know about it. The emotion’s intensity helps you know how strongly you are holding on to the belief. The more intense the emotion, the stronger the belief.

Once that belief is uncovered, it can be analyzed to determine how true it is. But the first step is processing the emotions that were being stirred up. If emotions are not processed, they can get stored in the body, and immune systems can be compromised, body pain can increase, and depression and anxiety symptoms may manifest. By learning to process our emotions, we can live more holistically healthy lives.


Written by: Ashley Brooks, PhD, LPC-S

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