Two men are sitting and expressing their emotions in a healthy way while talking with each other in New Jersey. They've learned from their therapists at Awakened Path about healthy ways to access and express their emotions.

The Ultimate Guide to Understanding, Identifying, and Expressing Emotions

Emotions are powerful messengers that offer valuable insights into both our inner states and external circumstances. When we accurately identify and label our emotions, we can gain clarity and emotional awareness. This helps us with expressing emotions in a healthy way. Emotional awareness is a superpower, enabling us to respond to life’s challenges with wisdom and resilience. So how do we activate this superpower and use it to optimize our quality of life? Join us on this journey as we break down the importance of emotional expression, the consequences of emotional repression, and some tools you can use to identify and express emotions. 

What are emotions? 

Let’s begin by deeply understanding what emotions are. When we experience our emotions it is a somatic experience. In other words, emotions include physical sensations that manifest in the body. These physiological responses are part of the body’s automatic stress response system, preparing us to react to perceived threats or opportunities. For example, anger may be accompanied by clenched fists and a racing heartbeat, while sadness may be felt as a heavy sensation in the chest. Awareness of these physical sensations plays an integral role in identifying our emotions.

Emotional triggers and a neutral approach

Though experienced physically in the body, emotions are often triggered by specific events, thoughts, or memories that resonate with our past experiences and beliefs. It’s common to experience unwanted or unpleasant emotions such as grief, anxiety, or sadness, triggered by events around you. While unpleasant emotions can feel overwhelming, we invite you to view all emotions through a neutral lens with curiosity and compassion. Consider challenging the notion of labeling emotions as  “good” or “bad”. Emotions are actually an opportunity to cultivate deeper self-awareness and connection. 

While this perspective can serve as a way to better help us navigate our environment, connect deeply with ourselves, and interact with others, it does not necessarily lessen the pain and intensity that unpleasant emotions can bring. Professional support from a trained therapist is recommended as a tool to guide individuals along the complex journey in identifying, understanding, and making meaning of their emotions.  

How do we express emotions?

We express our emotions through verbal and nonverbal behaviors, including facial expressions, body language, vocal tone, and gestures.  These expressions serve as communication signals, conveying information about our internal state and intentions to others. When we express our emotions authentically and constructively, it can have numerous positive effects on our mental, emotional, and social well-being.

Two women are sitting on a couch speaking to each other, expressing emotions in healthy ways as they've learned from their therapists at Awakened Path in New Jersey.Here are some key benefits of expressing  emotions: 

Improved Emotional Regulation: Expressing emotions helps us regulate our emotional experiences. When we acknowledge and express our feelings, we gain a better understanding of them and can manage them in healthier ways. This can reduce the likelihood of experiencing overwhelming or dysregulated emotions.

Enhanced Self-Awareness: Expressing emotions fosters self-awareness and introspection. By articulating our feelings, we gain insight into our thoughts, needs, and values. This self-awareness can lead to personal growth, increased confidence, and a deeper understanding of ourselves.

Strengthened Relationships: Authentic emotional expression is essential for building and maintaining healthy relationships. When we express our emotions openly and honestly, we foster trust, empathy, and intimacy with others. Sharing our feelings allows us to connect on a deeper level and strengthens our bonds with friends, family, and partners.

Effective Communication: Expressing emotions helps us communicate our needs, boundaries, and concerns more effectively. When we express ourselves assertively and respectfully, we are more likely to be understood and respected by others. Clear communication of emotions can prevent misunderstandings and conflicts in relationships.

Stress Reduction: Expressing emotions can help reduce stress and promote relaxation. Bottling up emotions can lead to tension and anxiety. By expressing our feelings through writing, talking, art, or physical activity, we release emotional energy and promote a sense of calm and well-being.

Promotion of Resilience: Expressing emotions builds resilience and adaptability in the face of adversity. When we express our emotions, we develop coping skills and emotional intelligence that help us navigate life’s challenges. 

Emotional expression, or repression? 

When we push down our emotions—often to avoid discomfort, we are repressing our emotions. While this temporary relief provides an escape from our current reality, our emotions are stored in our bodies. Bestselling author of The Body Keeps the Score and trauma expert, Bessel Van der Kolk acknowledges the harm repressed emotions have on the body. Repressed emotions have the potential of being trapped in prolonged states of emotional reactivity that have detrimental impacts on us physically, mentally, and emotionally. 

Here are some of the harmful effects of repressing emotions: 

Increased Stress and Anxiety: Repressed emotions don’t disappear; instead, they linger and create tension and anxiety. The effort required to suppress emotions consumes mental and emotional energy, contributing to chronic stress and heightened anxiety levels.

Impact on Mental Health: Repressed emotions can exacerbate or contribute to mental health issues such as depression, anxiety disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). When emotions are suppressed for extended periods, they may resurface in unexpected and overwhelming ways, leading to emotional breakdowns or outbursts.

Physical Symptoms: As discussed earlier emotions are physiological responses in the body. Repressed emotions can manifest as physical symptoms such as headaches, muscle tension, digestive problems, and insomnia. Chronic suppression of emotions has also been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and other stress-related illnesses.

Interpersonal Challenges: Repressing emotions can strain relationships with others. Bottling up feelings can lead to resentment, passive-aggressive behavior, or explosive outbursts, creating conflict and misunderstanding in personal and professional relationships. Moreover, the inability to express emotions authentically can hinder intimacy and connection with others.

Diminished Self-Awareness: Repressing emotions inhibits self-awareness and emotional intelligence. By avoiding or denying feelings, we miss out on valuable opportunities for self-reflection and growth. Over time, this lack of awareness can lead to a sense of disconnection from oneself and others, fostering a shallow and superficial existence.

Escalation of Emotions: Repressed emotions find outlets for expression eventually. This may manifest as an exaggerated or disproportionate reaction to a person or situation. For example, someone who suppresses anger may explode in rage and potentially damage relationships and erode trust over time.

Long-Term Consequences: Continuously repressing emotions can contribute to a cycle of emotional avoidance and suppression, making it increasingly difficult to access and process feelings. Over time, this pattern can lead to emotional numbness or detachment, interfering with our quality and fulfillment in life.

A man is learning how to express emotions in a healthy way in therapy, much like the clients of Awakened Path learn from their holistic therapists in New Jersey.Here are some tools to help us identify and express our emotions: 

Body scanning

 Recognizing our bodily sensations requires intentional effort for all of us regardless of our level of emotional awareness. Here is a helpful body scanning tool to start or further enhance your practice. 


Mindfulness practices help activate our relaxation state to practice non-judgmental awareness of the present emotion. These practices provide valuable opportunities to observe our emotions as they arise, without getting swept away by them. Some forms of mindfulness include meditation, intentional focus and awareness, yoga, and deep breathing. 

Develop your emotional vocabulary

By expanding our emotional vocabulary, we enhance our ability to accurately identify and express our feelings. Start by familiarizing yourself with basic emotion categories such as joy, sadness, anger, fear, and disgust. Connect with experiences or memories that evoke the elicited emotion.  As you explore these emotions, connect with the physical sensations, thoughts, and beliefs attached. Over time, delve deeper into the subtleties of each emotion, exploring variations such as contentment, melancholy, frustration, apprehension, and aversion for example. 

Get started on expressing emotions today with Awakened Path

At Awakened Path we are committed to guiding you on every step of this journey to deepen your emotional awareness to authentically express your truth. Reach out to a therapist to get started today. Identifying emotions is an ongoing journey of self-discovery and self-awareness, that is best led by curiosity, patience, and compassion. By cultivating mindfulness, expanding our emotional vocabulary, tuning into body cues, and authentically expressing our emotions, we deepen our understanding of ourselves and others,  increase resilience, reduce stress, increase our self-awareness, and optimize our quality of life. With practice and intention, we can cultivate greater emotional intelligence and harness the transformative power of our emotions to lead lives of meaning, purpose, and fulfillment.

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