How to Explore the Emotion Iceberg

The Emotion Iceberg and Discovering What Lies Beneath

So far we’ve defined Emotional Debt and how to identify emotion. This week, we will discuss how to explore emotion through the Emotion Iceberg.

Emotion Iceberg

Emotions are a reaction to something that is happening in the present, but can be fueled by many different things. A popular metaphor that’s been used to explain this idea is to think of an emotion like an iceberg:

As you can see, anger is just the tip of the iceberg. Underneath the anger lies fear, stress, and even past experiences. All of these factors can fuel your emotion. They can affect the intensity, duration, and even the effect of the emotion on your body.

By identifying and understanding the context of an emotion, you do several things:

  • Gain clarity by giving names to the powerful forces that are affecting you

  • Understand the potential factors that have fueled this emotion

  • Start to develop a plan to pay down the emotional debt

  • Love yourself by spending the time to understand yourself

Loving yourself is the underlying principle of a growing movement called “Self Care.” Self Care is any intentional act we take to care for ourselves. This simple concept is a powerful tool that can do wonders for improving mental health. It also plays a vital role in preventing and paying down emotional debt.

When you experience a challenging feeling, how do you respond? Do you distract yourself? Do you get upset or down on yourself? What if you allowed yourself to just sit with your feelings?

Here’s what you can do:
1️⃣Create a space for yourself to physically sit and feel comfortable.

2️⃣As you sit, begin to bring your focus to your breathing. Through your breath, connect with yourself. (You can put your hands onto your body if that helps you connect with yourself. )

3️⃣ Begin to scan your body and mind. How are you feeling? Identify the feeling.

4️⃣ Validate your feelings and show yourself compassion. Allow yourself to accept that in this moment you’re experiencing human emotions, and that each feeling is temporary and will eventually pass. ( 🎨 by @blessthemessy )
April 22, 2020

Exploring the Emotion

Emotions can be fueled by three main categories:

  • Things that happen to you - Examples include present event(s) that triggered the emotional response, past events, culture, and things people have said to you. For the most part, these factors are outside of your control.

  • Things you do - Examples include how you view yourself, going to the gym, and what truths you believe. There are many things in this category that you can control.

  • Biological and chemical factors - Examples include the effect of chemical imbalances in the brain on depression, marijuana on depression, and even caffeine on anxiety.

Going through each of categories can help provide structure whenever you feel overwhelmed, lost, or uncertain about your feelings. Here’s an example of how I’ve used it in my own life.

Anger, Basketball, and Getting Older

I love basketball. It is one of my favorite sports in the world. I love watching it, playing it, and studying the game. In my early 20’s, I would play religiously. I’d be out on the courts three times a week even if I had a sprained finger or ankle.

I’m also a huge Clipper fan. And no, I’m not a bandwagoner. I was a fan since the days of Elton Brand circa 2004. Here’s a photo for all you Clipper haters out there.

But lately, I’ve noticed that playing pickup basketball hasn’t been as fun or as enjoyable as it used to be. I even found myself getting angry and arguing over silly calls. It got to a point where I started to ask myself, “Why am I so angry? Why am I even playing basketball anymore?”

This is when I realized something was wrong and started to explore the Emotion Iceberg of Anger by breaking it down into the three categories above.

1. Things That Happened to Me

There were a few factors that stuck out to me as to why I was getting angry. People would call fouls inconsistently. Someone would make a really physical play that I thought was dangerous. Some people with really big egos and would talk down to my teammates.

But to be honest, these things have always happened and weren’t really the root of the problem. I needed to dig deeper.

2. Things I Was Doing

I Had Unrealistic Expectations for Myself

A couple years ago, I was a pretty good basketball player. I was fast. I made 3’s consistently. I could handle the ball. I was the “go to” guy in crunch situations. But that was when I played three times a week.

Due to work and a foot injury, I wasn’t able to play basketball for almost a year. So when I got back on the court and I was missing 3’s, turning the ball over, and slow on the court, I felt really frustrated and upset.

I Was Overly Critical of Myself

Whenever I would make a mistake on the court, I would beat myself up inside. And because I never adjusted the standards I had, which were now unrealistic. I found myself repeating a vicious cycle:

  1. Do something I used to be able to do

  2. Fail

  3. Beat myself up

  4. Repeat

This cycle of self-criticism built up a lot of Emotional Debt of disappointment and a sense of inadequacy that manifested itself in anger.

3. Biological and Chemical Factors

I was getting older and I didn’t have the same stamina, response time, or speed that I used to.

This was a hard pill for me to swallow.

When I was growing up, I worked my butt off to develop the skills I needed to excel in basketball. I thought all I needed to do was put in the time and the effort. I was slowly beginning to realize that this may not be the case anymore.

Paying Down the Debt

After going through the exercise, I realized that I wasn’t enjoying basketball as much as I used to because I had set unrealistic expectations for myself. I expected to immediately go back to the same level of play I was at before I got injured. I was also expecting my body to do things that would either take time to develop (like stamina) or is just no longer able to do.

To pay down this debt, these were the options that came to mind:

  1. Put in the time to get to a similar level that I was before

  2. Readjust my expectations

  3. Walk away from playing basketball completely

I’m still not sure what the answer is. Maybe it's a little bit of both. But believe me when I say that it will take time for me to figure it out. Breaking old habits and expectations will be hard. I also wouldn’t be surprised if there were deeper emotions and themes I need to explore as well. But I have peace of mind now knowing that I have a path forward.

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