Dr. Angela Chafee

Connecting Through Emotion

Did you know that you can connect through your emotions? Perhaps your experience thus far is that emotions get in the way of your relationships. I am hoping that this post offers you a different perspective and that you begin to view your emotions as tools to develop the deep interpersonal connections you desire.

Emotions facilitate interpersonal connection and promote growth. Although we tend to label our emotions as “good” or “bad,” in so doing, we are likely to be driven to either invite (good) or reject (bad) the experience. It may be these value judgments derive from an association that we have made between the emotion and behavior. For instance, you may associate anger with violence, sadness with crying and fear with running or avoiding. If you find the action unacceptable you may assume the emotion is unacceptable, as well.

Emotion does not necessitate action. Feeling and doing are separate. Your emotions are simply signals produced by your limbic system and you get to choose what you do with the experience. Acting on your emotions without reflecting, weighing the facts and considering your options is likely to end in a less desired outcome. Similarly, disregarding or ignoring your emotions thwarts growth and connection.

Let’s say you and your partner set aside an afternoon to take a drive to spend quality time together. You expected deep intimate conversation and instead, your partner is quiet. You feel disappointed. Perhaps you begin to think that she/he doesn’t want to spend time with you. As you entertain this line of thinking you may notice that sadness and insecurity are replaced with anger. If you act out of anger, you may lash out, criticize and/or demand to return home. Instead of the deep and intimate conversation you were looking forward to, the day may end up in an argument or even more distance between you. If you ignore and push aside your feelings of disappointment, you may pretend you feel nothing and/or shut down. Pretending deprives you and your partner of closeness and eventually turns into resentment.

Learning to pause and lean into your emotions with compassion and curiosity gives you the space to make choices about what, if anything, to “do” in response to your emotions. It allows you the opportunity to “be” in relationships authentically. Let’s go back for a moment to the scenario described above and rewrite it…

As you sit in the car with your partner during the planned afternoon drive, you become aware of disappointment within you. You begin to breathe into this feeling of disappointment and instead of entertaining your thoughts, you focus on the sensations in your body (e.g., heaviness, tightness, etc.). As you breath, you become aware that you had hoped to spend time during this drive talking intimately with your partner. The silence leads you to wonder if your partner wishes she/he were doing something else. You gently acknowledge your sadness and insecurity, perhaps you become aware of heaviness in your heart. You might say to your partner, “I was really looking forward to spending time with you today, talking and sharing. When you are quiet I wonder if you’d rather be doing something other than being with me and then I feel sad and insecure.” The outcome is likely to be much different than in the scenario described above.

Many of us have learned to hide our vulnerabilities to stay safe, but defensiveness and anger beget the same in return, while allowing your partner (and other important people in your life) in and revealing your vulnerability invites and fosters emotional intimacy and connection. Think about how you feel inside when someone you love is hurting and they let you in to see it…you want to reach out, comfort and reassure. I invite you to allow those close to you to offer you the same…



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