How To Do The Work When There Is More Than One Emotion

layers of graffiti
Sometimes emotions are layered one on the other like this graffiti paint.

How To Do The Work When There Is More Than One Emotion

I sometimes find more than just one emotion in a stressful situation. For example, Line 1 of a recent Judge-Your-Neighbor Worksheet looked like this, “I am angry and sad with Dad because he didn’t download the photos.” 

This is an actual situation for me from about six months ago. I had been scanning all of Mom’s family photos, which involved a lot of work and money. My dad was not so enthusiastic. One day talking on the phone, I asked him if he had downloaded the latest photos. He said no and made it clear that he didn’t want to.

That’s when I felt that mix of emotions: anger and sadness. Of course, I could write both of these emotions in my Line 1 statement as I did above. But I like to look a little closer. Here’s what I do when I experience more than one emotion in a situation.

I Look at Each Emotion Separately

Emotions are extremely intelligent things. They don’t happen randomly. They are sensitive, even subconscious, gauges of what I am thinking and believing. And each emotion has a different story to tell. When I look, I can often uncover what is really bothering me so I can bring it to inquiry. 

To do this, I put myself mentally back in the situation. I was driving and talking to my dad on the phone. I remember him not wanting to download the pictures that I worked so hard to scan. Then, I feel the emotions, and I look at them one at a time.

The first one is anger. So I ask the anger, “What is the thought that is causing this feeling of anger?” As I sit with it, I see the thought connected to the emotion: “He is ungrateful for my efforts.” That really makes me angry.

The second emotion is sadness. So I ask the sadness, “What is the thought that is causing this feeling of sadness?” This time, a different thought comes up, “He doesn’t care about me.” This interpretation makes me feel sad and dejected. 

Each Emotion Gives a Different Worksheet

The reason there are two different emotions in this situation is that there are two different things bothering me. They are connected, and working one may help unravel the other, but working each one separately allows for full attention on each.

If there are two crying babies in the room, it is valuable to hold each one separately because their needs may be different: one may need food, while the other may need a diaper change.

Here is Line 1 for two different worksheets from the same situation:

Worksheet 1, Line 1: “I am angry at Dad because he is ungrateful for my efforts.”

Worksheet 2, Line 1: “I am saddened by Dad because he doesn’t care about me.” 

As I question these separate thoughts one after the other, I will be addressing each emotion (anger, then sadness) in turn. Each gets its day in the sun. 

Listen to Your Emotions

Emotions are there to educate you. Byron Katie often talks about going to “the school of you.” These emotions can teach you a lot if you listen to them: at the heart of every emotion is a particular thought that is causing it. 

If you listen, you can identify the thoughts that are closest to what is really bothering you in any situation. And when you do The Work on these, they have the greatest chance of touching you and changing your innermost perspective.

Want to hone your skills of listening to yourself? Join us for The Work 101, Sep 12 – Nov 13. 

Have a great week,

“A feeling is like the mate to a thought appearing. They’re like a left and a right. If you have a thought, there’s a simultaneous feeling. And an uncomfortable feeling is like a compassionate alarm clock that says, ‘You’re in the dream.’ It’s time to investigate, that’s all.” Byron Katie, Question Your Thinking, Change The World

Further reading: When Am I Going to Deal with My Emotions?

P.S. Want to do The Work on money? You may find a few emotions there. The Living with Money course is ready for immediate access.

Todd Smith has been doing The Work of Byron Katie on an almost daily basis since 2007. He is just as excited about this simple process of self-inquiry today as he was when he first came across it. He also enjoys writing about The Work, and training others in the subtleties of this meditative process. Join Todd for The Work 101 online course, private sessions, virtual retreats, and his ongoing Inquiry Circle group.