In order to be more self-compassionate, it is important to be able to recognize and name a few important emotions. It may seem silly, but it is absolutely necessary to be able to name and correctly identify the emotional waves that crash over you. It will help you decide how to comfort and support yourself when the crash happens. 

Here is a list of basic human emotions (different researchers have somewhat different definitions of basic emotions, but I’ve chosen a few of the most commonly included ones). 

Happiness/pleasure/joy: Can be described as a calm harmony and well-being, or more active euphoria. This emotion “wants” us to be active and search for more pleasure/well-being. Without positive emotions like this, we would lack the energy and drive to get out of bed and look for food, partners, community and so on. (The soothing system/the green circle)

Wrath/anger: A signal to ourselves that we are experiencing something that is not right. This feeling helps us keep our integrity intact and defend ourselves. (The threat system/red circle)

Interest/curiosity: Like happiness, this is an emotion that activates and engages us. It creates an eagerness to get out and explore. (The exploratory system/blue circle)

Sorrow/sadness: Triggered by experienced losses, or by not having achieved an important goal. Our heart and body are heavy, and we feel passive. This emotion in its original form can provide a chance for re-orientation, a chance to find a new meaning. It can bring the support and compassion of others. (Green or red circle, depending on the situation)

Fear/terror: A basic and immediate signal that you risk bodily harm. Fear brings with it heightened attention. It causes our muscles to tense up and triggers primal, animalistic instincts to flee, fight or perhaps freeze. (The threat system/red circle)

Shame: An emotion that signals that you have done or are about to do something that could make you less liked/accepted by the group you feel you belong to. This emotion wants you to shrink, disappear or perhaps run away. (The threat system/red circle)

Disgust/aversion: A feeling that may be brought by spoiled food or insects, but which can also be triggered by socially learned contempt for a certain kind of person or behavior that we believe to be morally wrong. This is a feeling that makes us avoid what could be dangerous for us. (The threat system/red circle)


Think about your last strong emotional experience: 

  • Which emotion did you experience (for example shame)?

  • How powerful was the emotion on a scale from 1 to 10 (where 1 is barely noticeable, and 10 is as powerful as it can get)? 

  • What triggered the emotion (e.g. called a coworker by the wrong name)?

  • What impulse to act did the emotion cause (e.g. felt like staying quiet for the rest of lunch)? 

  • What did you actually do (e.g. apologized)? 

Advanced level

The next time you experience a powerful emotion: 

  • Try to stop, breathe calmly and go to the next step. 

  • Do the above exercise (name the emotion, rate its intensity from 1 to 10, think about what the emotion wants you to do). 

  • If it’s not an emergency situation where you have to act right away, refrain from taking action for one to two minutes, and note what happens with the emotion.