Is It Time to Run Away from Your Emotional Home?

“Something is horribly wrong with me. It seems that no matter what I do, no matter what happens, I end up angry.“ When I hear those words (regardless of the feeling) … I know it’s someone’s “emotional home” speaking.

Sometimes clients say: 

  • “I have done so much work on my fear, but I keep coming back to it! “
  • Or “Even though I know everything is not my fault, no matter what goes wrong at home, at work, or even in the world… I feel guilty.“
  • Or “I have no idea why everything turns to sadness for me.“
  • Or “It seems like no matter what happens, I feel so much shame, like I’m unworthy to be alive.”

Upon further investigation, I find one of two things, or both, to be at the root:

1. The person has “carried feelings“ and/or

2. The emotion they are struggling with is their “emotional home.“

In this blog, I am addressing #2. We all have an “emotional home”. It’s the feeling we revert back to most often. 

It is not necessarily a bad thing, but left unexplored, it will drive our lives. And normally not in a direction that we would truly want it to go.

Where does our “emotional home“ come from, or how does it get set? Great question! It comes from our reaction to the environment we grew up in. Since it’s a result of our reaction, siblings (or even twins) may grow up in the same household, and leave home with two very different “emotional homes.“

For example, my sister and I grew up in the same home. Yet I emerged into adult life with fear as my “emotional home.“ Although we came from the same home, she left with “anger and guilt as her emotional home.”

I immediately began exploring where my “angry” client’s emotional home came from.

You can discover your emotional home in several ways:

  • By identifying what feeling you find yourself feeling most often?
  • By asking those who live with you, or spend lots of time with you, what feeling you revert to when you are tired? Or hungry? Or angry? Or lonely?

Anyone can look at their history to determine which emotion is the most prevalent. With my “angry” client, I asked him what anger was like in their home? He described an environment where surliness prevailed, and “snappy comments” were often made.

In addition, when their mom (often and easily) reached her “limit,” she would verbally berate them with comments about how much trouble they were, and how she couldn’t stand them. At times, she would hit them on the head, push them or even use a razor strap for minor infractions.

I asked him how he reacted. He said when he was younger, it really hurt his feelings. But as he watched her toss his little brother into the crib and push his little sister, it made him angry. BINGO! His emotional home was set. And he was still living it out!

Ask yourself the questions above to determine your emotional home. If you still uncertain, you can also begin to look through childhood photographs and ask yourself how you felt at various moments about the photographs.

Although I don’t encourage people to spend much time rehearsing negative events in their lives, if you were to choose 5 to 10 negative events from childhood and ask yourself how you felt at the time of those events, you would certainly discover your “emotional home.“

Why is it so important that we discover our “emotional home?“

Because we will always filter things through the lens of our emotional home. Not only that, but we will automatically revert back to our emotional home, even though we may try not to.

Humans, and most animals too, have a natural internal instinct to returning home. Therefore, our brains are always interpreting things so that they take us home. That place that is familiar! Our “emotional home.”

For example, I was working with an awesome college student recently. She was growing by leaps and bounds in her emotional maturity. But as she described events from her dorm and classmates, I heard the word “rejected“ a lot.

She had just shared a story with me about how she had planned to go home for the weekend, but that plan did not work out. She had shared with her friends that she was going home, and they had in the meantime gotten tickets to a concert.

She said, “I know they thought I was going home, but then I just felt so rejected. And I can’t seem to shake it.“

I asked her if we could talk about a few other things and return to that. I already knew enough about her childhood to know that her dad traveled with his work and was gone a lot of the time. I also knew that she had been heavily involved as a competition cheerleader and was a “flyer.“ And that her team had won many trophies.

I asked her if her mom was involved in her competitions. She explained how her mom was there for every event, fixed her hair, cheered her on, etc.

Then I asked her how many of them her dad had been able to participate in? Her eyes immediately fell to the floor as she almost whispered her response, “Not many. Maybe three.“

I asked her if as a little girl and early teen she had asked him to come to any of her events. Eyes still staring at the floor, she said, “Of course. Everybody’s dad’s came, at least to the big ones.”

I leaned toward her and asked gently, “How did you feel when he would say he would be out of town?“

After a moment of silence and a few tears on the knees of her jeans, her broken response was: “Rejected.”

The same process had occurred over the course of five or more years and literally hundreds of performances and competitions.

We found that her “emotional home” was “rejected.” Unfortunately, because that was her emotional home, everything in her life was being interpreted through that lens.

Hopefully this helps you understand the power of your “emotional home.” If your emotional home does not inspire you, it needs to be addressed. Not only does it affect you, but it affects your marriage, your family, your friendships, your professional life, and every other area of your life.

Since most of us don’t even know that we have an “emotional home,” we are not aware of what it is. But even if you are aware, you likely do not know how to reset it.

I would like to share with you what I shared with the man who felt there was something wrong with him because he was always angry, and the college student who was interpreting her entire life through the filter of being rejected.

Here are the steps I walked them through and they will help you as well!

1. Acknowledge your current “emotional home. “

I shared several ways above that you could use identify your “emotional home.”

Once you have acknowledged it, write it down and do some reflecting. Then do these three things:

  • Write down 3 to 5 ways it has served you well to have that as your emotional home.
  • Write down 3 to 5 ways it has cost you. (How has it negatively affected your life? Your relationships? Your career?)
  • Write a letter telling it (your current emotional home) what you appreciate about it (how it has served you well); and what it has cost you. That although it is a valid emotion, it will no longer be your “emotional home.”

No, don’t just think of it as a concept. Press pause and write about these things.

The young man who came into my office with anger as his “emotional home” did this exercise with me.

Here are the things he identified that served him well with anger as his emotional home:

  • It provided energy for him when things went wrong
  • It got his attention and woke him up when he was not paying attention
  • It made sure that he stayed in control

Then we looked at the costs:

  • It had put great distance between he and his wife
  • It had practically destroyed his relationship with his children
  • He had lost respect in his company

He wrote the letter, and we used it as a wonderful tool for his relationship. I had him bring his wife in and share it with her. It was a very tender moment.

It is time to determine whether the costs have been greater than the benefits, an if so, make a change in your “emotional home.”

2.  Accept and believe that you can choose a new emotional home.

This is where I hear a lot of rhetoric about “it’s just the way I am“ or “people never really change.” That is certainly true for people who believe it, because they will sabotage any efforts or possibilities due to their limiting beliefs.

My client said to me, “If I could just change this, don’t you think I would have already done it?“ I smiled and acknowledged his concerns. I told him that the exercise in point number one above was actually the beginning and about half of the battle. But now we had to do a few more things. He was immediately onboard!

Most of us have a worldview that says: “Life is something that happens to us.“ As long as we hold that, we will feel powerless over anything in our lives. However, if we begin to entertain the new worldview that: “Life happens for us…“ We open a new opportunity to take charge of those things we can. 

What about you? Do you believe you have a choice? Or do you believe you are forever imprisoned with the “emotional home” (as well as your beliefs and worldviews) that you left home with? Or do you believe that it was set early on, and you can make a different choice?

After this discussion I loved what my client said. He stated with great determination: “Well hell, I decide which cereal I’m going to eat every morning, so surely I can decide on my ‘emotional home’!” He got it! What about you? Are you ready for this?

3. Decide what you would like your new “emotional home” to be. 

There is no right or wrong answer about your new emotional home.

Simply follow these guidelines, and start designing!

  • It must be something that is empowering
  • It must be something that encourages you to be your very best
  • It must set the stage and the foundation for a meaningful, fulfilled life

Years ago I realized that my “emotional home” was fear, and I definitely wanted to change it. But it took me a while to decide what I wanted my new “emotional home” to be.

It opens up a world of possibility that we may not have even dared to consider!

Eventually, I selected “calm confidence” for my new “emotional home.” I knew it would serve me well, I knew it would serve my clients well, and I knew it was an environment in which I could encourage people to heal. And set the stage for me to be a healing partner.

My client chose “power-driven with a soft, fun edge.” He wanted to be sure he did not lose his self-motivation and the ability to motivate others, but he also wanted to do it without the angry edge. And have fun along the way.

What about you? What emotional home would serve you well in business, in relationships and internally?

4. Notice your physiology in the old emotional home in your new emotional home.

I realized when I was in my journey of changing my “emotional home” that there was a way “did fear“ (my old emotional home) with my body. I did this thing of lowering and pulling in my shoulders as if I was a little hurt puppy, huddled in a corner. My eyes, wide open like I had seen a ghost, refused to make eye contact. My breathing was rapid and shallow.

I decided I was no longer going to “do fear” with my body. Research from Harvard University supports the concept that your body position drives your emotions. Taking a “power stance” boosts your confidence, your outcomes and transitions feelings to powerful, positive ones. Because of this, I learned to change my body, expression, and movement to something powerful that would reflect my new emotional home: “calm confidence.“

My client learned that the aggressive body posture, the scowl on his reddened face, along with his harsh tone, was how he “did his anger.”

I had asked him to bring some photographs that his wife said was demonstrative of his anger. From that, and with his own input, we learned how he “did anger.”

How do you “do” your emotional home with your body?

In a fun exercise, I showed him how I did fear, and then I showed him my new stance for calm confidence, going from being hunkered in with wide eyes cast down … then to standing tall, with a calm soft smile, and engaging expression in my eyes. I went back-and-forth between the two a few times until he got it. 

Then we chose his new way of “doing power driven with a soft, fun edge”. His body went from an aggressive appearance to a much more relaxed and fun appearance. The scowl was replaced with an excited facial expression, and his tone was softened.

I had him go back and forth between the two with his physiology until he got the difference. It was actually quite comical and he submitted that we should filmed that for America’s Funniest Videos.

What about you? How did you “do” your old emotional home, and how will you “do” your new emotional home? The very act of practicing your new physiology will install your new emotional home quickly.

5. Set your reticular activating system (RAS) to be your partner in crime in resetting your “emotional home.”

Our brains contain a very small “God created chip“ that is like our Google search engine. It is called our reticular activating system (RAS), found just above the spinal cord. It is about the size of a two inch pencil.

That system is what causes us to look for our old emotional home and filter every situation to take us there.

However, we are not at the mercy of what it was set to search for early in your life. One of the ways to reset it is to do some sort of exercise each morning that reminds you of your new “emotional home.”

I actually did the exercise listed in step #4 above, looking in the mirror as I “did” my old emotional home, and changing my physiology to my new emotional home every morning. Going back and forth between the old and the new. Although it might seem like a silly thing to do, it resets your reticular activating system (RAS) to looking for the new “emotional home,” and to interpreting the world in a manner that leads you to your new “emotional home.”

Another way I encourage my clients to reset their reticular activating system to their new emotional home, is to make a list of 25 to 100 little things that you can do daily that take you to that place.

For example, to set my reticular activating system to “calm confidence,“ my list contained things such as:

  • Take a deep breath and let it out slowly three times in a row
  • Glance at my screensaver (which is always an ocean scene)
  • Speak some thing out loud, anything, with calm confidence slowly three times in a row

Quick, simple things that remind me of my new “emotional home” and tells my RAS to partner with me in making it my new home!

What about you? What is your list of small things you can do to remind yourself of your new “emotional home”?

6. Do top of the hour “emotional home” check for several weeks.

This is another powerful way to install your new “emotional home.” I call it the top of the hour check. Try to make it a habit that when you glance at a clock (and it’s at least close to the top of the hour) to make sure that you are in your new emotional home. If you are not, stand up and change your physiology.  “Do” the physiology, the stance, of your new “emotional home” that you established in step # 4.

Do some thing from your list you developed in step #5 that reminds you of your new “emotional home.”

By the way, by the time you do this for a few weeks, it will be a new ritual, and you will do it regularly going forward without thinking about it. This has been a challenging week for me, and in the face of challenge, there is still a magnetic draw to my old “emotional home:” fear!

But I have made my top of the hour check, and I am remaining in my calm confidence.

You can do the same! Start your top of the hour checks NOW!

7. Know what to do when your old “emotional home” comes knocking. 

I’m certainly not going to pretend that the old emotional home will never knock on your door. The real truth is that sometimes it pounds your door down!

It happens to all of us. But you are not required to open the door, and certainly you do not have to pitch a tent and stay there. You can choose something different.

  • First of all, acknowledge that it has come knocking.
  • Secondly, check your new physiology.
  • Thirdly and this is pure magic… PRACTICE GRATITUDE.

Not gratitude that it has come knocking! But think of something that you have to be grateful for. Even if you have to select something from many years ago. Visualize it, remember how you felt, see it in living color! Spend at least three minutes in gratitude.

Sometimes understand the biochemistry behind this is quite helpful. One of the things that we know from neurochemistry is that any time you are experiencing an emotion that is less then ideal, your brain and heart waves are out of sync.

However, extensive research that shows that just three minutes of gratitude brings our heart waves and brain waves into sync. 

When they are in sync, it is absolutely impossible to feel any negative emotion: anger, sadness, fear, frustration, guilt, shame, stress, etc. Just three minutes of gratitude will send your old emotional home packing.

I have found that spending two minutes additional minutes thinking positively about my new “emotional home” can get me right back on track.

Our “emotional home” should be something that brings us great solace, propels us onward to greater things, and creates a fulfilled life, full of peace and joy.

The client who came in thinking there was something terribly wrong with him because he always seemed to end up in a place of anger is a great example of the difference that choosing a new emotional home can make.

A few days ago, I ran into his wife at a Community service event. She came up to me and said, “This has been almost miraculous. He has been through an anger management class, he has gone to a sweat lodge to sweat out his anger, and we’ve done everything but light candles and sacrifice a goat to deal with this! It took a while, but he should be your poster child for this ‘emotional home’ thing.”

Yes it takes a little while, but with careful, intentional planning, you can establish a new emotional home that calls forth the very best version of you! Tony Robbins says that “feelings happen but misery is a choice.” It’s simply another way of saying that you can choose a new “emotional home.”

No one is meant to live in misery. Our bodies were not created for that, and the health destructive neurochemicals that go along with it. Although it takes some dedicated work, it will take us to the abundant life we were meant to have. Abundance of fulfillment, joy, peace. In our personal lives, in our marriages, in our careers, in our finances, in our daily experience.

Please don’t be like many who will read this and think, “That’s a good thought” and tuck it away. Please, please! Put it into action. All seven steps. For you, for your family, for your career, for the difference you can make in others! Choose an amazing, awe-inspiring “emotional home”!