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Meta-Emotions & What to Do About Difficult Ones

Meta-Emotions & What to Do About Difficult Ones

Ah, feelings. Sometimes I feel like I feel all the things. Some days it’s frankly more than I’d like to feel. (It gets exhausting.)

I’m an emotional person, what can I say? My big quest in life hasn’t been feeling less, because that doesn’t seem to be a practical option for me and how I’m biologically wired. Instead, a more realistic approach has been to make sure that I handle whatever feelings I do have well — and not use them as justification for flying off the deep end and doing things I regret, just because I feel a certain way.

Anyway, a big part of this has been not only involved the emotions themselves — but a little something that experts call meta-emotions.

What Are Meta-Emotions?

So what are meta-emotions? Well, the 80/20 on it is that they’re basically feeling about feelings — and thinking about feelings (or put another way, emotions about emotions and cognitions about emotions).

Meta-emotions pertain to your own feelings of course — how you think and feel about them — but they’re not limited to that. You can also have meta-emotions about other people’s emotions (or at least how you think they’re feeling because none of us are perfect mind-readers).

As I’ve written in multiple essays, I used to have a vicious cycle of feeling bad about feeling bad. Seriously. I’d feel bad and then I’d feel guilty about feeling bad — and then I’d shame myself for it and end up in a shame spiral where I just continually felt bad.

It was as messy as it sounds. Sometimes there felt like there was no escape.

I wish I’d known back then what to do about that particular pattern of meta-emotions — and about difficult meta-emotions in general.

What to Do About Difficult Meta-Emotions

Meta-emotion can actually be a big help if you deal with your difficult ones properly. It can help you with taking other people’s perspectives — which can be good for resolving conflicts and build better relationships.

But ooh boy, those difficult spirals of meta-emotions can be awful. Here’s what the experts have to say about what you should do about difficult meta-emotions:

-Stay curious

-Practice acceptance of the emotions

-Accept yourself (for having them)

Easier said than done perhaps — but it’s key! Like so much self-work, it boils down to self-compassion and mindfulness work. Please see the links in the previous sentence for more information on both of those topics (which I write about semi-regularly).


It’s worth noting that people have their own personalized (often implicit) theories of emotions — so my set of meta-emotions might cause communication difficulties with a partner whose meta-emotions function a different way. I plan to revisit that topic in a later post and dive more into how meta-emotions can either aid or hinder interpersonal compatibility.


This post is part of an ongoing Poly Land feature called Psyched for the Weekend, in which I geek out with brief takes about some of my favorite psychological studies and concepts. For the entire series, please see this link.

Featured Image: CC BY – Scott Cresswell