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JOHN PETROZZI: Hi. Welcome to Living is Easy with John and Josh. I’m John Petrozzi.

JOSHUA HARPER: I’m Joshua Harper.

JOHN PETROZZI: Today, we’re really lucky to be speaking with Suzana Dekanovic, who is a clinical psychologist. She’s here to talk about emotions and really have them make them work for you.

JOSHUA HARPER: Welcome, Suzana.

SUZANA DEKANOVIC: Thank you. Thanks for having me on.

JOHN PETROZZI: Pleasure – thanks for coming onboard.

So, Suzana, where should we start? What’s an emotion?

SUZANA DEKANOVIC: Wow – what’s an emotion? Emotion is maybe simple to explain but it’s so complex to really understand it in your own body and your own mind. Basically, emotions are very complex responses. They’re a combination of your feelings in the body and your thoughts. It’s the integration of those two. If you’re not sure what you’re feeling, well, the reason is that there is actually nothing simple at all about knowing often what it is that you feel. Emotions are quite complex and it’s not like we get taught about emotions in primary school or high school, so understanding that the way you would understand history or mathematics is really not on the same level.

JOHN PETROZZI: Okay. So, emotions – that includes sadness, excitement-

SUZANA DEKANOVIC: Yeah. Look, there are primary emotions like anger, sadness, fear, jealousy, interest, joy, shame, disgust. What researchers have done, they’ve shown that people, regardless of where they’re born or where they live in the world, they actually come into this world with the same emotional system that serves as the basis of all kind of common humanity and that all people are able to recognise these emotions. Studies have shown that people recognize the same emotions to the same level, so that tells you that, I guess when we’re born, that this is kind of an inbuilt mechanism that we have.

JOHN PETROZZI: Is it like our instincts – like when we’re being fearful of being eaten by a tiger, we’d run as fast as we could?

SUZANA DEKANOVIC: Pretty much. Yeah – exactly, John.

JOHN PETROZZI: So, with those emotions, I suppose, if they’re produced in inappropriate times in your life or in our day, that’s when they become all-consuming and take us over.

SUZANA DEKANOVIC: Well, they become all-consuming and take us over if we don’t know how to approach emotions, if we think, “Oh, this is not a good thing,” if we try to suppress them, if we try to avoid them.

The beauty about emotions is that they actually serve a purpose. They’re there for a reason. The purpose or the function of emotions is that they communicate to us, they communicate to others, they influence others, and they also organise us and prepare us for actions. Say, you’re feeling angry with someone, and you’re feeling angry because that person said something that was not true; maybe what it means in terms of problem solving is that you need to approach the person and say exactly how you felt and just discuss with them what had happened. So, that would be like a problem-solving step and you know how to do that because your emotions informed you of that. You’re emotions informed you that there was something there that you weren’t happy with.

JOSHUA HARPER: With anger – you know how you get adrenalin and you get excited when you get angry?


JOSHUA HARPER: Does that really serve a purpose in practical terms?

SUZANA DEKANOVIC: Well, the function of anger is to set boundaries. It can actually be a very empowering response, particularly to being violated, because what that means is that your body is telling you that you’re being violated. So, you know how to set some boundaries and say stop. But what can happen sometimes is that if over time that’s been suppressed or if over time a person hasn’t learned how to deal with anger effectively, it can turn into aggression. I think that’s where a lot of adrenalin can come in and then you respond, you respond out of that aggression rather than actually being able to process that through. So, it becomes an automatic response, which can have quite severe repercussions.

JOHN PETROZZI: Suzana, I remember speaking with Murray [Mazrick 0:04:20] from Real Education. He spoke about black anger and white anger.

SUZANA DEKANOVIC: That was a great interview.

JOHN PETROZZI: Yeah – delivering those messages in that way. So, I think you remember him speaking about saying something in the black; and basically in the black was saying it with malice and with intent of harm and basically bringing somebody else down. But then, saying something out of white anger, for instance, was actually doing it cleanly, setting your own boundaries, communicating that to the person without bringing them down, but still standing firm in your skin.

SUZANA DEKANOVIC: Absolutely. To be able to do that, you, as a person, need to be able to really experience that emotion in your body. So, see where it’s coming from—I’ll talk more about that later—and then, connect with that in a sense of, “Okay, what is this?” Identify it. “I’m feeling angry.” Okay, acknowledge that, accept that, and then, you’re more likely to know what needs to be done next. That action usually will be carried out from your gut feeling rather than your head, where you say, “Okay. Well, that person deserves to be told off.” For what purpose and how is that going to serve you then?

JOHN PETROZZI: Also, how is it going to serve them?

SUZANA DEKANOVIC: Yeah – well, that’s right.

So, it’s really acting out of your wise mind, which is really having thought about, which is using your gut feeling, and also having really connected with your emotion to see what is it that it’s telling you, because every emotion will tell you something different.

We talked a little bit about anger, sadness, and what that usually means is that something important to you has been lost. It could be a person, it could be a thing, it could be something that’s not tangible. Jealousy – experiencing jealousy means that you’re experiencing some kind of betrayal or there’s a sense of perceived displacement about something. Fear – obviously, a feeling of threat, you’re feeling danger. Joy – to just use or name a positive emotion or a pleasant emotion means usually that perhaps, a desirable goal has been achieved.

With each one of those emotions, there’s an associated reaction or action. So, with threat, it might be either running away, or fighting, or doing something. I don’t mean “fighting” as in physical fighting—sometimes it could be that—but depending on the situation, it might be facing that very source of fear. With sadness, it might be having to withdraw until you’ve been able to really grieve whatever it is that has been lost.

JOHN PETROZZI: Okay. Suzana, before we go to a break, you remember that quote you got from Aristotle. I really like that one.

SUZANA DEKANOVIC: I love that quote. Okay. So, I guess this relates in terms of emotions and what we’ve talked about. Really, Aristotle got this so right millennia ago. He said that, “It’s easy to become angry but to become angry with the right person to the right degree at the right time for the right purpose and in the right way is not easy.” So he says being able to do all that is actually emotional intelligence.


JOSHUA HARPER: Welcome back to Living is Easy with John and Josh. We’re talking about emotions.

Suzana, before the break, you mentioned “emotional intelligence.” What exactly is it?

SUZANA DEKANOVIC: Emotional intelligence is really about being able to experience your emotions, really accept that and become aware of that. Becoming aware means seeing where in your body you feel that, naming what that is, but then, also being able to make sense of your feeling.

So, just an example, say, you’re leaving home for the first time and moving away as a young adult and you know you’re feeling sad. You might say, part of the awareness of the emotion is “I’m feeling sad” and you might feel, I don’t know, like a black ball maybe, or something in your chest. But then, the making sense of that is, “Well, I’m feeling sad because I’m leaving home.”

That last bit is really important to say. It’s like, okay, there’s that emotional experience but then, here’s the intellectualisation of it, which we need to bring together. It’s about the head and the heart integration, and that’s really important. This is what makes humans wiser than just using our intellects alone.

This then helps you to actually cope in life because you now know how to use emotions. The research has been around people who know how to use their emotions, who know how to label their emotions but also make sense of them. What research shows with those people is that they’re able to cope much better in life and much better at identifying their emotions.

JOSHUA HARPER: So, in a way, it’s like symptoms of a sickness, and if you just ignore the symptoms, then, you’re just going to get sick.

SUZANA DEKANOVIC: Exactly – it’s going to get worse. Yeah.

Josh, you know what, the interesting thing is, is that with emotions, if you ignore your emotions or you suppress them, either suppress them by just, say, your coping mechanism with emotions is work, work, work, work, if you continue doing that, because you’re no longer able to read your emotions, you just automatically cut off. You’re body’s going to have to try so hard to communicate to you in another way. So, maybe what that might be over time is you’ll start experiencing physical symptoms.


JOHN PETROZZI: Headaches or-

SUZANA DEKANOVIC: Headaches, irritable bowel, it could be throat infections – something that you’re body’s trying to communicate say, “Hey! Pay attention. Something’s not quite in tune here.”

You know what, stress – you know how we often use stress like you think, “Well, I’m stressed.” It’s actually a very ambiguous word and it’s a differentiated word for your experience of emotions that over time have accumulated and you haven’t attended to.

JOHN PETROZZI: How’s this for an example of not attending to your emotions? Driving around in a car and you see someone jump out of the car in a turtle rage and go and approach the person in front of them who came to an abrupt stop or did nothing wrong at all and start abusing them. That person is basically experiencing anger and they’re totally flipping out and-

SUZANA DEKANOVIC: That gets to an aggression, actually. That becomes aggression – yeah.

JOHN PETROZZI: So, is this sort of unraveling a bit of, I suppose, a ball that’s covered in lots of layers of paper?

SUZANA DEKANOVIC: Okay – absolutely. When we talk about emotions or your emotional experiences, there are actually quite a number of different types of emotions. You have your adaptive emotions, which is just the core healthy gut feeling to something. You know, when you’re doing something, you feel something’s just not right about this, how this person’s treating this person. That’s your gut speaking to you.

Then, another level of that is primary emotion. Primary emotion is, say, you get really sad about something, that’s your primary emotion. But say, you get sad about something and then later you get angry because you got sad, that becomes a secondary emotion. So, it’s emotion about the first emotion.

And maybe with the guy getting out of the car, maybe his initial emotion was always being mistreated in life, say, starting off with his family. Really, it’s a response to that early emotion, which hasn’t actually been attended to or processed in any way, particularly at the time when it was happening.

JOHN PETROZZI: I suppose, if that emotion comes up of mistreated-

SUZANA DEKANOVIC: “I’ve been mistreated.” Yeah.

JOHN PETROZZI: -and I suppose, in a flip second, he could just suppress that and think, “No. There’s a guy in front of me here. It’s not me as a kid. There’s a guy in front of me here in a car, which just stopped.” Then, anger comes out and then, maybe a bit of shame around the anger and then, more anger, and puts it into action.

SUZANA DEKANOVIC: Yeah. I’ll tell you just quickly an interesting thing is that your brain has two pathways to restoring emotions: 1) The emotional experience of it or your feelings; 2) The actual context of what happened.

In trauma-based experiences, those paths sometimes don’t interact. That’s why with trauma people who’ve been through experience of traumatic event, they can either remember and have over intrusive recollections of what happened—flashes, that kind of stuff—or those emotions just come on and they just become so overwhelmed with fear but can’t make sense of that, because the intellectual part or the part that stores the context of that emotion is not accessible. Unfortunately, that’s because there hasn’t been that processing of emotions.

JOHN PETROZZI: It’s like stuck in a different hard drive on a different computer that you don’t have a password for.

SUZANA DEKANOVIC: Yeah – absolutely. Research has actually shown that people who are able to write, say, for twenty minutes per day just about what’s happened to them or start writing just about emotions and feelings, that they’re actually better able at resolving their trauma.

JOHN PETROZZI: So, having a journal.

SUZANA DEKANOVIC: Having a journal. You know what, I don’t think that that’s just for people who’ve gone through trauma. I think it’s a healthy thing to do for anyone to help them cope with their emotions.

JOHN PETROZZI: Well, I’ve just started keeping one and I find it really useful.


JOHN PETROZZI: Yup, and I find it really good.

SUZANA DEKANOVIC: Fantastic. What do you find useful about it?

JOHN PETROZZI: Just writing stuff down that I’ve learned.

SUZANA DEKANOVIC: How does that help you, John?

JOHN PETROZZI: Well, I prefer not to go through life learning the same lessons all the time. If I learn them, I learn them really well and go on to the next lesson there is.

SUZANA DEKANOVIC: Okay. That’s great.

JOHN PETROZZI: Well, can we talk a bit about understanding your emotions? You’ve got a bit of approaches that I think we can talk about.

SUZANA DEKANOVIC: Okay. So, when it comes to understanding your emotions and actually being able to process your emotions, the most important step is to be able to attend to whatever is there. So, really accept whatever it is that you experience at that time. Say, you feel a bit anxious and you think, “Oh, why do I feel anxious?” That’s actually resisting the process. So, what you want to be able to do is just accept that, “Okay. I know noticed in my body this is what’s going on. I’m experiencing this.”

So, the next important step after just becoming aware of that is name that and say, “Okay. I’m feeling a bit scared here.” Okay, so name it or symbolise it in words, and once you’ve acknowledged that emotional experience, you might be better able to use your head to make sense of the experience.

It’s kind of like that thing, “Okay. I’m sad because I’m leaving home.” That’s okay. When you’re able to do that, you’re more likely to be able to know, “What I need to do” and maybe what you need to do, say, “Look, of course, I’m sad. It’s okay that I’m sad, and with time, I’m going to feel better. I’m going to adjust to these situations.” You’re going to be better able to know what you need to do. Maybe you’ll need to call up a friend just to have a chat about something.

JOHN PETROZZI: So, really, what you’re saying is if you’re acting out of impulses and just being a slave to your emotions, you really won’t be doing the right things that are going to, I suppose, get you through life. But if you’re identifying the emotion, giving it a name-

SUZANA DEKANOVIC: Just accept them.

JOHN PETROZZI: You’re more in a sort of stronger position to actually do something positive.

SUZANA DEKANOVIC: Absolutely. Because otherwise, you’ll actually live your life under the control of those emotions, not present, not aware of how you can make use of them. It’s actually quite a shame because then, you’re not able to enjoy life and make the most of it.

So, I guess just the other thing that I wanted to say is that, the important aspect to emotional processing is also emotional regulation. What that means is just really after you’ve accepted and named your emotion is doing something like providing some kind of self-empathy for yourself. What we’ve talked about is, “I’m doing well.”

JOHN PETROZZI: That’s different from self-pity?

SUZANA DEKANOVIC: Yeah – totally. Self-pity repeats the cycle.

JOHN PETROZZI: So, self-empathy is more like, “Yeah. Okay. Give yourself a break but come on, pick yourself up and be fun.”

SUZANA DEKANOVIC: Absolutely. Yeah, and maybe doing something, some physiological soothing, whether it be relaxation or deep breathing, and that kind of stuff. Self-acceptance is a huge one here.


JOSHUA HARPER: Hi. Welcome back to Living is Easy with John and Josh.

JOHN PETROZZI: So, Suzana, we’re going to talk about changing emotions. So whoever is listening, this is a really good time to turn the volume up and probably get a bit of paper out and take some notes, because I think this stuff we’re going to talk about now is really life-changing.

SUZANA DEKANOVIC: Yeah. Look, it is, but what I’m going to say might not be what people might want to hear. My first statement is that changing emotions requires experiencing it. So, for example, the only way to get rid of fear, and you’ve heard this before, face the fear is exactly to do that – to feel it. Because people, we change our emotional responses, how they choose to react to life situations actually need to experience being knocked over by emotional ways before they actually find their fate.

JOHN PETROZZI: The reason why we do avoid our fear, I suppose, is because it’s really unpleasant.


JOHN PETROZZI: Our heart races, our blood pressure goes up, you can’t think straight, you start to sweat, and you panic. It’s just totally unpleasant.

SUZANA DEKANOVIC: Oh, look, it can vary from person to person. But my favorite thing, again, that I also say to myself because I’m not immune from experiencing all this, is that your emotions actually can kill you and that what you choose to do about them or not do about them has a more likely effect of possibly being detrimental to you and your own wellbeing. This is where disowning of emotions and not tolerating painful emotions can actually lead to illness.

JOHN PETROZZI: Is this the same for positive emotions, as well – isn’t it? That you need to really be able to feel those—excitement, enjoyment, and happiness—because there’s two paths to all this, isn’t there?

SUZANA DEKANOVIC: Absolutely. But what you’ll find, John, is that people are usually better able at tolerating positive emotions. They don’t have any difficulty in experiencing those ones, but it’s usually the unpleasant emotions.

JOHN PETROZZI: It’s the unpleasant ones that keep you locked in the state of unchanging, I suppose.

SUZANA DEKANOVIC: Yeah, more often.

JOHN PETROZZI: So, what can we do?

SUZANA DEKANOVIC: Okay. I guess it’s really about getting to know your emotions. So, what I’d like to do is just briefly take you to a few steps that help you to tune into your body and, I guess, help you familiarize yourself with your emotions. I often do this as a practice or exercise with people, so I’ll just take you briefly through that.

The most important thing is to listen to your body and really pay attention to any basic sensations in your body, your stomach, your chest, your throat, and really pay attention to these. Ask yourself, “What is it like inside? What am I feeling in my body?” Identify and give direction and attention to any troublesome states or any emotions in your body in which you may be spending a lot of time but without actually recognising that you do.

So, just allow this emotion, be interested in it, and really allow yourself to feel it in your body. I mean, this is the thing that we don’t do.

JOHN PETROZZI: Suzana, is an example like, someone talks about, “Oh, gee, I feel so stressed, I feel really anxious, and I’ve got a tight ball inside my stomach”? A lot of people describe tight balls in their stomach or their heart feels constricted, or their shoulders are blocked and very, very stiff. Are these the sorts of feelings that we can identify?

SUZANA DEKANOVIC: Absolutely. But it’s really important to feel them as well and really stay with them.

JOSHUA HARPER: What do you mean “feel them”?


SUZANA DEKANOVIC:    “Feel them,” like, you know, when you experience an emotion, say, anxiety, for example. Josh, where would you experience it?

JOSHUA HARPER: Your chest, I guess.

SUZANA DEKANOVIC: Yeah. So, you need to attend to that feeling of that anxiety in your chest. For me, often, it’s tightening around my heart. What I notice myself doing very quickly is try to quickly do something, breathing to counteract that. But then, what I’ve learned to do is to actually first accept it. Just accept that it’s there; otherwise, I’m actually working against it.


SUZANA DEKANOVIC: So, accept it and then do the deep breathing. Deep breathing is kind of like forcing it out, but it does not work that way.

JOHN PETROZZI: For short-term relief, isn’t it?


JOSHUA HARPER: So, instead of thinking about something happy and getting rid of it, you actually experience it; otherwise, it will just come back later?

SUZANA DEKANOVIC: Yeah. Look, unless it’s something so traumatic that you just at this point don’t feel safe to actually face that emotion because of some trauma in the past, then, what you might want to do is just- for those people, it might be better to distract themselves to help them get through that situation. But they still need to be able to process that overtime.

We’re talking about just everyday emotions here. So, it’s about welcoming your feeling that you experience in that body and not judging it, not accepting it. I mean, I was in the city the other day, crossing the street and I noticed that tightening around the heart that I was telling you, and I became judgmental. I said, “Why am I doing this? Why is this coming on?” So, that was that resistance. Then, I caught myself and I thought, “Hang on. I feel a bit anxious. That’s okay. I’m not quite sure what it’s about right now but I accept this feeling.” It’s there and I really experienced it. Then, towards the end of the day, I was able to make sense of that.

Okay. So, when you welcome the feeling, name the feeling, put words to your feeling, identify how you’re feeling towards that emotion. Is it resistance? Is it curiosity? What is it? Are you feeling accepting or rejecting? Again, really accept it. Explore how this state feels for you. Notice any thoughts that you might have that accompany this state, and also, try to identify what specifically triggers this state. Maybe you might be able to explore the relation of this state to anything in the past, maybe not the first time, maybe the second time. Identify what this state is saying now.

The other thing again, is interact with this state and you might want to say something till it reacts and notice if anything changes in state. It’s really about cooperating with it instead of trying to control it. That’s what I try to do with that tightening around my heart. Initially, I try to control it but now that I became aware and just accepted it, that helped me to reduce the intensity of my anxiety.

JOHN PETROZZI: It’s funny, isn’t it? The way you’re speaking about these emotions is somewhat like you’re speaking about another person.

SUZANA DEKANOVIC: It is. So, what we’re doing is trying to externalise it because then, it’s easier to approach them. Yeah.

JOHN PETROZZI: I’ve learned a lot today, Josh.


JOHN PETROZZI: Thanks, Suzana.

JOSHUA HARPER: What are those specific things that you want us to take home from this lesson today, Suzana?

SUZANA DEKANOVIC: Your emotions can really serve a purpose and they can work for you if you’re willing to accept them. Remember, accepting doesn’t mean that you’re going to experience that your life is going to go a pear-shape. It just means that once you accept that emotion, once you accept that you’re better able to know how to problem-solve and once you can do that, and once you learn to do that time and time again, you become better able at coping with your life just generally, and then, more likely to have a much more fulfilling and purposeful life.


Well, we had Suzana Dekanovic in our studios today, speaking about emotions. Thank you for coming in, Suzana.

SUZANA DEKANOVIC: You’re welcome. Thank you. I love talking about this topic.

JOHN PETROZZI: Great! We’ll get you back in for sure.

JOSHUA HARPER: Come back soon.


JOSHUA HARPER: You’ve been listening to Living is Easy with John and Josh.

JOHN PETROZZI: I’m John Petrozzi.

JOSHUA HARPER: I’m Josh Harper.

JOHN PETROZZI: Until next time, stay well and stay happy.

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