Are You Caught in an Emotional Web?

Do you ever feel like you’re “stuck” in a situation or mindset? When you get stuck it is often because you are off balance in one of the five domains in which you exist as a human being: Intellectual, Emotional, Physical, Spiritual, or Interpersonal.

Intellectual – Human beings are the only species on the planet that can Time Travel. How often do you spend time re-living / fretting / obsessing / savoring about your Past? And how much time do you spend worrying / dreaming / fantasizing / creating your Future? If you are stuck in a story about another time, you may find it quite challenging to live, work, and make decisions in the Present.

Emotional – When you get stuck it’s usually because the story you’re telling yourself about the Past/Future or Present evokes a strong emotion. You are always in some emotional state, of course, but the stronger the emotion, the farther you are from the place of rational calm where decisions are easier.

Think of your emotions as being spread out in a web around you (see figure). Each emotional “family” exists on a strand of intensity. As a very simple example, on the Anger strand Irritation is a fairly mild emotion. Frustration is a notch higher, Anger more intense, and at Rage one can spiral totally out of control. The Fear strand might start with low-level worry, escalating to the unreasoning state of Panic. The farther one moves from the center, the more intense the experience – and the more difficult it can be to make rational decisions. Yes, this is true even of the more positive emotions, as you can see from the Love strand.

Think of a spider and their web. Notice spiders always sit in the center of their web. Why? Because that is the strongest place.The farther out on a strand they go, the more vulnerable they become. The best path to any part of the web always runs THROUGH the center.

Physical – When you feel off balance in your body it is a literal experience, e.g. when you lean too far, sit in an awkward position, breathe very high in your body, or exceed your physical limitations (like climbing stairs or running too fast). Your intellectual story and the emotional response that goes with it can also affect your breathing and pulse rate in negative ways.

Spiritual – Imbalance in this domain occurs when you notice a break in the connection between you and the rest of the Universe. It‘s not about religion; whether you are a Catholic, Muslim, agnostic, or tree-worshipper, your system craves to feel loved and legitimate in the world. When that is missing, you can feel groundless and unable to act.

Interpersonal – You get stuck around interpersonal issues when it‘s about them, them, them. Most relationship problems are rooted not in the other person, but in the thought you have that “they” should change or be different. The more you hold that story (“why can’t THEY change?”) the more out of balance and stressed you feel, because you are essentially making yourself a Victim.

To Get Unstuck, Come Back To Center

A common effect across all five domains is this: the farther you are from your Center, the more likely you will feel stuck, unbalanced, disconnected, or out of control. So let’s explore the nature of Center.

Your Intellectual center is Now. When you come back from time traveling to be fully Present, you are at your most powerful.

Emotional WebYour Emotional center is calm, or Choice. From Calm, you can make better decisions and choose which emotional state will serve you best.

Your Physical center is your solar plexus, just below your navel. The Vitruvian Man (see illustration) demonstrates this. When you shift from autopilot into awareness of your body, you ground yourself in the Here and now.

Your Spiritual center is Self-Acceptance, the place where you can say, “I am.” I am, I accept myself with no conditions. I am loved. I have legitimacy, I have the right to exist.

Your Interpersonal center is also You. In any interaction, you are 50% of the conversation… and you are only 50%. So if there’s anything going on in a relationship, what can you control? You – your story, your beliefs, and your attitude toward the other person(s).

I/It versus I/Thou

When your attitude is “I/It,” your relationship to others is transactional, where every conversation is more or less about what you can get out of it. When you hold an “I/Thou” mindset, you hold others in a place of respect that acknowledges their sacredness or legitimacy, where your conversation is, “I am legitimate and you also are legitimate and deserve respect.” An I/Thou mindset pulls you out of victimhood and into Strength. You access I/Thou when you are fully present in your body.

So these are your five centers – Now, Calm (or Choice), Here, I am, I/Thou.

Exercise: Accessing Your Five Centers

I invite you to engage in an exercise that will demonstrate how, in just a few seconds, you can access all Five Centers simultaneously.

To begin, sit back in your seat and place your feet flat on the floor. Become aware of your breath as it enters and leaves your body. As you focus, consciously shift to breathing in and out through your nose.

Feel the rush of air as it races through your sinus cavities. Know that your sinus cavities are just below the part of brain that controls your emotions, the amygdala. From a neurobiological perspective, when you take in a long, deep breath through your nose you send cool air across the surface of the amygdala, thus cooling it and decreasing blood flow – which automatically calms whatever emotional state you’re experiencing. (For those who do yoga, this is the Ujayi breath – Very powerful).

Next, move your attention to where your breath goes inside your body. Consciously move your breath deeper into your body, until you can feel it coming all the way down to your physical center, your solar plexus. (To aid in this, you might place a hand on your belly just below your navel).

Now let’s just take a long, deep breath together. Take the breath in through your nose. And notice how in this one moment, this is all you are thinking about. Notice how that deep breath evokes calm. You are fully present in your own body.

You are, in this moment, aligned in your Five Centers. Now. Calm. Here. I am. I/Thou.

Pretty cool, huh? Just from breathing…

I invite you to take one more deep breath, and remember how easy it is to pull yourself back from the rest of the universe and center yourself in Mind, Heart, Body, Spirit, Relationships.

One breath: Now, calm, Here, I am, I/Thou.

Remember, you are what you repeatedly do. If this exercise resonates for you, practice it daily. In time, your entire system will know what to do when you are under stress: Just breathe!


Jim Smith, PCC, is The Executive Happiness Coach®. He is an international speaker, executive and life coach, and author. He provides his clients with inspiration and practical tools to live a happier life and build more positive work cultures. He is the author of Happiness At The Speed of Life: 13 Powerful Strategies for Finding Happiness at Home and On The Job, and has touched the lives of over 10,000 people worldwide through his work on Positive Emotion and Leadership. You can connect with Jim at

Living Happiness Principle #13, Be Authentic becomes much easier when you are coming from your Five Centers – and you’re far more likely to be there if you follow the other 12 Principles. Why not post a copy of the original 13 Principles on your workstation wall or on your refrigerator? You can download a 1-page summary here: Choose Happiness.