We all experience different emotions everyday. We have also felt these emotions controlling us. We have acted impulsively, only to regret it later or felt disconnected with our emotions and numb emotionally. These all can be indicators that we need to work on our emotional balance. To understand this better, we need to gain insight into how emotions work and learn strategies to manage overwhelming feelings, especially during turbulent times.
Difficult situations derail us. It is in the difficult situations that we want to get off the “emotional rollercoaster”, even out our extreme mood swings and bring some emotional balance.
Emotions are inevitable – we constantly feel a range of emotions in life all the time. Plethora of emotions like stress, fatigue, sadness, anger, anxiety is what makes us human. Emotions make us who we are, and are not generally spoken of, but impact the overall quality of our life, our whole being. How we handle the emotions differentiates us from each other. They also play a crucial role in decision making. While there are lot of rational thoughts, our decisions unconsciously come from our feelings.
Emotions are a fool-proof guidance system. Through evolution, humans have been designed to feel emotions. Every single emotion gives us a message, allows us to move forward in life. If I am feeling angry, it is a huge message for me that something is not right. If I am feeling fear, I know there is some part of me that is feeling threatened at the moment. If I am content, it’s a clear indication that I am at peace at the moment. If I am feeling joy, then I know that I’m aligned with who I am as a person. Through our life experiences, we consider some emotions acceptable, and some unacceptable.
3 Primary Unacceptable Emotions –
Now we all experience these always disabling emotions, the only difference being that we access all these emotions differently. For example, in any kind of difficult or tough situation, I personally feel angry easily, and then perhaps sad, but I normally don’t feel fear as quick. The reason behind this is that I have been raised in an environment where expression of anger was acceptable, but to have fear, or to not have the courage to handle perhaps was not so acceptable. And hence, I judge myself for feeling fear. Fear for me is being weak. Even when I am feeling fearful, the expression that will come out would be anger as I will cover my feeling of fear with it; remember, for me – FEAR is not an expression that I can easily accept. And there is nothing wrong or right here because we all feel these emotions constantly but not with the same intensity. We tend to access one emotion more than the other easily because of the way we have been brought up or learnt life. Required is to identify our dominant emotion.
We also judge & reject others, when they feel those ‘unacceptable’ emotions. Now if I encounter a person who is feeling fear in a situation, I immediately will label him/her as a weak person in mind and thus would have a limited scope to understand what the person is going through. And all this happens at a very unconscious or subconscious level. The question arises, why do we reject an emotion? The answer lies in the simple fact that during our growing up years, we might have either seen this happening around us or been punished, reprimanded for feeling this emotion and hence learnt it as part of acquired behavior.
Then, we are unable to leverage the full intelligence of our emotional system. Emotionally intelligent people are those who understand the whole range of emotions that they are experiencing at any point of time. Each emotion has a different function & gives a different message. The problem is not in experiencing the emotion, that’s absolutely natural. The actual problem is what we do with these emotions. It’s fine to feel angry or sad, but what we do with the emotions becomes crucial. The beauty is that if we do not experience emotions, we won’t be human.
3 dysfunctional/unhealthy ways of dealing with emotions –
- Deny – We tend to deny that the emotion exists. If I feel angry and say that I’m not, I’m denying that emotion. It’s like a guest knocking on your door who you won’t let in.
- Suppress – Bottling up the emotions. We feel the emotion in complete intensity but since expressing it is “not OK”, we push it down and suppress it. We need to understand that anything we push down, will eventually surface with greater intensity at some point.
- Express it inappropriately – Pressure cooker syndrome; we keep denying the emotion, push it down, accumulate it till it explodes and lands on people in our surrounding, spoiling our relations. Our emotions are our own responsibility and if it hurts or damages other people, it is absolutely not acceptable. For example, if I am upset or angry with my boss and can’t take it out on him, I’d take it out on people who I have control over like my subordinates, my peers or at home. Psychology terms it as a displacement.
The first step toward any kind of change is acknowledging or becoming aware of our predominant style of functioning and the moment we acknowledge or are consciously aware of it, is the beginning of change.
3 techniques to easily navigate difficult emotions –
- EMOTIONAL ACCEPTANCE – The important thing here is to recognize, notice the emotion, stay in the moment and accept the emotion. Every emotion is experienced for a reason and knocks at our door to get our attention. If we deny it, do not attend to it, suppress it, it will keep on trying, keep on resurfacing until we pay attention. The moment we acknowledge and accept the emotion, its intensity reduces by itself. We must name the emotion. For example, I say: “I feel left out and insecure because I was not invited to the party, but my friends were.” It would help to view the emotions as understandable, hence, I might think: “No wonder I feel left out — it’s natural to feel that way in this situation.” Treating ourselves kindly and understandingly given the way we feel helps us accept our emotions as reasonable, and assures that it’s OK to feel whatever way we feel. Emotional Acceptance means acknowledging the feeling or the emotion but not getting overwhelmed by it.
- EMOTIONAL TOLERANCE – Something in the external world triggers it, and we feel the splurge of emotions inside us, and without knowing we have an impulsive, spontaneous reaction to the situation. When the intensity of the emotions is gone, we often realize that we shouldn’t have reacted the way we did. The intensity with which we feel the emotion might change tomorrow, but what we do, how we react out of that emotion is permanent and can leave scars on our relations forever. What we need to remember is to avoid this impulsive reaction, tolerate the emotion and not react to it. What is in my control is my reaction, not the trigger. Our ability to stay with the overwhelming, disabling or uncomfortable emotion till the intensity of the emotion goes down is called as Emotional Tolerance.
- EMOTIONAL RESOLUTION – Our feelings never come from circumstances or people. Our feelings come from our thoughts. For example – I am not feeling UPSET because my boss yelled at me, I am feeling UPSET because I feel he is yelling at me as he does not respect and value me. The words that we attach to the feeling when a situation occurs is what troubles us. We are constant meaning-making machines. We attach meanings to almost everything that we experience. Does it means giving meaning is wrong? Maybe not but think about the price that we pay at the end of the day by reacting to these meanings.
Managing emotional reactions means choosing how and when to express the emotions we feel. People who do a good job of managing emotions know that it’s healthy to express their feelings — but it also matters how and when they express them. That’s how they’re able to react to situations in productive ways. We always have a choice about how to react to situations. It’s easier to make choices that work out well. Learning to react well takes practice, but we can get better at taking emotional situations in stride and expressing emotions in healthy ways. The power to handle it is within us; to change our emotions and feelings attached to it. Initially, we might not be able to handle situations 100% effectively, but even if out of 10, we are able to handle 1 or 2, think about how much we are able to achieve in terms of peace – within us and around us!
“Managing your emotions doesn’t mean you don’t express yourself,
it means you stop short of hurting others and sabotaging yourself”
~ Sue Fitzmaurice