Overreact? Displace anger? Jump on a loved one who does not deserve it? Emotions can take over in the heat of a moment. We are human!
Unfortunately many times we realize our behavior has hurt someone or caused significant damage to a relationship once it is too late. It is easy to press “send” on that email without thinking, or place unwarranted blame onto a friend or colleague.
Letting our emotions get the best of us is detrimental. Ignoring emotions is not healthy either as they help us navigate the world. With these tips from author of Blamestorming: Why Conversations Go Wrong and How to Fix Them, Rob Kendall, our emotions can be managed well, not avoided:
We cannot turn emotions on and off like a tap. They will come and go whether we like it or not. Once this is clear in your mind, we can stop waiting for unwanted emotions to go away. The idea that we can banish them is unhelpful and doesn’t hold up to scrutiny; they are part-and-parcel of the human experience. Besides, the more we strive to live according to our values and commitments, the more our emotions will rise up to challenge us.
Emotions aren’t positive or negative. The human brain is wired to categorize things as positive or negative, and is particularly alert to threats. As humans developed language, we employed the same process of classification to our internal state, including our emotions. Thus we see joy as positive, and therefore welcome, and fear as negative and unwelcome. However, on the basis that ‘what we resist persists’, suppressing emotions that we perceive to be negative only tightens their grip. So what’s the alternative? If we can experience the full range of human emotions without attaching positive and negative labels to them, the result can be hugely liberating. For example: Dame Judi Dench, who has won one Oscar, two Golden Globes and 10 BAFTA awards. She says that the more she acts the more frightened she becomes. In contrast to actors waiting for the day when they’ll overcome their fear, she treats it as a companion rather than an enemy. She makes no attempt to resist it, and therefore it doesn’t define her.
You are not your emotions. Emotions are, by their very nature, strong. However, it’s important to get clear that you are not your emotions. You are a person with values and commitments who happens to have emotions that are triggered on a regular and ongoing basis. This point might seem semantic, but it isn’t. When we become fused to our emotions – thinking that ‘they’ and ‘we’ are one and the same thing – we are effectively hijacked by them. If you can notice emotions without becoming them, they no longer determine your behavior.
We always have a choice. A thought or feeling in itself doesn’t prevent you from taking any action. It’s easy to think, ‘I’m frightened and can’t speak’, but this is a trick of the mind. It would be more accurate and authentic to say, ‘I’m frightened and I’m choosing not to speak.’ Being able to observe our emotions – even when they feel overwhelmingly powerful – creates a space in which we can reference our commitments and values. While we cannot always choose our emotions, we can choose our response to them. This gets to the heart of responsibility, and responsibility is probably the closest thing to a superpower that human beings possess.
“Feelings are much like waves. We can’t stop them from coming, but we can choose which ones to surf.” – Jonatan Martinsson