People’s emotions are running a mock these days. We witness it daily with news stories of violent killings, sexual abuse and terrorist atrocities. On our roads, we see drivers filled with rage towards other road users. On social media, we read the outright condemnation of individuals in the comments section of a post. Also, in the workplace, we observe outbursts from coworkers as just something to tolerate as ‘collateral damage’. I too notice myself getting caught up in reactions to people or situations that trigger deep emotions within me.
I think our current culture is mostly to blame. We live in an age where expressing our feelings is paramount. We must speak up, voice our pain, share how we feel and let the emotions out. This paradigm harks back to the belief that within us all is innate goodness that we had as a child. It is our naturalness, our un-self-consciousness and our truth that is expressed mainly in our feelings and emotional reactions. Formerly, society has encouraged us to suppress this infant spontaneity with its ‘shoulds’ and ‘shouldn’ts’.
In the 21st century, we are invited to unblock our suppressed turmoil and set ourselves free from this overlay of Victorian judgement. We are told to stop questioning how we feel and get out of our heads and into our hearts, for only our logical mind is telling us our feelings are wrong. Now, in theory, is the time to express what is pent up within to get it out. We need to cry, breathe, vent our feelings and get back to that childhood innocence……Or do we?
I believe it is imperative that we learn how to master our negative emotions. Moreover, that does not mean expressing them in free fall to whoever is on the receiving end of them. We need to embrace techniques that help us manage our sentiments, so we are not suppressing them, not denying them, but are handling them in an adult way.
Here are some of the tools that I use for this:
- Be OK with your negative emotions. The reality is we all feel them from time to time. It is part of our human condition. We have to train ourselves primarily to be at ease with whatever we are feeling. It’s just energy moving through our mind. It passes. Stand back and observe it. When we can detach from our adverse reactions as if we were a fly on the wall watching them, we automatically reduce our identification with them. This, in turn, releases their hold over us, and we start the journey to freedom.
- Name the specific feeling. “There is anger”, “there is guilt”, “there is sadness”. Whatever the emotion is that you are observing, mentally note it. However, don’t go into a story about why you feel this way. It doesn’t help! By naming the feeling, you are engaging the logical part of your mind that will allow you to think your way out of the pain. If you need to do more to clear it, write it down, get every bit of how you are feeling out…then shred the paper, so it’s gone for good. Alternatively, talk to a trusted friend or counsellor intending to letting the feelings go.
- Recognise you are not this emotion or the proliferation of thoughts that accompany it. Within you is a place of calmness, clarity and freedom that is completely unaffected by this particular trigger. Take a full breath, quieten your mind and acknowledge this fact. Seek an alternative perspective on the issue. You are looking at it through a narrow lens with one view of the problem. However, there are many other views.
- Consider seeing the situation differently, perhaps from a blue sky perspective or in a longer time frame. Be willing to stretch your thinking to hold multiple perspectives. Express yourself from your calm, centred adult. If communication is necessary over the issue, deal with your emotions first, forgive if necessary, and then have a conversation with the perpetrator to move forward from the problem. However, be mindful: if all you are expressing when you are talking is your ego’s angst, is this sharing indeed of value or is it something you need to deal with yourself?
As the year goes by, be aware of how you manage your adverse reactions. Where do you sit on the spectrum of stuffing them down with addictive tendencies to letting your feelings rip completely uncontrolled?
Perhaps mastering your emotions is your new focus for the future?