Has anyone ever called you “emotional”? As a passionate, opinionated young woman, it was definitely a word I heard often. Have you worked with someone who lets their emotions overwhelm them? The tone of their voice, the adjectives and qualifiers they use, the way they hold their body, all play into communicating that emotion to everyone around them. It is hard enough to deal with our own emotions. Who wants to be submerged by someone else’s emotions?
Emotions serve a purpose
Having emotions is human. Negative emotions serve a purpose. They send us a signal that something is wrong. Anger, fear, intense frustration can all send us back to our lizard brain. That’s the brain stem which is responsible for primitive survival instincts.1 That’s what triggers “fight or flight” reactions. Or paralysis, like a rabbit caught in your car headlights, frozen in the middle of the road. When you are in your lizard brain, your options are limited – fight, flight, freeze. It’s crucial to get back to your limbic brain as quickly as you can (unless you are actually in danger!).
Mastering your emotions is not about refusing to acknowledge negative emotions and “forcing” ourselves to feel positive. It’s about recognizing that your emotions are trying to tell you something and focusing on the real problem to solve. To master your emotions, you need to understand them. Abraham Hicks created what is called the Emotional Guidance Scale. It is a comprehensive view of negative and positive emotions and the escalation of them.
Step one – notice your emotion
If you are following my blogs, you’ll see a trend. Step one in every process is awareness. When you are in the throes of emotion, recognizing that you are is the first step towards mastering it. Now you need to identify which emotion specifically you are feeling. You may be feeling more than one! Hicks’ scale is a great reference to help work through which emotions you are feeling.
Why am I feeling this way?
The next step is analyzing the why. Remember, emotions serve a purpose. What are your emotions telling you? Anthony Robbins walks through 10 “action signals” for negative emotions in one of my favorite books, “Awaken the Giant Within”. I will draw on his perspective below for some of the examples. Differentiating fact from opinion and being aware of when you are speculating is key to disarming many negative emotions. It’s good to start your analysis with a review of both the facts and the opinions that are at play. Asking yourself questions is the best way to get out of the lizard brain mentioned above.
Let’s start with frustration. It’s one of the most common emotions I have dealt with in both my personal and professional life. Type “A” people experience frustration a lot. Why? Because the signal behind frustration is “this could be better”.2 Careful because it may also be “this should be better”. The standards you set and expectations you have in the situation both impact this emotion. Our brains are telling us that there is a possible solution, but we just haven’t figured it out. A few questions I make sure to ask myself as I am thinking through the source of my frustration are :
What is within my control?
Are my expectations realistic?
What do my standards of success look like compared to others’?
As we spiral down, we come next to overwhelm. Overwhelm signals a need to prioritize and evaluate the current path.3 Here’s another one which is extremely common, especially if you are trying to “have it all”. When we are trying to do everything, be everything, there can be demands from all sides which can be paralyzing. If you are feeling overwhelmed, it’s time to think through your priorities and your expectations on when things need to be done. Ask yourself :
What am I trying to accomplish?
What are the things I need to do vs the things I think I should do vs the things I want to do?
What is my order of priority?
What is the timeframe that things need to get done vs my own expectations?
Let’s go down a little further to blame. Blame makes up 2 of the 10 negative thinking patterns I shared in my Breaking negative thinking patterns blog. Blame signals that something is wrong. Often it means you are looking for someone to make it right. The two extremes of blame are self-blame (taking on the responsibility for everything) and refusing personal responsibility (taking zero responsibility). Here are a few questions you can ask yourself when you are feeling the need to blame:
What is my personal responsibility in this?
What are the facts about the situation?
What role did other people play in this?
Am I being extreme in assigning blame – one direction or the other?
Moving down to more extreme emotions, let’s talk about anger. Anger signals something that goes against our morals or standards, something that seems unjust.4 If you set your standards very high, for yourself or others, you may often feel angry (and frustrated!). In addition, we often read into situations and speculate about what others’ motivations were. Here are some questions to ask:
How are my opinions impacting this situation?
Is what I am angry about real or am I speculating in some way?
Are my expectations realistic?
What is within my control?
Let’s finish up with the most extreme of the emotions – fear. Fear signals danger, imminent threat. Fear tells us there is something we need to prepare for.5 There are obviously varying degrees of fear but the key to disarming fear is to identify the danger or threat and know what your options are. Some questions which can help:
Specifically, what am I afraid of?
Are there any negative thinking patterns impacting this emotion?
What are my options for dealing with this?
Don’t let your emotions run away with you. Leverage the Managing Your Emotions Workbook to start taking control today. If you’d like to get help with the process, contact me for a free coaching discovery session!
1 Psychologytoday.com Joseph Troncale MD “Your Lizard Brain” https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/where-addiction-meets-your-brain/201404/your-lizard-brain
2 Awaken the Giant Within, Anthony Robbins, Chapter 11
3 Awaken the Giant Within, Anthony Robbins, Chapter 11
4 Awaken the Giant Within, Anthony Robbins, Chapter 11
5 Awaken the Giant Within, Anthony Robbins, Chapter 11