I love how children are very raw about their feelings. Their feelings are on their sleeves. When they are sad or their feelings are hurt, the tears flow immediately. If they are happy they exclaim their glee with a fervor that make most adults smile with amusement. Why are adults so amused by this? Well, you see, adults have learned a skill that children haven’t yet mastered. We have learned how to suppress our emotions.
Adults know how to keep a happy face when we are sad, and how to contain our excitement when we are happy. Possibly this is why men love football games; it’s a socially acceptable place to jump up and down and yell with excitement. My husband sometimes goes hoarse after a good game. Why? It’s his chance to let it all out! Typically, the rest of the time we tend to keep our emotions in check.
On the other hand, some of us give our emotions too much credit and we do what therapists call “Emotional Reasoning.” If we feel angry, then something horrible must have just happened. If we are weepy then someone must have hurt our feelings, and so we lash out at the people around us. With further examination, we may realize that we are just disappointed and our reaction was an excessive response to the nature of the situation. Much harm can be caused when we allow our emotions to get the best of us. We may lash out, do something impulsively, falsely accuse someone, or even become suicidal.
What then do we do with our emotions? Can we trust them? Should we suppress them? Should we give them full vent and worry about the consequences later?
Learning to temper our emotions is possible and important. When you have a strong emotion, first ask yourself “what is the emotion I am feeling?” then “What triggered this feeling? Or why am I feeling this way?” Do all of this before you react impulsively. Give yourself a mini “time out” to reflect on your emotion and then decide deliberately how to express how you feel in a calm and assertive manner.
“Our emotions tell us important things, and when we are aware of them, we are able to use them to understand ourselves more. We learn what upsets us, what interests us, and what makes us feel sad” (p. 53, The Journey Out). Our emotions are powerful. We can experience a wide range of emotions such as elation, fury, or even deep sadness. Emotions release powerful neuro-chemicals into our body. They are so strong that they often override our logic.
At first we may look back after we have reacted and wonder how we got to that point. Then, as you practice tuning into your emotions, you can begin to catch yourself prior to your impulsive reaction. When we understand ourselves better we realize that we have more choices in how we respond to emotional situations. We don’t have to react on first impulse. Stop, tune into your emotions, and then decide how you will respond. Take a break if you need to. There is no rush.
The next step is learning to be assertive rather than passive or aggressive. When you are passive, you may be an emotional stuffer. In that case your feelings may surface in a form of depression or periodic rages. People can only contain strong emotions for so long before we need some form of an outlet. For some, it comes in the form of an addiction to self-medicate. If you are aggressive, then you may plow over everyone around you without consideration for his or her feelings. Your needs are central so you forget to be sensitive to others. Everyone knows what you think and how you feel.
Healthier communication involves learning assertiveness. In order to be assertive, it is important to use calm and direct communication. This sentence structure can be helpful; “I feel hurt because you didn’t wait for me.” Or “When we were late, I felt frustrated because I wanted to be there on time.” This form of communication is better than “You always make us late!”
Avoid using “You always (or never)” statements. This puts the other person on the defensive and often will lead to an argument. If someone confronts you then try to listen to what they have to say. Paraphrase what you hear them say and then respond with a calm, assertive response. This way you are more likely to resolve your differences rather than just be mad at each other.
For now, practice tuning into your emotions. Expand your feeling vocabulary. Basic feelings are; Mad, Sad, and Glad. See if you can go beyond that as you learn to tune into your emotional world a little bit more. Then begin to practice assertive communication. Good communication comes with practice.