27 Jun Control Your Emotions
Before we start, let’s do a short assessment : how do you control your emotions? Choose your most common response from the list below:
A : I cry easily, even at something like a puppy on a TV-ad / If you press the wrong button, I will snap in a fit of rage.
B : People often say I’m quite emotional.
C : I’m not afraid of crying when I’m upset, but I can ‘hold it in’ if it’s necessary.
D : I don’t give my feelings away very easily.
E : I’m a born poker-face: people hardly ever know what I’m really feeling.
We all differ in how we feel, and how we express these feelings. However, none of us are simply an “A” or a “D”. We can develop and grow to both sides of the spectrum.
The phrase ‘I am emotional’ is often used as a negative: those who can’t control / hide their feelings are seen as unstable or weak. But there is a lot more to feelings than simply controlling them: many relationships actually crumble because partners cannot express their feelings.
In our previous post, we touched on different skills when it comes to how we handle & steer our feelings. Today, we’ll explore one of these : control.
Controlling your feelings can kill you
Try this: take a rubber band, and stretch it to juuuuust before the point of snapping. How close can you get? A liiiiittle more….just a liiitllle…SNAP! Your feelings work in a similar way: the minute your partner sends you that sarcastic text, you feel your cheek-bones tightening. You reply in kind. He’s quiet. You get even more angry. Your heart starts racing, and you feel your face getting warmer. PAUSE.
All your feelings live and breathe inside your body: when you feel angry, your blood-pressure goes up, your heart starts racing, and you release stress-hormones. Not dealing with your anger in an appropriate way, means that your muscles get more tense, your stress-hormones build up, and they start damaging your organs. A study conducted in Harvard, show that your risk for death from heart-disease and cancers can increase if you suppress your emotions.
“So, should I just snap and scream to let it out?”
Of course not. If anger doesn’t hurt your body, it can hurt your relationships.
Let’s use another example : A carbonated drink. If you shake the bottle, gas is released, and the pressure in the bottle builds up. This pressure can be released in two ways : in a controlled, helpful way, or suddenly with a BANG!
Expressing your feelings in a controlled way
There is no ideal way to control your emotions. It all depends on the context. When you are in a boardroom, you need to stay composed, but when you get home, your partner wants to see your joy in the corner of your eyes and the creases of your smile. Sharing and withholding emotions is a dance which goes beyond your personality. It requires skill.
A few techniques
Going back to assessment, you can match your response to the different exercises below, to develop your emotional control / express capacity.
A or B:
The up-side of emotionality, is that people often know where they stand with you. People may trust you more easily, and they feel comfortable to be vulnerable towards you. But it you may also have a hard time in hard business transactions. It’s possible that you try to avoid conflict situations, because you might ‘lose control’.
What to do:
Mindfulness meditation is a practice that has been trending in the last couple of years. More people are recognising the importance of getting in touch with their feelings ‘in the moment’. Learning the techniques of deep breathing, observing your feelings, and simply ‘holding the space’ can help you to not ‘lose control’. It can be compared to making a rubber-band more flexible.
This is a great, healthy space to be in! If the work you do, and the relationships you are in, offer you the space to be emotionally expressive, but also employ your powers of control, you are in a fantastic environment.
However, none of us are in this space all the time. You may be in great control of your life at the moment, but when a traumatic event happens, you can be pushed to one of the two extremes. If you think back to the worst events of your life, try to remember what your default response was: did you close up, or lose control? Match that response to the answers in the assessment, and practice the skill associated with it.
It can make a world of difference the next time you face a very difficult situation.
D or E:
People that don’t give away their emotions are often admired in the business-world. They are seen as being stronger, able to handle more pressure, or deal with very challenging situations. The down-side is that, if you cannot express your emotions well, your loves ones may not feel as close to you as they would like. Worst-case scenario, the continual internal emotional anxiety / anger / sadness / stress can negatively affect your physical health.
What to do:
Expressing your emotions can be a difficult exercise. It starts with recognising the feelings in your body, and finding a safe environment to reveal them. One helpful tool, is reflective journaling:
Step 1: The Data
Begin by describing the practical and physical data i.e. the facts/ the event/ what happened/ what you were doing/ what you observed or heard. Describe the experience in a factual way and stay with observable phenomena. Do not make judgements or assumptions, draw conclusions or attempt to analyse the facts in any way e.g.
“I waited for you for an hour….”
“I interviewed a patient who had TB……..”
“I participated in a discussion about….”
“I failed an assignment…”
“I had an argument with X about…”
Step 2: The Feelings
Describe your feelings in response to the behaviour/ event/ experience in as much detail as possible, using “I” statements and staying with the emotional response e.g.
I felt mad/ sad/ bad/ glad/ afra(i)d…..or any variation of those e.g. confused/ ashamed/ guilty/ frustrated/ excited/ happy/ surprised…
Step 3: Sharing
Finding someone you trust – your coach, partner, or close friend – read these to them. Ask their input: do they think there are emotions you are not volunteering, or events that you are ‘disconnected’ from. Ask them to tell you if there are any feelings they would feel in similar situations, and write these down. Then, review your notes, and ask yourself:
“Do I – on some level – feel these other emotions as well?” and explore possible reasons why or why not.
If you need a bit more guidance in these exercises, or think you can benefit from emotional training-course, give us a call.