Where do feelings come from?
Do they simply drop out of the sky and invade our minds? Is there some rampant toddler storming through our minds picking emotions off of a shelf and throwing them into play in our lives?
Feelings often seem to be just that random and uncontrollable. Emotions just… happen. Or do they?
Imagine for a moment that you and I are walking down the street together. Suddenly, seemingly out of the blue, I tackle you, knocking you to the ground! Your head is bleeding. You are dazed. How do you feel toward me? Angry? Surprised? Confused? Understandable reactions, right?
Now imagine the identical scene, however when you look up now, you see a piano falling where you were just walking. I saved your life. How do you feel about me now? Grateful? Probably still confused, but likely grateful.
In both scenarios, you are laying on the pavement with your head bleeding because I tackled you. However in one version, you are angry and in the other, grateful. What’s the difference?
The difference is your assessment of the situation. In scenario one, you assessed that I am some dangerous and likely insane perpetrator out to hurt you. In scenario two, I am someone who acting quickly to save your life. The way we think about situations – the way we assess things – dictates which set of chemical firings trigger in our brains and bodies, resulting in what we understand to be emotions.
These are not at all random. In fact, they are fierce and fast strings of logic. You feel what you feel for a reason! However, that reason is based on a lightening fast set of web-like connections that include memories that reach back as far as the formation of our minds.
There are times when it seems that our emotions are out to destroy our lives. We get furious over situations and say things we don’t intend to. We get scared and find ourselves powerless to move in important directions. We may believe that we have no control over these feelings. Some of us work very hard at stuffing our feelings down because we fear what we will do and say if we allow ourselves the space to feel our emotions. I’d like to suggest a healthier alternative.
We actually can control our emotions by carefully considering the assessments that led to our present emotions.
Imagine for a moment that your boss makes a comment that you receive as harsh and demeaning. Rage wells up inside. This is unjust! This is perhaps even illegal! Who does he think he is?? You want to scream, but you don’t want to lose your job. You storm off quickly in order to avoid career sabotage. You run to the restroom and lock yourself in a stall, fuming.
Left with only your original assessment of your boss’ comment, your sympathetic nervous system will continue to ratchet up your fury and add steam, raising your blood pressure and making it extremely difficult to think outside of the narrow band of anger you are experiencing. However, you needn’t get stuck in that place.
To manage differently, you have to implement a two part strategy: First control your body, then your thoughts. For instructions on controling your body and which part of your brain is active, first employ one of the strategies outlined here: http://www.mypeace.co/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Managing-Anxiety-and-Panic.pdf (These techniques are targeted at anxiety and panic, but the same rules apply for anger or any other overwhelming emotion.) Once you are actually back in your thinking brain, allow yourself to consider all of the possibilities of what is true in this situation:
Maybe my boss didn’t realize he was being offensive.
Maybe he’s having a bad day and is taking it out on me.
Maybe he’s just a jerk.
Maybe he has a mental condition that impairs his filters, leaving him saying whatever is on his mind without filter.
Maybe I heard him wrong.
Maybe what he said wasn’t so bad, but it triggered old stuff in me from the past.
None of these possibilities takes away from the fact that the boss’ comment was offensive. However, sitting now with a multitude of possibilities, your body chemistry is much more neutral, your thinking is much clearer and you are now free to think strategically through whether or not to address the incident and how. Even if after going through this exercise you still come to the same conclusion, you are now strong enough, centered enough and clear enough to respond wisely and effectively, rather than risking felonies, misdemeanors and job loss.
Do you find that emotions sometimes get in your way and thwart your goals? Let’s talk together about how I might be able to help. Just click on the Contact Tiffany tab and let’s talk. Let’s work together to move you from surviving to thriving!
“Surviving is important, but thriving is elegant.” – Maya Angelou