Our societies unfortunately don’t provide education on how to manage our emotional states. Yet, we cannot escape them, they are a part of our humanity and can, in my opinion, cause many direct and indirect problems when they are repressed or not handled well. Some people see emotions as a hindrance, a threat and something they don’t feel at ease with, while others try to deny their existence, because they feel inadequate or helpless when they erupt. Efforts to repress or deny emotions are fruitless; emotions are, like thoughts or physical sensations, part of our nature. Instead of ignoring and suppressing their existence or, on the other hand, acting upon them without restraint, we can learn how to manage them appropriately.
1. Decipher the message: why do you really feel the way you do
Each day, there are many occasions that will evoke various emotions. You felt angry with your friend, sad because of your partner, desperate as your manager discounted your ideas. If you move beyond the feeling part, you can try to understand the message the emotions are sending to you—why this specific situation triggered this precise emotion.
To get to the message, you need to dismantle the interaction or situation into segments and find the moment when your emotion appeared. The next essential step is to understand how you interpreted the situation so that this particular emotion was evoked. We all have potentially different responses to the same situation, because each person is unique with their own background and influential experiences.
You can be dismissive or rejecting of own emotions and think you exaggerated or shouldn’t have felt like you did. Yet, after introspecting and analyzing when you started to feel a certain emotion and what aspect of the situation is related to it, you will discover that your emotions have their sense: they are not unimportant, illogical or stupid, but are rather an inherent part of who you are.
The emotions are like a door into your interior world and are there to communicate to you important things. They speak about your needs, expectations, beliefs, values, interpersonal dynamics, hopes, fears, current life situation, past experiences, etc. Unveiling their message will help you discover aspects of yourself that you might not have been in touch with. Even when your feelings are very painful and all you want to do is to bury them or distract yourself, you have an excellent opportunity to better comprehend your “suffering” part. Approach your hurt with empathy, curiosity and acceptance and your anguish will be soothed. Negative emotions tend to lose their intensity and transform into neutral or positive when we just allow them to be and have an empathic, caring and nurturing attitude toward oneself.
2. Manage your emotions in a manner that facilitates your well-being and builds relationships
To feel emotions takes energy and concentration and is sometimes not an easy thing. Yet, how we handle them and what our reaction is towards them determines whether we will aggravate the situation further. However, despite many years of habitual and maladaptive responding, we can undo this conditioning and alter the way we manage them. Unproductive reactions can be self-harmful and are destructive for interpersonal relations. Fortunately, we can modify them.
2.1 Ineffective and destructive modes of managing emotions
a) Acting-out (usually anger related feelings)
Acting out means you have lost control over your internal tension produced by the emotions and you have expressed it in a counterproductive way. Your reactions can span from being irritable, disrespectful and offensive to verbal and physical aggression. They can also involve displacement, which means you have lashed out at the person who didn’t trigger it. One should refrain from acting-out as much as possible, contain the internal tension and feel the emotions without spilling them out on others. Physical activities, sport and relaxation techniques are useful outlets to vent out of our system the strong energy caused by anger-related emotions.
b) Projecting emotions onto others
You don’t recognize how you feel and so think it is the other person (with whom you are in the interaction) that feels this way. Thus, you don’t take responsibility and ownership for your emotions. Doing so would be an essential first step in emotion management.
It indicates that you are pushing feelings out of awareness, since you feel they are too painful, disruptive or you don’t want to accept them. However, the reality is that emotions are a form of energy, so they cannot vanish, no matter how much you try. They will find a way to be expressed, either through physical symptoms or increased anxiety. What is worse is that they will later erupt completely unexpectedly and inadequately, ruining your interactions.
d) Fearing emotions
Emotions are a part of our functioning; we cannot not have them. We might fear them because we feel overwhelmed, vulnerable and out of control. Yet, the more we resist feeling them, the more we are prolonging their effect and increase their intensity. Besides, we will become overly vigilant and anxious over every little sign of the emotion. Fear can be spread also to bodily sensations, since they are a physical manifestation of the emotions and which, as studies show, appear before we feel and identify the emotion. Those who are afraid of their emotions might therefore be also afraid of their bodily sensations and consequently avoid getting in touch with both.
2.2. You don’t need to be the victim of your emotions nor their perpetrators: mastering emotional states
Acceptance means that you allow yourself to feel whatever it is that you are feeling. You are receptive and accepting, you make no judgments. You are not ashamed of any emotion, they are all human; we all feel the whole rainbow of emotional experience and that is why we are all similar deep inside. Feeling is not an action; you cannot hurt somebody with it. It is an internal state that is changing with each passing moment. You may feel very intensely at this moment, but after the peak of the emotion is reached, it will decline and fade out. You can sustain them and let them be, while you continue living and doing things. Being embraced with love and acceptance, they will naturally transform: hurt into compassion and gratitude, fear into security, hate into acceptance…each emotion will find its other pole.
> Containing the emotions
We are responsible for keeping emotions in a form that is not destructive for others. I can be angry and verbalize it, but yelling, being verbally disrespectful or throwing things is not a conduct that will benefit us or others. Without a question, it will make things much worse, and in one way or another we will get back what we sent out. Feel the emotions inside you, withdraw from contact when you feel it’s too intense and there is a danger of acting out. Find productive ways of using the energy of the emotions: you can hit your pillow or scream alone in the room, do sport or other physical activities. The chosen activity depends on the type of emotion.
> Feeling emotions means managing them
Saying yes to feeling gives you back power and control, even though it may sound illogical and seem like it would lead to losing control. But in fact, you can impact the process and facilitate it: the more you stay with emotions, the sooner they will diminish and transform. Take responsibility for what you feel and don’t act your feelings out on others. Be self-empathic and nurturing and your own ally. Ask yourself: what do I need in this moment when I feel a certain emotion, how can I help soothe myself? Do I need to be alone, share and reach out, change my focus, or intensify the process though crying, writing down what I feel, listening to music…In any case, don’t forget about living and doing pleasurable things in the here and now. The feeling part can stay in the background; what is essential is to let it be, until it’s needed.
The key word accompanying the feeling process is internal security: we need to build the inner sense of security which will help us embrace our emotions. Our most profound fears linked to security are: to lose control, be too vulnerable and “go crazy” due to allowing ourselves to be impacted by our emotions. These fears can convert into strong beliefs that we should not be emotional or that emotions are dangerous. If you can identify yourself with having those beliefs, you might hate, suppress, fear, project or reject own emotions. Once you will modify these undermining beliefs, your thinking will shift positively: you will perceive the emotions as a normal part of your functioning and take them as a precious communicator of your internal world of needs, expectations, hopes, fears, etc. You will also have the confidence to be able to handle them constructively without going nuts and hurting yourself or others.