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5 Steps To Let Your Negative Emotions Out

5 Steps To Let Your Negative Emotions Out

Emotions can be a veritable minefield, they can be our greatest friend or our worst enemy. Some have a way of sneaking up on you when you least expect it whilst others like to mark out a comfortable spot in your psyche and settle in for the long haul.

If we are talking about positive emotions such as joy or excitement we tend to welcome them in with open arms and an open ended invite. Yet if these emotions fall on the negative side such as anxiety or anger they are firmly told their name isn’t on the list and they’re not getting in. The problem with this approach is that it’s impossible to shut out negative emotions yet ride off into the sunset with the positive ones, they just cannot be cherry-picked.

These negative nasties are part of our emotional make-up. You can’t outrun then and you can’t hide from them. Instead of being held hostage at their mercy each time they appear perhaps a shift in perspective is needed. In trying to understand their purpose and learn how to release them in a healthy way we can develop a better relationship with them so that they show up as overnight guests instead of moving in for good.

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Changing our emotional behavior is never easy but these 5 steps might help to show how we can learn to release negative emotions in an emotionally safe way:

1. Feel The Feelings

Have you ever noticed how young children deal with their wild array of emotions? They simply abandon whatever they’re in the middle of and let the emotion pass through them. Whilst it might not look like an emotionally mature reaction to sit down in the middle of Target and wail at the top of their lungs this is actually where kids have one over us. They instinctually feel their feelings. The interesting part about this is that it’s usually a very quick process (yet probably feels like a lifetime to most parents).

I’ve yet to meet a 6 year old harboring a year-long grudge over not being allowed a piece of cake. They get upset, stamp their feet and move the hell on. It’s actually how we as humans are designed, yet as we grow older it becomes less socially acceptable to simply stop in the middle of the supermarket and start screaming.

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It is of vital importance to understand that emotions are simply energy. If we refuse to deal with them they go and find a hiding place deep inside our body. Stuffing our feelings down by pretending they don’t exist or lying to ourselves simply prolongs the process. Instead, when you notice a negative emotion coming in try to actually sit with it for a while. No easy feat, it can be incredibly intense initially. Notice which part of your body it’s affecting, name the emotion. In saying out loud “I’m feeling anxious right now’ it can loosen its grip.

Unfortunately negative emotions tend to come with a physical reaction, for example you can literally shake with anger or become nauseous from anxiety. Find a quiet place and let your body do what it needs to do. Cry, scream, or simply curl up in a ball. Chances are that when you allow yourself to really feel the feeling it no longer has the same hold over you. When it comes to emotions the only way round is through.

2. Ritualize Your Mornings

Have you ever gone to bed angry and woken up with that same anger burning a hole in your pillow? Or simply just woken up on the wrong side of the bed, feeling wretched for no apparent reason. The first few moments of the morning can be one of the most powerful, whatever mood we climb out of bed in tends to cling to us all day. That’s why it can be incredibly powerful to have a morning ritual as a means to cleanse the emotional palette. Effective rituals vary but the following can be highly effective:

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Journaling: Putting our thoughts out of our head and onto paper can be incredibly cathartic and stream of consciousness writing can be one of the most powerful ways to journal. Simply write out your thoughts as they stream through you, without review or judgement. Even if you have nothing to say, simply write ‘I have nothing to say’ over and over again until another insight appears or simply until the page is filled. Once you’ve filled your set number of pages, don’t review. This isn’t a diary, it’s a tool to purge negative emotions.

Meditation: Quieting the mind through the breath is quite simply one of the most powerful tools we have to release negative emotion, yet it is no easy endeavor. Find a quiet spot and sit quietly for ten to fifteen minutes, focusing on your breath or on a mantra (I find inhaling ‘Let’ and exhaling ‘Go’ to be simple yet effective). When we create a meditation practice, our monkey mind learns to settle and we become more in tune with ourselves which in turn leads to mindfulness. Being mindful creates more space between our thoughts so that we can actually start to become aware when negative emotions creep in, giving us the opportunity to nip it in the bud before the emotion snowballs and takes over your day or your week.

3. Exorcise Through Exercise

As human beings we are designed to move. Exercise is incredibly good for us not only from a physical perspective but from a mental perspective. The hormones that are released when our hearts are pumping and our bodies moving can quite literally change our mindset. The very act of going for a walk, a run or attacking a set of weights forces the mind to focus on the task at hand. Next time you are enraged by something, instead of reaching for a bag of chips or numbing out in front of the TV, get physical. Even if it means dancing around your room like a maniac to some gangster rap music (a personal favorite of mine), you’ll feel a heck of a lot better and possibly have a laugh at just how ridiculous you look.

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4. Change Your Perspective

There’s a well-known quote which states “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change”. Put simply, perspective is everything. Next time you find yourself faced with negative emotions, before you leap down the rabbit hole of rationality and start assigning blame or creating a story around the situation, take a deep breath and ask yourself ‘How can I see this situation differently?’. There are quite literally two sides to every story and then there’s the truth. Even if the other person is clearly in the wrong try to see things from their perspective. Perhaps you need to run through steps 1-3 above before you feel ready, but seeing things from a different perspective can invite a sense of compassion.

If you get into a fight with a friend, try to look at the situation anew. She might be going through a tough time and taking it out on you, not fair but understandable. Even if it’s impossible for you to see the situation any differently, understand that harboring negative emotion only damages you. Learn to let it go, you don’t have to forget what happened but you can try to forgive and move on with your life.

5. Compartmentalize

Emotions are somewhat akin to snowballs. The longer they are allowed to roll on, the bigger they become. Next time you find yourself in the midst of a negative emotional state, try compartmentalizing it. You might be annoyed at the fact that your babysitter cancelled on you at the last minute, but projecting your frustrations onto your husband who in turn projects his frustrations onto the kids serves only one purpose. The whole family gets dragged into the boiling cauldron of negative emotion because the situation snowballed. Instead, get really clear on why you are annoyed or anxious and ring fence it. Don’t let your sadness that you didn’t get that job bleed over into an avalanche of awfulness. Deal with it, dust yourself off and move on. Life can be hard and we all run into situations we don’t like, the key is not to let the negative aspects detract from the positive parts of your life.

Featured photo credit: Photo by: Ed Gregory via stokpic.com

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Last Updated on October 22, 2020

8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

How would you feel if you were sharing a personal story and noticed that the person to whom you were speaking wasn’t really listening? You probably wouldn’t be too thrilled.

Unfortunately, that is the case for many people. Most individuals are not good listeners. They are good pretenders. The thing is, true listening requires work—more work than people are willing to invest. Quality conversation is about “give and take.” Most people, however, want to just give—their words, that is. Being on the receiving end as the listener may seem boring, but it’s essential.

When you are attending to someone and paying attention to what they’re saying, it’s a sign of caring and respect. The hitch is that attending requires an act of will, which sometimes goes against what our minds naturally do—roaming around aimlessly and thinking about whatnot, instead of listening—the greatest act of thoughtfulness.

Without active listening, people often feel unheard and unacknowledged. That’s why it’s important for everyone to learn how to be a better listener.

What Makes People Poor Listeners?

Good listening skills can be learned, but first, let’s take a look at some of the things that you might be doing that makes you a poor listener.

1. You Want to Talk to Yourself

Well, who doesn’t? We all have something to say, right? But when you are looking at someone pretending to be listening while, all along, they’re mentally planning all the amazing things they’re going to say, it is a disservice to the speaker.

Yes, maybe what the other person is saying is not the most exciting thing in the world. Still, they deserve to be heard. You always have the ability to steer the conversation in another direction by asking questions.

It’s okay to want to talk. It’s normal, even. Keep in mind, however, that when your turn does come around, you’ll want someone to listen to you.

2. You Disagree With What Is Being Said

This is another thing that makes you an inadequate listener—hearing something with which you disagree with and immediately tuning out. Then, you lie in wait so you can tell the speaker how wrong they are. You’re eager to make your point and prove the speaker wrong. You think that once you speak your “truth,” others will know how mistaken the speaker is, thank you for setting them straight, and encourage you to elaborate on what you have to say. Dream on.

Disagreeing with your speaker, however frustrating that might be, is no reason to tune them out and ready yourself to spew your staggering rebuttal. By listening, you might actually glean an interesting nugget of information that you were previously unaware of.

3. You Are Doing Five Other Things While You’re “Listening”

It is impossible to listen to someone while you’re texting, reading, playing Sudoku, etc. But people do it all the time—I know I have.

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I’ve actually tried to balance my checkbook while pretending to listen to the person on the other line. It didn’t work. I had to keep asking, “what did you say?” I can only admit this now because I rarely do it anymore. With work, I’ve succeeded in becoming a better listener. It takes a great deal of concentration, but it’s certainly worth it.

If you’re truly going to listen, then you must: listen! M. Scott Peck, M.D., in his book The Road Less Travel, says, “you cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” If you are too busy to actually listen, let the speaker know, and arrange for another time to talk. It’s simple as that!

4. You Appoint Yourself as Judge

While you’re “listening,” you decide that the speaker doesn’t know what they’re talking about. As the “expert,” you know more. So, what’s the point of even listening?

To you, the only sound you hear once you decide they’re wrong is, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!” But before you bang that gavel, just know you may not have all the necessary information. To do that, you’d have to really listen, wouldn’t you? Also, make sure you don’t judge someone by their accent, the way they sound, or the structure of their sentences.

My dad is nearly 91. His English is sometimes a little broken and hard to understand. People wrongly assume that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about—they’re quite mistaken. My dad is a highly intelligent man who has English as his second language. He knows what he’s saying and understands the language perfectly.

Keep that in mind when listening to a foreigner, or someone who perhaps has a difficult time putting their thoughts into words.

Now, you know some of the things that make for an inferior listener. If none of the items above resonate with you, great! You’re a better listener than most.

How To Be a Better Listener

For conversation’s sake, though, let’s just say that maybe you need some work in the listening department, and after reading this article, you make the decision to improve. What, then, are some of the things you need to do to make that happen? How can you be a better listener?

1. Pay Attention

A good listener is attentive. They’re not looking at their watch, phone, or thinking about their dinner plans. They’re focused and paying attention to what the other person is saying. This is called active listening.

According to Skills You Need, “active listening involves listening with all senses. As well as giving full attention to the speaker, it is important that the ‘active listener’ is also ‘seen’ to be listening—otherwise, the speaker may conclude that what they are talking about is uninteresting to the listener.”[1]

As I mentioned, it’s normal for the mind to wander. We’re human, after all. But a good listener will rein those thoughts back in as soon as they notice their attention waning.

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I want to note here that you can also “listen” to bodily cues. You can assume that if someone keeps looking at their watch or over their shoulder, their focus isn’t on the conversation. The key is to just pay attention.

2. Use Positive Body Language

You can infer a lot from a person’s body language. Are they interested, bored, or anxious?

A good listener’s body language is open. They lean forward and express curiosity in what is being said. Their facial expression is either smiling, showing concern, conveying empathy, etc. They’re letting the speaker know that they’re being heard.

People say things for a reason—they want some type of feedback. For example, you tell your spouse, “I had a really rough day!” and your husband continues to check his newsfeed while nodding his head. Not a good response.

But what if your husband were to look up with questioning eyes, put his phone down, and say, “Oh, no. What happened?” How would feel, then? The answer is obvious.

According to Alan Gurney,[2]

“An active listener pays full attention to the speaker and ensures they understand the information being delivered. You can’t be distracted by an incoming call or a Facebook status update. You have to be present and in the moment.

Body language is an important tool to ensure you do this. The correct body language makes you a better active listener and therefore more ‘open’ and receptive to what the speaker is saying. At the same time, it indicates that you are listening to them.”

3. Avoid Interrupting the Speaker

I am certain you wouldn’t want to be in the middle of a sentence only to see the other person holding up a finger or their mouth open, ready to step into your unfinished verbiage. It’s rude and causes anxiety. You would, more than likely, feel a need to rush what you’re saying just to finish your sentence.

Interrupting is a sign of disrespect. It is essentially saying, “what I have to say is much more important than what you’re saying.” When you interrupt the speaker, they feel frustrated, hurried, and unimportant.

Interrupting a speaker to agree, disagree, argue, etc., causes the speaker to lose track of what they are saying. It’s extremely frustrating. Whatever you have to say can wait until the other person is done.

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Be polite and wait your turn!

4. Ask Questions

Asking questions is one of the best ways to show you’re interested. If someone is telling you about their ski trip to Mammoth, don’t respond with, “that’s nice.” That would show a lack of interest and disrespect. Instead, you can ask, “how long have you been skiing?” “Did you find it difficult to learn?” “What was your favorite part of the trip?” etc. The person will think highly of you and consider you a great conversationalist just by you asking a few questions.

5. Just Listen

This may seem counterintuitive. When you’re conversing with someone, it’s usually back and forth. On occasion, all that is required of you is to listen, smile, or nod your head, and your speaker will feel like they’re really being heard and understood.

I once sat with a client for 45 minutes without saying a word. She came into my office in distress. I had her sit down, and then she started crying softly. I sat with her—that’s all I did. At the end of the session, she stood, told me she felt much better, and then left.

I have to admit that 45 minutes without saying a word was tough. But she didn’t need me to say anything. She needed a safe space in which she could emote without interruption, judgment, or me trying to “fix” something.

6. Remember and Follow Up

Part of being a great listener is remembering what the speaker has said to you, then following up with them.

For example, in a recent conversation you had with your co-worker Jacob, he told you that his wife had gotten a promotion and that they were contemplating moving to New York. The next time you run into Jacob, you may want to say, “Hey, Jacob! Whatever happened with your wife’s promotion?” At this point, Jacob will know you really heard what he said and that you’re interested to see how things turned out. What a gift!

According to new research, “people who ask questions, particularly follow-up questions, may become better managers, land better jobs, and even win second dates.”[3]

It’s so simple to show you care. Just remember a few facts and follow up on them. If you do this regularly, you will make more friends.

7. Keep Confidential Information Confidential

If you really want to be a better listener, listen with care. If what you’re hearing is confidential, keep it that way, no matter how tempting it might be to tell someone else, especially if you have friends in common. Being a good listener means being trustworthy and sensitive with shared information.

Whatever is told to you in confidence is not to be revealed. Assure your speaker that their information is safe with you. They will feel relieved that they have someone with whom they can share their burden without fear of it getting out.

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Keeping someone’s confidence helps to deepen your relationship. Also, “one of the most important elements of confidentiality is that it helps to build and develop trust. It potentially allows for the free flow of information between the client and worker and acknowledges that a client’s personal life and all the issues and problems that they have belong to them.”[4]

Be like a therapist: listen and withhold judgment.

NOTE: I must add here that while therapists keep everything in a session confidential, there are exceptions:

  1. If the client may be an immediate danger to himself or others.
  2. If the client is endangering a population that cannot protect itself, such as in the case of a child or elder abuse.

8. Maintain Eye Contact

When someone is talking, they are usually saying something they consider meaningful. They don’t want their listener reading a text, looking at their fingernails, or bending down to pet a pooch on the street. A speaker wants all eyes on them. It lets them know that what they’re saying has value.

Eye contact is very powerful. It can relay many things without anything being said. Currently, it’s more important than ever with the Covid-19 Pandemic. People can’t see your whole face, but they can definitely read your eyes.

By eye contact, I don’t mean a hard, creepy stare—just a gaze in the speaker’s direction will do. Make it a point the next time you’re in a conversation to maintain eye contact with your speaker. Avoid the temptation to look anywhere but at their face. I know it’s not easy, especially if you’re not interested in what they’re talking about. But as I said, you can redirect the conversation in a different direction or just let the person know you’ve got to get going.

Final Thoughts

Listening attentively will add to your connection with anyone in your life. Now, more than ever, when people are so disconnected due to smartphones and social media, listening skills are critical.

You can build better, more honest, and deeper relationships by simply being there, paying attention, and asking questions that make the speaker feel like what they have to say matters.

And isn’t that a great goal? To make people feel as if they matter? So, go out and start honing those listening skills. You’ve got two great ears. Now use them!

More Tips on How to Be a Better Listener

Featured photo credit: Joshua Rodriguez via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Skills You Need: Active Listening
[2] Filtered: Body language for active listening
[3] Forbes: People Will Like You More If You Start Asking Follow-up Questions
[4] TAFE NSW Sydney eLearning Moodle: Confidentiality

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