How can you get better at controlling your feelings?
The language of this question reveals a biased belief that there are bad emotions requiring control – which means exerting power to subdue. Here’s a simply radical shift in perspective: How can I get better at harnessing my feelings? Let’s call it Navigating Emotions.
In this 5 minute video, Dr. Barbara Fatum offers practical tips for all of us do a better job with our feelings, including ideas on how to teach this invaluable skill to children — here’s the video.
Easy Tips for Controlling Emotions
1. Change your perspective
Emotions, even challenging ones like anger, fear and jealousy, are there for a reason! They’re messages from you to you — there’s wisdom. Instead of “controlling” the emotions, control your behavior. (Hitting, shouting, hurting, running are all behaviors).
What if we could interact with other people with that same calm, powerful, effortless ease? One major reason we don’t is that we get caught up in small tensions and conflicts. These “bumps” usually escalate into two sides both needing to be right because we’re so good at sensing danger.
At the very core of our being is a set of reactions that help us survive. Thousands of years of practice have refined our ability to protect ourselves from threat and danger. We don’t have turtle-like shells or tiger-like fangs — we have super-sensitive brains.
When our brains perceive a threat, they react to protect us; it’s a survival response built into the limbic brain (or “emotional brain”). Depending on biology and experience, that protection comes from fighting, fleeing, or freezing. Some people also add another “f” — “flocking” or herding together. It is almost impossible to avoid that impulse; we are literally hard-wired to react that way to defend against threat.
So, if I threaten you, I can almost guarantee that you will react by fighting, fleeing, or freezing. You will “be defensive” by attacking back, retreating, evading, or ganging up with others. Of course, depending on your reaction, you can almost guarantee that I will respond with one of those as well.
The “threat response” is part of what Dr. Daniel Goleman called “hijacking the amygdala” and is well defined in Dr. Joseph LeDoux’s research. The amgydala is one of the primary emotional centers in the brain; one core function is reacting to perceived danger. As Dr. Peter Salovey says, this reaction is actually an example of the intelligence of our emotions — a kind of “emotional logic” is followed and decisions are made with little or no cognitive thought; the problem is that few of us have developed this aspect of our intelligence.
So what constitutes “threat” from the amygdala’s point of view? Almost any interaction where someone is trying to take power over someone else will trigger the “survival response.” People try to take power by putting others down, shaming, blaming, embarrassing, judging, discrediting, and dividing.
You can see this dynamic at play on a daily basis in most businesses, schools, and families. I want to be right so I walk in blaming and judging, putting down other people; if I “make them less” it seems to strengthen my position. The other person reacts in survival mode, and the situation escalates. It happens almost every time. Yet, time after time, I see myself and others surprised and disappointed when people are defensive!
2. Create emotions strategies.
Consider: What do you want to happen next? Based on these factors: What feelings will help make that happen? Do you have any of those feelings? Chances are, in any situation you have multiple feelings — call on the ones that will help you move forward.
3. Charge your compassion batteries.
It’s tough to make emotionally wise choices when you’re feelings of compassion are hiding. Interestingly, actively practicing to care about others increases your compassion — which increases your own inner peace.
One of the basic facts about emotion: Feelings motivate.
Fear motivates protection.
Anger motivates attack.
Joy motivates connection.
Disgust motivates rejection.
Trust motivates stepping forward.
Sorrow motivates withdrawing.
Surprise motivates stopping to assess.
Anticipation motivates looking forward.
There are myriad combinations of these expressed in thousands of words for feelings.
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