Taming the Inner Demon

Your heart is pounding. There is a white noise in your ears. You feel like screaming or pounding something. Or perhaps you want to run and hide, cry. Or maybe your mind goes blank.

We all have some version of that feeling when our buttons get pushed, and this welling of emotion starts to consume us.   Observers wonder why we’re so freaked out over what is nothing, or maybe something relatively trivial. On some level, we know they’re right, or we try very hard to convince them that they should be as freaked out as we are.

At these moments, I feel like such a freak for being out of control.   But I’ve gotten much better about managing those feelings, both on the front end and in the midst of a freak out. It’s not perfect though, so sometimes I cave to those feelings and off I go…

However, this is what works for me in the moment.   First, I have to get away from the situation and find a place/environment that’s soothing and comforting. A walk. The gym. A hot bath. A quite and beautiful spot. Somewhere that I can get away and find a new perspective and some emotional distance from my feelings.   Usually I just try to clear my mind and then try to take another look at the situation, this time with the volume knobs turned down as much as possible.

Next, I reappraise. I have already realized that I have tendencies to view the world through a distorted lens and that lens does not always provide the most accurate or healthy interpretation of the world. Therefore, that distortion can send me off on a wild emotional goose chase where no good will come from it. I find that little thread of reason and doubt and pull to unravel the core of negative emotion.

The reappraisal looks something like this: “I’m freaked out but I tend to overreact on this subject. Even if I have been honestly mistreated, I don’t need to react to this degree. What are the other more forgiving interpretations of this situation? How am I mistreating myself? How am I mistreating this other person? Why might a reasonable person do or say that to me? What is the most loving thing I can do for them?

Turning the focus 180 degrees in another direction is a great exercise for taking me outside my bubble of indignation and self-justification. Once I infuse doubt into that process, the light that shines in on my self-righteousness tends to illuminate my foolishness.

If I can notice and reverse my foolishness before it becomes so blatantly obvious others, I may mitigate the damage before it occurs. If not, I go down that same pathway where they’re wondering what demon has possessed me yet again.

The more I practice this emotional distance then reappraisal, the better I get at it. If I can catch it as it’s starting to occur, then I avoid the need to leave in the middle of a meeting to look for a hot bathtub, often not readily accessible. I also can avoid spending hours or days roiling from what is likely an innocent comment from an unsuspecting colleague or family member.

In other words, I retain my personal power. My faculties and emotions intact, I can continue to engage with my day as I would prefer rather than taking an emotional detour that sets me back for hours. Keeping my cool also helps me be more effective managing the situation at hand. After all, if I’m having trouble keeping my cool, my problem-solving and listening abilities go down the drain.

What do you do to keep your cool and personal power? Share with me.