Unlike many parents, I absolutely adored the Terrible Twos. Two-year olds are so completely authentic, and they also feel their emotions so completely, you can see their expression from head to toe. Whether bliss or outrage, there is no mistaking where they stand.
I used to sit back and laugh (yes, my poor children) at these outbursts. We adults have learned to manage our emotions so that we don’t have to skip through the hallway or pound our fists on the floor. We can be civilized and mature unlike these toddlers who have not yet learned to manage their emotions.
But we also have depression, anxiety and divorce rampant in our society. Perhaps part of the problem is that we spend too much time and effort managing our feelings rather than feeling them, respecting them, acknowledging them.
It’s not fun feeling despair, depression or disappointment. And it’s too easy to dwell on them to the point of rumination and escalation. For example, I tend to be a ruminator, just regurgitating that bad event over and over in my mind. Usually I stay on the anger side because that’s easier to cope with than sadness or shame. Then if I really want to ruin my day (and probably the relationship), then I start to create a chain of assumptions: well he must also believe that _____; well she must’ve also ________. Rarely, when in this mood, are those assumptions forgiving or compassionate. Then I feel worse, ruminate some more on these new assumptions and down I go. This is the adult version of the temper tantrum but instead of just manifesting the feelings through our body, that toxic emotion might infect our whole life.
I feel so much more grown up when I don’t go down that rumination/assumption spiral and instead turn it around to find positive emotion. I can find forgiveness. I can find perspective. I can understand their point of view. I can find the silver lining, one of my best talents. I can just manage those feelings right away. Doing so makes me feel so much more in control, wise and mature.
But when I skip the part where I feel and share my emotions before going into forgiving and re-evaluating, then those negative emotions just seep out of me in my tone, actions, and choice of words in a sort of toxic radiation that’s invisible to me. Then I’m surprised when others are reacting to me like I’m a b**ch. My self-awareness is pretty much down to zero at this point all the while thinking I’m managing my emotions like a pro.
I’m starting to learn how to tell when I have bottled feelings up that I have not dealt with. I can’t meditate. I feel tightness in my chest that I can’t let go of. Others, as I’ve mentioned, tend to be short with or disrespectful to me or avoid me like I have bad breath. I have trouble accessing my awe and joy.
So I’ve learned from Chris that effective emotional management is more about finding that sweet spot in feeling those emotions in a constructive manner (avoiding rumination and escalation) before trying to turn them around into something positive. In other words, positive emotion needs a clean, uncontaminated soil to really grow.
What’s your formula for emotional management? Do you tend to dwell in or skip the feeling, escalation or re-evaluating/turn around stages? What strategies do you use to find the right balance?