Emotions are woven into the fabric of our mind and body of who we are in every situation of life. We truly cannot leave home without them. As Dzogchen Ponlop, a widely celebrated Buddhist teacher writes in Emotional Rescue , “Every day we get in line for this roller-coaster ride of emotion that thrills us one minute and turns us upside down the next.” I appreciated his analogy of emotions and medicine when he quoted from an Asian proverb that says, “Medicine, if taken with knowledge; poison, if abused.”
Of course, this is how our emotions shift from one moment to the next: One moment we seem well, and the next we feel sick. Mr. Ponlop writes, “If we learn how to relate to our emotions skillfully, then they’re like medicine, containing great wisdom; but if we lack understanding, then they’re like poison, causing great harm and suffering. While we’re under the spell of our emotions, it’s like we’re sick … We have to let our sickness run its course or intervene with some kind of treatment.”
Self-awareness is truly the understanding of what makes us do the things we do and why we feel the way we do. This is not an easy consciousness to develop. It takes time and effort, but it makes the difference between being well or feeling sick.
Many people live their entire lives being unaware of the basis of their emotional reactions. Others know the basis from which their reactions emerge, but they are unable to manage them. Hence, the next step to well-being is emotional self-management. What is so important about wellness and managing our emotions? How we manage our emotions determines the quality of our relationships, and, consequently, the quality of our lives. All of the research on wellness, happiness, and life purpose includes healthy relationships. They’re that important!
Before I introduce you to several self-management strategies, let me share a story of an emotional hijacking that I recently experienced.
Since turning 60 several years ago, I have become acutely aware of the emotions that fill my mind and shift my feelings, moment by moment. My goal is to manage any inappropriate reactions and instead respond appropriately. Sometimes I do well, and other times not so well. But I believe that most people would describe me as professional, competent, and rarely reactive. Toward the end of a very busy and hectic day filled with one client after another, I completed working with one client and was ready for the next client who was waiting for me. As I walked up to her, I asked, “And how are you today?”
In a huge burst of anger, she shouted, “I am sick and tired of everyone telling me how to feel! I’m sick of you and everyone else. Can’t you see that I’ve been crying all day?” With that outburst, she began crying harder and yelling louder. I don’t remember what else she said because my emotions had just been hijacked and I felt the whiplash of emotion shifting from medicine to poison filling my thoughts and my physical body. I was taken aback and tried to comfort her with the words, “I’m so sorry that you are feeling that today.” I handed her some tissues, but she didn’t stop crying for a while … until we were all caught in her web of emotional pain.
As I recount this story, I am reminded that according to Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry, all emotions are derivations of five core feelings: happiness, sadness, anger, fear, and shame. He writes, “Two-thirds of people are controlled by their emotions … Most of us lack the skills to manage emotions … Considering the range of emotions people express, it’s no wonder they get the better of us.”
One moment, I was reveling in happiness, and, within seconds, my client’s sadness, anger, fear, and shame entered uninvited and took hold of my emotions. And that is how quickly and easily it can occur in our lives. Emotions … you can’t leave home without them. We are always our thoughts and we are always our emotions.
Several self-management strategies that Bradberry presents for us in Emotional Intelligence 2.0 include:
- Practice the art of listening: After much deliberation about who is better at multitasking, men or women, the answer is neither. There is no such activity. The brain can do one thing very well at a time. Listening intently is vital for managing emotions.
- Breathe right: Breathe deeply and consciously during the day, and when an emotional hijacking begins to take place, practice your deep breathing before reacting.
- Sleep on it: Put some time between the event and your response. Get some rest, and clear your mind of your thoughts.
- Live in the moment: Most of us worry about the past and stress about the future. Not only is it satisfying to be present in the moment, but giving your presence to the person you are with is a gift.
There are 17 self-management strategies that Bradberry mentions in his book. Each strategy is sensible and a reliable course of action for us to take in learning to find a balance with our emotions.
I personally enjoy people and events that have a spirited amount of emotional energy, in the vein of music, art, adventure, movies, and falling in love. These are all the amazing feelings that make the world interesting and relationships unforgettable.
The benefits of being emotional are found in the ability to feel a profound sense of freedom in having felt the five core feelings of happiness, sadness, anger, fear, and shame and not only survived them, but thrived through the process. It’s called living a full life. After all, how can we appreciate happiness if we haven’t found ourselves in the throes of the other core feelings for contrast?
Take responsibility for your thoughts and emotions because, after all, you can’t leave home without them.
Hilda Villaverde, PhD, holds a doctorate in religious studies with a minor in pastoral counseling from Emerson Institute. She is a business owner and author of five books, as well as an ordained minister and a public speaker. She presented at the inaugural Arizona Chapter HFMA HERe event in December 2013.