Copyright 2006 Johanna Vanderpol
1. Get it that all your emotions are OK.
We are designed to have emotions. They have a purpose. They are our internal guidance system. We have ignored them. We are taught by our culture and our family to ignore them. Science is now showing us the value of emotion. People who use emotion and reason together are more successful and happier than those who dont. Look for a surround yourself with the messages that show yourself that emotions are okay – all of them. Some ways to do that is through books, other forms of reading, tapes, websites, friends, mentors, coaches, therapists.
2. Figure out the message that your emotion is trying to tell you.
Yes. Your emotions are trying to tell you something. At the most basic level, through pleasurable feelings, they are telling you to move towards something; through unpleasant feelings, they are telling you to move away from something.
When you feel something, ask inside yourself, what is it that I am feeling and what is the message? To stop and ask this will provide you with information. If you are angry, it may be a message to protect your boundaries. If you feel anxiety, it may be a message to proceed with caution. Trust your emotions. They will guide you more accurately than any other skills you have developed.
3. Understand the belief(s) that are behind the emotion.
Each emotion we experience is driven by a set of thoughts or beliefs about ourselves, other people and the world around us as well as our religious or spiritual beliefs. The beliefs tend to be subconscious although we can access them if we make a point of it. Some of the beliefs will be accurate and some will be inaccurate. We form these beliefs from the time we are very young. When our emotions seem to be a large reaction to a small event, it is a good idea to examine the beliefs underlying our reaction. Sometimes, we need help to uncover our beliefs. That is where a friend or coach or therapist can be valuable. This is an ongoing process of self-discovery that leads to a healthier and happier life.
4. Give your emotion a name and recognize where it is in the body.
The first step to increase our emotional intelligence is to develop the EI competency known as self-awareness. The way to start developing this awareness is to be able to give a name to what we are feeling and to turn our attention to our body to see where we are feeling it physically and to be able to describe how it feels.
In the beginning, naming emotions can be confusing because there are so many subtle shades and variations. We have many different names for many different emotions. The way to start is to recognize six basic emotions and initially name your emotions as one of these six. All emotions will fall under one of these basic categories. They are happiness, anger, fear, sadness, disgust and surprise.
5. Suspend judgment about the emotion and about yourself.
One of the reasons we do not know our emotions is because it feels unsafe to do so. We have been taught that emotions get in the way, have no value or that certain emotions mean you are bad for having them. This is simply not true. It is the judgment about our emotions that cause us to feel unsafe. It is this judgment that causes us to run from our emotions. Some of us hide in alcohol, drugs, shopping, sex, gambling, obsessive-compulsive behaviours, or chronic illness. If there was only one change to make around emotion, this would be the most important one. The negative self-judgment is destructive, demoralizing and deflating. It keeps us from recognizing the truth, from feeling good and from developing our potential.
6. Be compassionate with yourself. The emotion has a good reason for being there.
This is a tool to counteract the negative self-judgment. Remember how you felt the last time you were upset about something and someone was able to acknowledge how you felt was perfectly justified under the circumstances and they were sympathetic to you? Would it have helped you if they were critical? No. So is there any value in treating yourself harshly? No. Do we not gravitate towards people who are kind to us? Yes. So, why is it you would treat yourself differently than this? We are all human beings who are trying to do the best we can with the psychological resources that we have. Think of these things next time you treat yourself harshly. Replace it with kind parenting toward yourself. This will go much farther than criticism and harsh internal reprimands that you should be stronger, better, more.
7. Allow yourself to manage the emotion. This is not the same as suppression or denial.
Part of managing your emotions also concerns two emotional intelligence competencies put forth in a book called The EQ Edge by Steven Stein and Howard Book.
The first competency is called Stress Tolerance and is defined as “the ability to withstand adverse events and stressful situations without falling apart by actively and positively coping with stress. This ability is based on (1) a capacity to choose courses of action for dealing with stress (being resourceful and effective, being able to come up with suitable methods, knowing what to do and how to do it); (2) an optimistic disposition toward new experiences and change in general and toward your own ability to successfully overcome the specific problem at hand; and (3) a feeling that you can control or influence the stressful situation by staying calm and maintaining control.
The second competency is called Impulse Control and is defined as “the ability to resist or delay an impulse, drive or temptation to act. Impulse control entails a capacity for accepting your aggressive impulses, being composed and controlling aggression, hostility and irresponsible behaviour. Problems in impulse control are manifested by low frustration tolerance, impulsiveness, anger control problems, abusiveness, loss of self-control and explosive and unpredictable behaviour.”
8. Recognize when your emotion is a heightened reaction due to fatigue, lack of sleep, hunger, time of day or even loneliness. Get your needs met.
In order to increase your stress tolerance so you can more effectively cope with the challenges that you experience in life, some basic needs have to be adequately met. This is where it becomes important to take care of yourself. The basic needs are exercise, adequate quantity and quality of sleep, good nutrition and an unhurried life. These four alone would keep the majority of us busy making changes. And they are extremely worthwhile.
9. Express your emotion by talking or journalling or talking respectfully to the person who impacted you.
Part of management is the expression, the action. Expression of emotion is going to come out whether we like it or not. If we do not know how to do it in a healthy way, it will get expressed by pain and illness in the body or by blowing up at a family member, friend or even the store clerk. When the emotion is in response to another person’s actions, the expression usually needs to take place in the form of telling that person how their actions have impacted you and how you would like to remedy the situation. However, direct, honest and respectful communication is the key.
Verbal and written expression of emotion has been shown to reduce visits to the doctor and subjects report an increased sense of well-being. James Pennebaker has been in the forefront in designing studies to determine the effect of emotional expression on health. He has focussed on verbal articulation (talking to another person) and journal writing. People who journal process their emotions faster and move through any issues to successful resolution more quickly. People who keep their emotions “bottled up” have a higher tendency toward cardiovascular diseases, particularly high blood pressure that does not seem to respond much to medication.
10. Take appropriate action on the message. Avoid rumination.
Notice when you are ruminating. If you are ruminating, it is another message that you have not adequately acknowledged the emotion that you are feeling, have not yet determined the message in the emotion and have not taken the action that is right for you. When you do these things the rumination will dissipate by itself. This honouring of emotional process is a much more pleasant and organic way of ceasing rumination.