For the vast majority of people, each day presents another opportunity to ride the emotional roller coaster. When things go our way, we are happy. When they don’t, we react with anger, sadness, fear, disappointment, frustration, resignation, or any variation of hundreds of other emotional responses. In fact, we are typically so accustomed to experiencing these emotions that we take for granted that our lives will always be marked by emotional reactions to the challenges that life throws our way. We mistakenly believe that this is “normal” and everyone does it.
This belief that we are emotional beings reacting to situations and circumstances beyond our control that are not to our liking is so ingrained in us that we usually do not even see the possibility of living without these immediate varied emotional responses to situations. How many times have you heard people speak their belief that “We’re human beings and we’re entitled to our emotions?” These emotions are indeed juicy!
By coming from the perspective that we will always be at the effect of things that others say and do, thus provoking our emotional responses to these situations, we forfeit our ability to retain control of our emotional well-being. Our spouses say something that irritates us and we lash back. Our bosses criticize our work performance and we fear losing our jobs. We are left off the guest list for a neighborhood party and we react with sadness. We are unjustly accused of something we did not do, and we respond with indignant rage. You get the point. Life is full of opportunities to react in an emotional way that does not support our happiness, sense of peace, and our personal power. So if our knee-jerk emotional responses do not support our happiness, peace of mind, or personal effectiveness, why do we continue to react automatically to the least little stimuli?
If we hate being in such a state of constant low grade anger, why do we continue to find reasons to revert back to this state or to seemingly relish the opportunity to take our ever-present chronic state of low grade anger to a higher, more acute level? In the same way, we hate feeling sad but somehow, we find no shortage of opportunities that “make us” sad. Consider the person who is petrified of horror movies. The spooky scenes, bloody violence, and killings leave him agitated, feeling uncomfortable, and unable to sleep. But despite an aversion to these emotional responses, the horror movie addict continues to seek out the next, scarier, more gruesome movie that is guaranteed to stir up these same unpleasant emotions!
Do You Experience Emotional Insecurity?
Clearly, we are emotional addicts. Although we may protest that we do not like feeling scared to death, down in the dumps (maybe even despondent), or filled with rage or vengeance, we seem to be at the mercy of these feelings. After all, we might argue, it’s usually not our fault. The other guy is usually provoking us and we just react to these provocations with righteous indignation. The blame is over there, rarely with us. We are the victims and to blame us for such natural reactions is unfair! Even such an accusation would likely make most us angry! However, when we explore the nature of our emotional responses more closely, we may uncover some very interesting findings. Although we protest that we dislike feeling this way, our emotions make us feel alive. Within the anger we muster is a sense of personal power. Our angry response to a situation may allow us to regain control over some aspect of the situation. Perhaps, through our anger, we get to dominate the other guy who is likely out to dominate us as well. Perhaps our sadness provides us with a measure of consolation. We might feel sorry for ourselves and bask in the “poor me” sensations earned by most victims.
Or perhaps our fear may prevent us from acting boldly and risking in some manner. By keeping us afraid and defensive, we stay safe. We may not have to deal with uncomfortable situations or the possibility of failing if we stay home and hide under the bed rather than face our fear in the cold, cruel world! Although we may have become conditioned to feel that our emotional reactions are totally normal, (after all isn’t everyone else reacting emotionally all around us?), we have the option of training ourselves to look deeper within when we feel the emotional warning – whether it be the adrenaline rush of anger as we get red in the face or the hollow sinking sensation of sadness in the pit of our stomachs. Perhaps we might explore the true reason for our emotional reactions.
Is there some label we fear or way of being that we are determined not to be associated with causing us to take the offensive? Is our anger truly at the person we lash out at or could our response be an attempt to conceal our own fears? Are we reading the situation in a manner that drives our emotional reaction? Might there be a better way to interpret what was said or done so that the emotional charge was absent? Could we give the other guy the benefit of the doubt or assume that his intentions were honorable? At the very least, could we assume that she is doing the best she can do considering her background experiences and how she has become accustomed to viewing the world? When we are in personal development, we might take each opportunity that an emotional trigger offers us to stop for a moment and analyze the situation. What lies beneath that feeling of vengeance? What is the true source of the sadness we are feeling?
How might we be avoiding responsibility for our part in the current state of affairs? Rather than reacting with emotion to the circumstances, might we instead look upon the event as an opportunity to better understand why we are prone to act as we do? Might we instead welcome the chance to look at the situation without our typical attachment to an outcome or to being right? If we put ourselves in the other person’s world, how might our perspective change? How would this shift in how we see things influence our emotional response?
Emotional awareness is the first step in changing your world and supporting others to transform theirs. It takes two people to dance. Once one changes her step, it is much more difficult for her partner to continue with the same dance he was previously doing.
The questions I have for you today are these:
Are you willing to give up your right to react emotionally?
Are you willing to allow your emotional cues to be your signal to explore what
lies beneath your typical and customary reaction?
Are you willing to detach from each emotional situation and look for the insights
that await your discovery?
Detaching from Your Emotions
1) In your daily journal, make note of each emotional reaction that occurs without
your complete conscious awareness.
2) What types of emotions are usually present when you catch yourself in a knee-
jerk type reaction?
3) What contrary benefits do these typical emotional responses provide for you?
4) How does creating a different interpretation about what happened support you
in better managing your response to the situation and acting without emotion?
5) What insights have you gleaned about yourself as a result of detaching?
By Dr. Joe Rubino