Four Rules Of Emotions Management
Four Rules Of Emotions Management
August 12, 2013
Winston Wayne Wilson
In his book, “The Picture of Dorian Gray”, the great Oscar Wilde remarked that, “The advantage of the emotions is that they lead us astray.” That they do; however, there are times when being led astray by our emotions does more harm than good. In those cases, when our emotions become the boss, we evolve into emotional train wrecks. Hence, while our emotions need to have a voice, they also need to be managed.
There is a 3rd century Hellenistic school of thought, referred to as stoicism which stipulates that our emotions become destructive when we make errors in judgment. Conversely, stoicism argues that a person who is a sage would not be subject to such destructive emotions. As such, stoics tend to be emotionless and unperturbed by both good and bad experiences. George Washington was said to have practiced stoicism to control his emotions and, by many accounts, it paid off.
To the average person, however, stoicism is extreme. After all, there are times when we simply need to vent rather than keep our emotions pent-up and have them subsequently explode. The right answer for how we should manage our emotions lies somewhere in the middle – between emotional train wrecks and stoicism. Here are four simple rules to consider in better managing our emotions:
- Everything that everyone says or does cannot matter equally to us. The quickest way to become an emotional train wreck is to give equal weighting to virtually everything that everyone says or does to us. In a world of seven billion people, we have to make a decision about who we will give access to our brain cells and to our heart strings. We simply cannot create seven billion keys and give everyone on the planet direct access to our emotions. A stranger on the street who gives us the stink eye, or a co-worker who says something disparaging, should not be granted a key to access and manipulate our emotions to the point where we go home all flustered. The reality is that no one, who is going to manipulate our emotions, should get a key. Just like how we do not give everyone keys to our homes, the only people who should get keys to our emotions are those who we trust and who are going to respect and be responsible with our delicate emotions. By the way, family members, friends and significant others are not automatically entitled to get keys to our emotions. Thus, if you have given away too many keys to your emotions, you must either take the keys back or change the locks. Remember that you should only give keys to a select group of people who you trust. The fewer people you give the privilege of a key to your emotions, the less your emotions will undulate like a roller coaster.
- Everything that is done or said by people who matter to us cannot always matter. Sometimes the people closest to us are the ones who we willing grant unbridled access to our vulnerable emotions. There are many upsides to this when the people closest to us have our backs. In such cases, they will support us and nurture us back to health when our emotions become drained. However, because of their access to our past (including all our faults, failures, limitations, vulnerabilities, and dirty laundry), the people closest to us can also hurt our emotions. This occurs, for example, when, in an argument or when they simply want to feel better about themselves, they recklessly throw our dirty laundry right in our faces. Blood is thicker than water so there is a certain amount of “counting to ten” and “turning the other cheek” that we do with family members. However, when we feel that we are being emotionally abused by someone close to us, we have to find the courage to take back our keys. We have to simply restrict access to those close to us who have consistently demonstrated recklessness with our emotions. We should never chalk up emotional abuse as a privilege for those close to us. Also, although this is easier said than done, we have to ensure that we take what they say or do with a grain of salt so that we deaden our instinct to overreact to their abusive words.
- When in doubt seek peace over justice. Emotions can get pretty battered and bruised when egos start to fight. This occurs quite often, and most destructively, in relationships. Whether we are arguing about money, how to raise a child, politics, religion, toothpaste or toilet seats, we tend to plunge into these battles with reckless abandon. We put all our emotions on the line. To lose these battles repeatedly means that the other person is winning. This crushes our emotions because we did not get the justice we were seeking –our ideas, points and requests lost the battle – and it hurts like hell. Sometimes, for the rest of that relationship, we will continue to seek justice. Thus, whether we are sitting in a therapist’s chair, speaking to a family member or a drinking buddy in a bar, we are surreptitiously seeking justice. We are trying to find that one person who will say that we are right and the other person is wrong. Long after the argument, our emotions are still bitter, despite not remembering why it needs to be bitter. The best way to prevent this perpetual emotional drain is to focus on achieving peace of mind rather than seeking justice – namely being right. Why? Because in a relationship being right is a bit overrated. A relationship is about creating a nurturing environment in which two people can thrive somewhat peacefully. Hence, winning an argument (i.e. attaining justice) is merely winning the battle. Maintaining a peaceful relationship is really the war that couples need to fight and win. Our actions in a relationship should be focused on how to collectively make the relationship peaceful versus how to singularly win an argument or how to singularly have our way. Otherwise, we will win the “justice battle” and lose the “peaceful relationship war”. It is not that we cannot express ourselves honestly or that everything will always be a win-win scenario. It is just that we should avoid too many win-lose scenarios – i.e. we should keep love out of court and off the battlefield as much as we can by compromising in a way that achieves peace of mind over justice. We set our emotions up for failure when we constantly take jabs at each other in a relationship. If it is not necessary to beat up someone’s emotions, and it usually is not, then we should not do so. As our mothers would say, “If you don’t have anything good or constructive to say, then don’t say it.” Remember, we are not in a relationship to fix people or be fixed by them. If we think someone has fatalistic flaws then our challenge is not to fix that person but to decide whether we should be in such a relationship. Sticking around to simply battle the person about their flaws will only drive our emotions mad. Run!
- Everything is not always a conspiracy. In my article, “Sometimes An Apple is Just An Apple”, I introduced you to Brian Tracey’s book, “Change Your Thinking Change Your Life” and pointed out the fact that ninety nine percent of people’s time and emotional energy are wrapped up with their own thoughts about themselves and that only one percent (of their time and emotional energy) is available to everyone else in the world, including us. This means that people are generally not carefully planning our destruction – even our worst enemies spend very little time focused on us. That said, we are one hundred percent responsible for our emotional health and self-esteem. Sometimes our emotions can dramatically yell fire or cry wolf. This happens when we incorrectly interpret other people’s actions and intentions as being malicious or destructive when they are mostly benign. For example, there are times when our bosses, friends and significant others give us feedback on things we need to do better. It does not mean that they do not like us or that they are telling us these things to destroy us. Hence, we must get used to the fact that none of us are perfect all the time. In so doing we will be able to better accept feedback without feeling emotionally blistered or personally attacked. If our emotions are constantly yelling “Fire, fire, fire!!!” or “Conspiracy alert, execute code red!!!” then we need to take more Yoga classes. Seriously. Take more Yoga classes.
My challenge for you today is to evaluate whether there are too many people out there with keys to your emotions. Spend some time to make a decision about who you will allow your emotions to respond to. Remember, no one is entitled to hurt our emotions. Also, remember to not let your emotions overreact too much. Enjoy your week.