Wondering how to be stop being a slave to your emotions?
Maybe you had a pretty intense conflict with someone in your personal life or professional life and you just can’t shut your brain off, especially when the lights go out and it’s technically time for sleepies. There you are, in the middle of the night, attempting to process what happened and ruminating about future interactions. What will you say? How might you get your point across? Will they understand your perspective? You, thereby, plan your pitch and get into all the details about what you will say and how you will say it. You might even prepare for each and every attack and rebuttal possible. Moreover, your emotions might be so raw that you write a text message or email at 2am in the morning and convince yourself that it must absolutely be sent immediately. Sound familiar? Let’s talk.
First, if this does sound familiar, let me give you the psychological term related to this behavior: emotional regulation. More specifically, behaving in the manner explained above displays an inability to delay spontaneous reactions and to show flexibility and tolerability when faced with daily experiences. Researchers at Yale University went as far to say that this inability to emotionally regulate is more strongly associated with psychopathology than a healthier ability to problem solve and process emotions (Aldao & Nolen-Hoeksema, 2010).
Let me simplify. When you have a heated disagreement with someone or have a strong reaction to something they did, you are absolutely entitled to each and every emotion your body experiences. With this blog entry, I am, most certainly not, encouraging you to repress your emotions in the face of a troubling conflict (I’d be a jobless psychologist if I went around town telling my clients to ignore their emotions, that’s for sure). However I am suggesting that you process your emotions in a place they will be heard and honored. Do not fire off angry or anxious emails, text messages, or tweets at all hours of the night! I’ve named this bad behavior Trumpian, because, well…obvi. So, please, don’t be Trumpian, i.e.: don’t puke up all of your heaviest emotions and reactions in inappropriate places and in tactless fashions! Instead, process your emotions with someone you trust before confronting your opponent. Find a friend, partner, neighbor, family member, or therapist you trust and let your emotions run wild with them. After all, nothing is off limits in conversations with your confidants. Be angry! Vent! Say “irrational” stuff! Allow yourself to “go crazy!” The goal here is to respect your emotions and give them a space to live and breathe freely. Your body will thank you for doing this! And not only that, your future discussions with the person you’ve had conflict with, will be much more constructive. Now, I’m not saying that the outcome will necessarily be optimal for everyone involved, but I am saying, with much confidence, that the result of a conversation had after emotions have been processed, is a much healthier conversation.
So, what must you do to behave healthily after a conflict that has psychologically triggered you and has elicited a strong emotional reaction from you? Here's how to stop being a slave to your emotions.
1. Going from 0-60 in 3 Seconds is Your Indication That You Have Been Triggered
When it comes to learning how to stop being a slave to your emotions, do not implode in the moment. Simply acknowledge your strong reaction. (Sidebar: I’m not talking about moments like catching your partner cheating on you or watching someone get punched in the face. In those types of situations, immediate reactions are clearly inevitable. However, the conflicts I’m addressing are the more common day-to-day conflicts that usually happen as a result of disagreement, confusion, disappointment and the like.)
2. Take Some Time for Yourself or Vent with Someone You Trust
Process your emotions. Yell, scream, or do whatever to express the way you are feeling.
3. Do Not Engage in Impulsive Behavior
No 2am text messages, emails, or social media venting! Put simply, you must sleep on it before communicating with the person you had conflict with. Stop yourself from communicating with them at all costs if you are in the middle of a grandiose emotional reaction.
4. Finally, Communicate with This Person Only when You Have Processed Your Emotions and Can Express Your Point of View with Dignity and Integrity
There is nothing worse than communicating angrily and disrespectfully. This kind of communication not only undermines the other person, but also makes it difficult for anyone to take your point of view seriously.