We don’t come with emotion-handling software already installed. As young children, we were pure, unrestrained emotion. Any disappointment resulted in a red and tear-stained face and joy over the smallest delight would result in spontaneous and unselfconscious giggles.
And then, over the years, we received guidance on how to handle our emotions. Some of us heard the message that emotions are a sign of weakness and should be avoided at all cost. Others grew up in environments where emotions were a form of currency, used to get what you want from those around you.
Regardless of our particular emotional education, few of us mastered the curriculum by adulthood.
So here’s a little guidebook, a brief refresher on how to handle your emotions. Don’t worry if you still struggle with these reminders. Learning how to be human takes a lifetime.
Do Be Curious…Don’t Judge
It always breaks my heart a little when I hear someone say, “I shouldn’t feel that way.” Because they DO feel that way. And that is entirely okay. Judgment doesn’t make the emotion go away. All it does is frost it with a layer of self-criticism. Instead of judging the emotion, try asking yourself, “I wonder why I’m feeling this way?”
Do Approach…Do Not Attach
We are busy. And with so many tasks and people and apps always demanding our attention, our own internal emotional landscape often takes the back burner. Yet even if we don’t take the time to look, it’s still there, influencing everything that comes into our sphere. Slow down. Take a moment to notice how you’re feeling. Name it. But don’t become too comfortable. Emotions, like clouds, often pass. If you attach too much with a certain feeling, you’re interrupting this natural cycle.
Do Moderate…Don’t Bury
It’s a good thing that most of us have gotten better at handling emotions over time. An entire office building of tantruming workers would be a little awkward. We need to be able to dial down our emotional intensity and filter our emotions through perspective and rationality. Yet sometimes we take this too far, stuffing down our emotions and locking them away. Of course, they are still there. Only now instead of whispering, they’re going to start screaming.
Do Accept…Don’t Enable
You feel the way you feel. That’s okay. What’s NOT okay is to cater to those feelings like they are some sort of monarch. For example, if you feel sad, feel sad. But you don’t need to work to become the best iteration of sadness that ever existed. Instead, feel sad and also hold yourself to your goals. And remember, you are not your feelings.
Do Direct…Don’t Control
Have you ever told a hyper toddler to just sit still in a restaurant? How did that work out for you? Obviously, you can’t just let them unleash the beast within the establishment, but you can take them for a walk around the parking lot before dinner. Our emotions respond in much the same way. If you try to order them to sit and stay, disaster will ensure (and you may be thrown out of the restaurant), but you can channel your emotional energy in acceptable ways.
Do Listen…Don’t Believe Everything They Say
Our emotions are worth listening to. Our rational brains may be smart, but they are also prone to all sorts of fallacies and delusions (confirmation bias, anyone?). Our emotions operate a different level and are often able to pick up on things that our thinking selves are trying to talk us out of seeing. So listen. But also verify. Because much like the dog that sometimes barks at a falling leaf, our emotions sometimes get a little confused about what constitutes an actual threat. Feelings are not facts.
Do Share…Don’t Expect a Certain Response
We are emotional beings. It’s okay to show your feelings. Yet so often when we do share, we do so with an expectation of how the other person will respond. And then if our expectations are unmet, we blame the emotion. When really the fault is with the unrealistic expectations. Emotions are uniquely personal. Although we all feel the same ones, we don’t always feel them in the same way or in response to the same things.