If you’ve spent part of your life ignoring your emotions, now’s the time to learn how to handle them.
Anger, sadness and other negative emotions are a part of all of us, whether we like it or not. They all have valid functions for certain situations. They are required for survival. However, they also creep into our lives and affect them in unwanted ways. We get angry for, seemingly, no reason or we get so sad we spiral into depression. They can even cause us to ruin relationships, especially if left unchecked.
This is why we need to know how to regulate our emotions.
We as people, especially us men, are generally useless at this. Mainly because it takes a great understanding and awareness of our emotions. This is as foreign to us as the inner workings of a female’s handbag. It also holds the stigma of being unmanly.
There is nothing wrong with understanding your emotions, it’s actually imperative!
So, to begin to understand it is important to know what our emotions do for us.
- They motivate and organise us for action.
- They communicate to and influence others.
- They communicate to us.
If we are being attacked our anger organises us to respond, it focuses on protecting ourselves and controlling the situation. Our emotional expressions, verbal or otherwise, indicate our intention and emotions. Our would-be attacker will pick up on our fear and or anger, through our actions and facial expressions just as much, if not more, than our words. In the same situation our emotions tell us how to react and give us instinctive responses called “that gut feeling”.
Emotional regulation is tough, and not just because we’re men. There are other factors making it difficult.
Biology – Some are more genetically predisposed to being more emotionally aware than others.
Lack of skills – In the early stages of our development we pick up on our parents emotions, they teach us how to react. Some will pass on their lack of skills to their child.
Reinforcement – When other people give in to our negative emotions we get the desired result. We think that is how to get what we want and continue to do it whenever we want the same thing. You reinforce a child’s tantrum for sweets every time you give in to it, especially if you first say no and then give in.
Moodiness – Some times we’ve just had a bad day; it’s as simple as that! Not everyone is the Dalai Lama!
Emotional overload – This is when “Murph” (in my best Mathew McConaughey voice) hits hard, whatever can go wrong has gone wrong and all the stress, pressure and emotion boils over and you lose it!
Emotional myths – We tend to be very hard on ourselves when we feel out of control. We make it black and white, “I should have acted this way” and “I should not have said that.” There is not always a right answer when it comes to emotions.
Now that we understand emotions a little better we can begin to put names to them. I suggest finding and reading a list of negative emotions. When you feel something is not right look at the list and decide what you are actually feeling. There are loads of words to describe anger. You can be frustrated, grumpy, annoyed, hostile or indignant. Each one has varying degrees of severity and knowing which one you are feeling goes a long way in teaching ourselves what the correct response should be. Frustration is much easier to deal with than ferocity.
Now we have named the emotion we can start to change our response to it.
Discover what event prompts the unwanted emotion.
When you start to look for them you begin to find little clues and cues that set off certain emotions. They may come from inside, our own assumptions and reactions can prompt us to act on an emotion that will not help us at all in an interaction. They can be external, the way a person speaks to you, something they said that really gets to you. Try avoid blaming, don’t say things like “you always do this” or “you never do that”. These will ALWAYS get you in trouble!
We can be more susceptible to emotions in some cases than others.
Lack of sleep, being “hangry” (angry because you haven’t eaten, brilliant I know), you have “manflu” (which, as we all know, is much worse than normal flu), quitting smoking and stress all affect our ability to handle emotions. So if you feel vulnerable you may consider what other factors are at work, maybe you just need a cookie!
Check the facts.
It’s very difficult to change an emotion once it’s been felt and out there. Have you ever tried to calm down while you have smoke coming out your ears? If we check the facts straight away we know whether our emotional response fits. If we stub our toes on the table there’s no need to fly off the handle. We need to stop assuming and stick to the facts. If you ever feel like you might be boiling over take yourself out of the situation, calm down, and take a walk. You cannot be effective while you are in your emotional mind.
Act the opposite.
This sounds too simple to be true, but that clichéd adage “fake it till you make it” works, especially with emotions. So if you check the facts and realise your assumptions are wrong, you have no reason to feel that emotion. It’s very hard to be miserable with a massive smile on your face.
If need be get help.
Find a mental health care professional who can help you deal with emotions and not let them rule you. Through, for example, DBT (Dialectical Behaviour Therapy) a psychologist or psychiatrist can help you develop the skills required to harness your emotions.
How we treat our mind and bodies has a huge effect on our ability to cope.
Exercise produces endorphins, and endorphins make you happy. It’s difficult to be sad when you have a bunch of happy hormones coursing through your veins.
Eat healthy meals. What you put into your body fuels it. So what you put in is what you get out.
Voice your feelings and concerns. We men tend to bottle things up. I think of it like a balloon, you keeping filling it with air and it expands and expands, but eventually it pops and that is good for no one.
Deal with stress and don’t let it get on top of you. Meditation and proper sleep all help in combating stress.
Being able to regulate our emotions is the mark of a true gentleman. He is unflustered in the face of aggression, calm in any situation and never flies off the handle. He also realises that nothing is ever perfect and there will be instances where he will make mistakes. A gentleman endeavours to change and acknowledge his faults and learn from them.
- DBT Skills Training Handouts and Worksheets, Second Edition, by Marsha M. Linehan.
This article was originally published on Gentleman’s Evolution.
Photo: Getty Images