Learn the difference between mastery and suppression of your feelings.
John, a 48 year old business executive, learned long ago from his father to cowboy up, stop crying and to control his emotions. At times it has been a useful tactic in business and his relationships, but now it has all caught up with him in the form of overwhelming stress.
Whether we want to admit it or not, our emotions affect everything we do. Unfortunately, there is a common misunderstanding that if we turn off or away from our emotions, then they will not affect us.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Emotions that are pushed down, denied and repressed do not go away! They end up coming back with a vengeance at the worst time and place, affecting your performance and everything you do.
So it is well worth taking the time to learn how to deal with your emotions and how they work…
While none of us likes to feel anger, guilt or sadness, those who learn to work through these and other difficult emotions get past fears, doubts, worries faster and they have the ability to bounce back quicker. This is what being mentally tough is all about!
How To Develop Mental Toughness
The definition of Mental Toughness is having confidence, determination, focus and the ability to comeback from any setback or mistake. To begin to cultivate a mentally tough attitude it starts with understanding that all emotions and especially the difficult ones are our internal guidance system. They help keep us on track with our goals and what we want out of life.
When you feel bad in any way, shape or form that is your guidance system telling you that something is off track with your higher values and goals and that you need to do something to get back on track.
Most men associate being men and mental toughness with pushing down their feelings or ignoring them. When they do this, they are not getting the “learning” or “message” the difficult emotions are trying to show us. Our bodies will keep creating the feeling until we do some corrective changes.
Notice I use the term “difficult emotions” rather than “negative emotions.” This is because you want to embrace ALL emotions as good. Remember, they are your internal guidance system. Once you get this, then you don’t FEAR them and this is how you become fearless.
We need to accept that difficult feelings are a part of life, and we can’t avoid them by resisting them. We can only minimize difficult emotions by accepting them and establishing a plan to deal with the issue that is causing the feeling.
That means feeling the pain and knowing it will pass. No feeling lasts forever. It means sitting in the discomfort and waiting before acting. Once it passes, then you will devise a plan to change the situation that is causing the difficult feeling. This will help you change from feeling bad to feeling empowered.
Our power comes from realizing we don’t need to act on our difficult emotions. We just need to channel them into something healthy and productive, like doing something physical or writing about it.
Feelings are just an indication we need to change something, learn from our mistakes or take better care of ourselves; but sometimes it just means that it’s human to hurt, and we need to let ourselves go through it.
Hidden Emotions Create All Kinds of Problems
Feelings are created by the mind for one sole purpose—to be expressed. If difficult feelings are not expressed, they remain trapped inside the body and over time cause physical illness due to the high levels of stress within the body.
Many studies from around the world found that repressed anger, hate and resentment are the emotional link to cancer. Those trapped or repressed difficult feelings, such as anger, also increase the stress hormone cortisol which suppresses the immune system.
Practice Observing Your Feelings and Taking Responsibility
It’s not always easy to understand a feeling when it happens, especially if you think you shouldn’t feel it, but forget about should. Instead, try to pinpoint exactly what you feel—scared, frustrated, worried, ashamed, agitated, angry—and then pinpoint what might be the cause.
Reserve all judgment. Simply find the cause and effect, i.e.: your teacher or employer seemed unhappy with your work, so now you feel stressed, or a family member expressed dissatisfaction, so now you feel hurt or angry. Anytime you feel something uncomfortable that you’d rather avoid, put a magnifying glass on it.
Men are problem solvers … start using that ability and consider your difficult emotions as the alarm bell to begin to take corrective action. That’s how this system is supposed to work.
Once you know what you feel, you can now challenge both the cause and the effect. Then you can accept that there is an alternative—you can choose to interpret the situation a different way and then feel something different. No one else causes our feelings. Only we can choose and change them.
That means feeling the pain and knowing it will pass. No feeling lasts forever. It means sitting in the discomfort and waiting before acting. Once it passes, then you will devise a plan so you will feel empowered.
Our power comes from realizing we don’t need to act out right away on our difficult emotions. We just need to channel them into something healthy and productive, like doing something physical or writing about it. When you’re ready, then you take action steps to deal with the issue that caused the emotions.
Feelings are just an indication we need to change something, learn from our mistakes or take better care of yourself; but sometimes it just means that it’s human to hurt, and we need to let ourselves go through it.
If you feel like hitting a wall just feel it and what you want to control is your reactions to the anger and that IS something you can control.
You can go into the feeling of anger and keep your head together, while allowing yourself to feel it.
People think there are only two things they can do—either express their anger in violent ways or push it down. But you can’t control anger—it is impossible, you just control your reactions to it.
There is something in the middle called mastery. You don’t have to act on your anger. You sit and be with the feeling of anger and go with it, but don’t act on it.
Then when the feelings subside and then you start to explore what course of corrective action you need to take to get back on track. Figure out a plan and then go take that action to get back on course.
This is what we teach in our mental toughness training and we call it mastering your emotions not controlling your emotions. You learn to appreciate that guidance system and work with it and embrace it as something that helps you get what you want.
Today when John is stressed instead of going for a martini, he’ll take a short time out where he takes a few deep breaths, writes out what he is feeling and what he is going to do about it.
Read more on Male Toughness on The Good Life.
Image credit: Allan Henderson/Flickr
Yes, it’s very true that we should differentiate being mentally tough with being a hard ass. These are two very different things.
Love how this explains how to master your emotions as well.
Boysen the ManKind project looks amazing and good for you seeking out like minded men who are role models and leaders for other men and boys! I would love to get in touch with one of the leaders of the group – any suggestions?
Great article. Thank you. For adult men – often the practice of learning to take responsibility for emotional states (or even understanding them) can take an extraordinary experience. I’ve been a part of an organization for almost 10 years that creates a crucible for men to get in touch with authentic toughness and get skills for ‘being with’ emotions that men may have been pushing down for years. Check it out: ManKind Project.
Emotions always come out, and often at the worst time. We need to learn to work with them, not tamp them down harder.
A lot of men need to learn, too, that anger is often just a cover of some other emotion, since they’ve learned that anger can be OK, but fear, sadness, and shame are not.
Could not agree more David! Emotions always eventually come out. If they are not expressed they get expressed through disease, depression or a heaviness that will not lift. It is OK to express not only anger, but fear, sadness and shame. That is where real bravery comes in and releases the pent up emotion.
Good article, but is the topic of masturbation still taboo? I recall Joycelyn Elders getting fired by Clinton from her Secy. of Health position over her remarks that masturbation should be included in educating our youth. Teens definitely would like to masturbate when there’s no partner available, relieving frustration, anxiety, stress, other emotional ailments. There was a rape in my neighborhood the other day and might it have been prevented had masturbation been taught as being OK and normal? I would rather have a porn addict as a neighbor than a rapist.; the same goes for a potential unwanted pregnancy.… Read more »
How does masturbation apply to mental toughness Keith?