Grief: What is it and how to master it.

In an earlier post, I mentioned that a very close friend of mine recently died. I, his family and all of his friends were impacted emotionally not only by the loss but by his unexpected (and probably preventable) death.

The emotions I felt were sadness (grief) due to the loss of my friend and anger because I believe he “should” not have died. Both feelings can be valid (appropriate) in the immediate response to loss.

Sadness and anger are both primary emotions  (mad, sad, glad, fear, disgust and surprise) which have existed since we lived in caves and that can be seen today in nearly all human species and some subhuman species.

Sadness is a short term emotion we experience in response to loss.

The message of sadness is that we have experienced a loss and we need to step back and allow ourselves to take some time and readjust to life without the object or person that is no longer with us or the situation, such as a relationship, that has been damaged beyond repair. We can be sad when we “lose” a favorite television program that has been cancelled, we break (or lose) a favorite vase, a friendship ends, or a friend, loved one, or pet dies.

The message of anger is that the situation we are facing is not right, someone is to blame for it, and we want to make it right. In the case of a death, we may be angry at the person who died, others who might have been able to prevent it from happening, ourselves for not doing more, God for taking our loved one away too soon, and so forth.

In response to a death, we experience grief which is a more intense form of sadness and which can be very painful.

This is a link to a very good article on grief which I highly recommend you read.

The emotion of grief can be overwhelming.  I cried and missed my friend. His wife lost sleep, wasn’t eating regularly, and needed the support of family 24/7 for several days.  All of this is quite normal.

You master grief when you validate it and allow yourself (or someone else) to experience it, accept the loss, and readjust to life

To validate your grief is to accept that this emotion, the emotional pain that comes with it, the emotional expression of tears, either wanting to have others around or wanting to be alone (or both), the sense of extreme loss or the sense that you won’t be able to go on because life as you know it has changed, and just about any other expression of grief are, in the short run, completely normal.

To master your grief is listen to the message that you need to take some time to step back, go through the emotional process, and readjust to life. This might involve letting others help you when you need that help, temporarily putting your life “on hold” when you can and, over time, making the adjustments, including acceptance, to get your life back on track.

This is also true if you are supporting someone else who is grieving.

When I was in the hospital room after my friend’s body was returned from surgery, his son was distraught and one of his aunts asked him, “Are you okay?”  When he struggled to say that he was okay, I whispered to him, “No, you are not okay. You are hurting and that is as it should be.”  While I know that his aunt meant well and she was trying to determine if the son was going to survive the event, it was not, in my opinion, the right question to be asking at that point in time  The potential problem with this question is it can put the grieving person in a psychological  bind. My friend’s son knew he was not “okay” and that he was struggling with his feelings about losing his dad. He did, however, want to answer his aunt  and reassure her.  The potential bind is between his need to experience his loss and reassure his aunt.  In my opinion, his aunt’s feelings at that point, while important to her, were irrelevant to him. I whispered my comment because I knew the aunt meant well and did not want to embarrass her.

All the aunt needed to say was that she was sorry for his loss and that she would be there for him to help him in whatever way she could.

Other things well meaning people say include, “He is in a better place.” or “He is no longer in pain.” and so forth. Again, these comments are meant to help soothe and comfort the grieving person but they tend to invalidate the mourner’s feelings. These comments may be very helpful at a later point in time.

You “master” the grief of another person when you validate their feelings, do not put them in a psychological bind where they need to be concerned about your feelings, express that you are sorry for their loss, offer to help in any way they might need you to help, and just be there with, and for, them.

If you are grieving along with the family members, that is understandable. In this case, you master your own grief, as I noted above, by validating your feelings and letting others, who can, help you.

Lastly, as the article in the link above discusses, you should seek professional help if your grief lasts more than a couple of weeks, , you feel that life is not worth living, or you can’t get your life back on track because your feelings are too overwhelming.

Thank you for reading.  I welcome any comments you may have.

 

The message of anger: It is more than just the perception of threat.

In an earlier post, I noted that all of the primary emotions, with the exception of glad (happiness) and surprise, were primitive threat detectors designed by evolution to insure our survival as a species.  The “job” of these primitive emotions was, and is, to alert us to the presence of, prepare our bodies to deal with, and motivate us to take any action necessary to eliminate the perceived threat. This is the fast track message from the senses to the amygdala. Each emotion has a different message.

Remember that the message of anger is that you perceive a threat that you believe you can eliminate if you throw enough force at it.  You see yourself in a situation where you, your values, your physical body, and so forth are vulnerable and you are prepared to go to war.

While this is true, there is a deeper component to the emotional message of anger that, while often overlooked, is crucial to both understanding and mastering emotion.  This is the cognitive component of moral judgement.

Here is how it works..

You get angry at something someone has done but you may not know what is it about their actions that has elicited your anger.  I say elicited and not “caused” as it is your perceptions of the situation that are the underlying cause of your emotions). The primary component underlying your anger is the perception of threat. Their actions have put something important to you at risk. You believe that your beliefs, your values, your goals, or your physical person are being attacked and are vulnerable and that they need to be defended.

Two other components underlying your anger is your perception that the other person’s action are:

  • wrong (You judge what they have done as violating your values.)

and

  • intentional (You believe that they have chosen to do what they did.).

Both of these elements are critical to anger.

If the other person’s actions are inappropriate or unlikable but not, in your judgement, wrong, you might choose to avoid the other person or comment on the behavior but there is no threat and, therefore, no anger.

If what the other person does is accidental, they are not aware of the impact their actions have had, or they are not directly responsible, for some reason, for what they have done, you might not like what they did and you may take action to correct it, but you do not interpret their actions as a choice they have made or as a threat and you are not angry.

Let’s take the example of someone who knocks over and breaks a lamp in your living room.

If the lamp goes down because that person accidentally hits it or because he, or she, is roughhousing with your kid and gets too close to the lamp, you may chide the person for being careless but you don’t hold onto or stay angry at them (If you get angry at all.). There is no threat to your values, you may think his actions are wrong because the lamp is broken, but there was no intention to break the lamp.

If, however, the person has consumed too much alcohol and angrily kicked the table with the lamp on it to “make a point”, “blow off some steam”, or avoid hitting you, your sense of right and wrong has been violated (the threat), a good lamp has inappropriately  been broken (His actions are wrong.), and he (or she) is directly responsible for what they did (He “chose”  to drink too much.).  All three components are in place and you are angry.

In both cases, the lamp has been broken but your feelings are different because of the intentions or underlying motives of the person who broke it.

A second example is that your boss publishes your work under his (or her) name. You get angry because taking credit for your work is a threat to and violates your sense of right and wrong and you know that your boss intentionally did not give you credit in the published report.

So how do you use this information to master your anger?

In my earlier post on anxiety, I talked about V.E.M.A (validate, examine, motivate, and act) as anti-anxiety techniques.  V.E.M.A. is a simplified, easy to remember, formula for dealing with all the primary emotions including anger. While I will discuss the whole (a bit more involved) anger mastery cycle in future posts, for now, let’s focus on V.E.M.A.

When you experience the anger, your first step (V) is to validate your emotion by acknowledging to yourself that you are angry and if your initial perceptions are correct, your anger is appropriate. You are giving yourself permission to be angry.  You have not yet decided what action to take.

What you do depends on the nature of the threat. This is the (E) examination step. Here is where the components of your anger perception are relevant.  If there is any  ambiguity or uncertainty regarding what the other person has done, you will need to determine if your initial perception that they have intentionally acted inappropriately is correct or you have misunderstood what, and why, they did what they did.

If you decide that they did choose to engage in behavior which is wrong, then the the perceived action is, indeed, intentional.  Thus, the action is a threat, is wrong and was intentional. You choose to remain angry and you can then use the energy of your anger to (M) motivate you to (A) take action.

I welcome your comments.

The Orange County Register perpetuates an anger myth.

On May 21, The OC Register, wrote an article entitled:

Focus: A look into what makes Americans angry.

In the article, the register started out noting that “Anger is an emotion characterized by antagonism toward someone or something that a person feels has done them wrong, according to the Encyclopedia of Psychology. Anger isn’t always bad; it offers a way to express negative feelings and can drive you to solve problems.” and noted that sometimes anger can lead to more anger.

The article highlighted American’s anger at the government and at their political parties.  I am sure that there are are many other issues which elicit anger in Americans. I know that, today, there are many issues with elicit my anger.

While I think that the article is good as far as it goes and I understand that the author wasn’t interested in how people can master their anger, there is an inherent danger in the article’s headlines.

There are several anger myths, some of which I discuss in my book Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool. One of these myths, and the one that the Register article appears to support and perpetuate is that something “makes us angry”.

That something outside of me makes me angry is a myth because each individual “causes”their own anger by how they interpret what is happening to them.

The emotion of anger is a primitive threat detector. As a survival mechanism (which helped us survive as a species), we constantly scan our surroundings for threats.  When we perceive a threat we see as one we can go to battle with and overpower, the emotion we experience is anger. It is our perception of a threat that causes our anger The perceived threat elicits (does not cause) the anger. Mastering one’s anger involves assessing the nature of the threat and choosing an appropriate response.

Here is the potential problem with the myth.

If you look at this literally, the implication is that something happens that controls us.  How else can one interpret the word “makes”? If something makes me angry, it is a relatively easy step to the next assertion which is that the thing that made me angry, caused me to take whatever action I took to eliminate the “thing” that made me angry.

If I believe that you made me angry, I do not have to take responsibility for the actions I take toward you.  I can act out aggressively and blame you for what I did.

We see this when a celebrity attacks his girlfriend and blames her.  In another example, Donald Trump disavowed the aggression at his political rally recently but negated his disavowal when he validated the actions of his supporter. If we are such an angry nation as the map in the Register implied, then we should not perpetuate myths that, by implication, allow angry people to avoid responsibility for their actions.

I know that it is entirely possible that most people won’t interpret the article’s headline in this way. However, some (perhaps many) will and, as we have seen, these folks can be problematic.

Master Your Emotions as Strategic Tools: Why bother?

Three examples of not mastering one’s emotions.

  1. Recently, a very close friend of mine died. As we later found out, he skipped getting a blood test which would have discovered the raging infection which killed him.
  2. The daughter of a good friend complained at a recent gathering of our two families that her boss was taking credit for work she had done by publishing that work in an email and not crediting our friend’s daughter as the author of the report. My friend’s daughter felt agitated, angry, and stressed out.  She felt she was powerless in that situation, was aware that she had to avoid doing something she clearly wanted to do and knew she would regret and, later, got physically ill.
  3. My students tend to procrastinate and wait until the last minute to prepare a paper or study for an exam. While this sometimes works out okay, the work produced with this strategy is often of lesser quality than if it had been thought about, planned out, and completed absent the stress of an impending deadline.

In each of the above cases, not understanding what an emotion is and how to both master and strategically deploy the energy associated with that emotion led to unwanted results which most likely could have been avoided.

There is a myth that says “What I don’t know can’t hurt me.”  A myth is a statement that, while it may have some truth to it in some situations, is largely false.  The modicum of truth in the myth allows the myth to persist.  Thus, while some might argue that not knowing about a spouse’s one-time indiscretion which the spouse regrets and will never repeat might be better than having the marriage be threatened, not knowing about tainted drinking water, identity theft on the internet, toxic gases being released into the air, or your body’s response to pain could be a disaster waiting to happen.

Why bother to master your emotions?

Well, the short answer is that if you don’t master your emotions, they will control you and lead you to take action.  In today’s world that is usually something you may later regret.

In fact, from a psychoevolutionary point of view, leading you to take action is exactly what emotions evolved to do, have done since we lived in caves and, absent mastery on our part, continue to do today. Our cave ancestors did not have sharp teeth or claws for survival.  What they did have were emotions which functioned as primitive threat detectors.  These emotional tools (4 of the 5 primary emotions of mad, sad, glad, fear and disgust), subconsciously alerted them to a threat and prepared their bodies to deal with that threat.

I discuss the Emotions as Tools Model  and the emotional myths in my books  Emotions as Tools: A Self Help Guide to Controlling Your Life not Your Feelings and  Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool

For our ancestors, all threats were survival based and would kill them if not dealt with.  Today, most of the threats we face are psychological threats which may result in unwanted consequences but are not fatal. Traffic jams and rude clerks in stores are inconvenient but they are not the same as a saber toothed tiger that wants to eat us.

Please note that while some people may use their emotions as excuses, what I am saying does not, in any way, absolve them of responsibility for their actions.  While one’s emotions may push them to react in certain ways, the actions they take are always the result of decisions they made.

All emotions are tools.  Some emotions like mad, sad, anxiety, fear, disgust, guilt alert us to, and prepare us to deal with, situations (threats), which need to be addressed.  Other emotions such as happy alert us to a situation which is pleasurable and push us to to keep our attention focused on and ourselves engaged in that task.  The “message” of the emotion is  the action we feel “compelled” to take and the nature of the specific task we are facing.

Mastering an emotion involves three main steps:

  1. Learning how to identify, through your body’s physical reaction, and correctly label which emotion you are experiencing and the thoughts/perceptions which maintain that emotion.
  2. Managing, in the case of a threat, that emotion and your reaction to it by lowering your immediate arousal and preventing yourself from REACTING and doing something you later regret
  3. Going beyond emotional management to emotional mastery. This involves analyzing the nature of the threat, adjusting your thoughts/perceptions of the situation if necessary, and choosing how to appropriately RESPOND to that threat.

In example A above, it is entirely possible that had my friend allowed himself to feel anxious about his health instead of rationalizing how “strong” and “resilient” he was in order to avoid the reality of his situation and had he mastered his anxiety, he would have gotten the medical attention he needed.  And, he might be alive today.

In example B, my friend’s daughter, after discussing her situation, mastered her anger and its energy and developed a strategy which was designed both to deal with the supervisor, without using direct confrontation, and successfully eliminate the threat to her professional integrity.

In example C, once my students began to understand both how procrastination was masking anxiety and how to master that anxiety, they approached upcoming assignments from a different and more adaptive point of view.

To conclude, “bothering” to master one’s emotions is important because to do so…

  • gives you back control of your life,
  • prevents you from feeling, or being, victimized by others
  • allows you to take advantage of the information your emotions provide,
  • sets you up to make more adaptive decisions about how best to interact with your environment, and
  • improves your life and your relationships.

I welcome your comments,

Dealing with Procrastination as Anxiety

We have been talking about anxiety and how to deal with it.  While you may not think about it in terms of anxiety, procrastination may be linked to anxiety about some future unwanted outcome.

Many people have written about procrastination and the suggestions they offer are directed at starting the project or overcoming inertia.  Breaking a task down into smaller components, setting S.M.A.R.T  (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-bound), goals, and rewarding yourself for your accomplishments are very good techniques and can effectively help you to either get past the obstacles which seem to surround a new project or eliminate the distractions that lead you to focus on tasks that grab your immediate attention rather than go after the project you are avoiding.

Sometimes, however, inertia is not the issue underlying your procrastination. If the above techniques for overcoming procrastination do not get you back on track, the issue may involve the emotion of anxiety.

Anxiety can overwhelm you and prevent you from taking action.

As I discuss in my book  Emotions as Tools A Self Help Guide to Controlling Your Life not Your Feelings, anxiety is a future based emotion which alerts you to a possible undesirable future and leads you to avoid that future as if it is not only likely but also the only possible outcome.  Procrastination facilitates this avoidance.

Your anxiety will show up in the questions you ask yourself and the focus of the answers to those questions when you think about your project.

If  you find yourself asking questions such as: “What if (the project)  … Doesn’t turn out the way I want it to?,   Isn’t well received, or Is criticized by the team? and all of your answers focus on the worst possible outcomes, then you are experiencing anxiety as “distress” and you are acting as if the project will turn out bad, the team will not accept it, or the new client will reject you. You will rationalize and justify your procrastination in order to support and reinforce your view of the future and your anxiety.

There is a solution.

Three steps to utilize your anxiety as a strategic tool and move past procrastination.

Step 1: Accept and Validate  your Anxiety

These are the Validate and Examine steps, I mentioned in an earlier post.

The focus of this step is to both accept, rather than fight, and validate, or assess, your anxiety. The message of anxiety is that there MAY be a threat out there that MAY harm me. You strategically use your anxiety as a tool when you acknowledge the message of anxiety and assess it. So take a look at your concerns to see if maybe there is some real issue about the project that you need to address.

If there are issues, then address them. In many cases which involve procrastination, however, there probably is no real issue other than your unsubstantiated anxieties.

Step 2: Turn anxiety into anticipation and excitement.

Anxiety looks ahead to an undesirable future and acts “as if” the projected future is the only possibility.  The flip side of anxiety is anticipation which also looks forward to, but gets excited about, a possible desirable future.

You change your anxiety to anticipation by  asking a different “What if..” question.  Examples include: “What if the project works out successfully and everyone is pleased? or “What if I get the book done and it really helps (non-fiction) or entertains (fiction) the people who read it?  These “what-ifs” will elicit excitement.

Step 3: Let the excitement motivate you and move you past your procrastination.

This involves the Motivate and Act steps I noted in an earlier post.

While it may sound simple, it can work with practice and, once you do this, you can then set goals and complete the project.

If you find this post helpful, or you don’t, I welcome your comments.

 

 

Four Anti-anxiety techniques Part 2

FOUR anti-anxiety techniques for strategically using your anxiety. (V.E.M.A)

1.VALIDATE:  Validate (accept) your feeling.

“I am really anxious right now.”

The point here is that your anxiety is telling you that you are facing a big challenge and must prepare for it.  Accepting (validating) your feeling opens you up to the opportunity to examine your anxiety and benefit from its message.

2.EXAMINE:  Use your anxiety as a wake-up call to examine the “reality” of the threat.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What is the “threat” that I’m facing?

In the above example, the threat is the slow internet connection which was preventing my colleague from uploading his information. The threat was real. It was not catastrophic.

You may discover that there you have misunderstood or misperceived the situation and there is no threat.

  • How important is for me to eliminate the threat and get the “job” done?

If the “job” is very important, then you will need to figure out a plan of action. If the “job” is not really that important, then choose to let the feeling go and move on.

  • What do I need now in terms of skills and knowledge, what resources do I have that I can call upon to move forward, or what do I need to do to get the resources I need?

My colleague needed a network connection. With his focus on solutions, he realized that he could borrow a network at a friend’s house or Starbucks.

The point is that you have knowledge and resources upon which you can draw to help you move forward.

Your anxiety, if not used as a tool, can distract you from identifying these resources.

3. MOTIVATE

Use your anxiety as a motivator or energizer to charge up your creative juices and push you to making plans to use the resources you have or will develop.

“I can use all this nervous energy as motivation to get this “project” back on track.”

4. ACT

Take action, NOW.

Answer these four questions, determine where you need to change, get the information you need, and move forward in strategically applying your anxiety. 

  1. I validate my feelings… Yes / No
  2. I examine the “reality” of the threat that might exist.. Yes / No
  3. I use my anxiety as a motivator.. Yes / No
  4. I am taking action on what I have learned… Yes / No

I look forward to your comments.

Four Anti-anxiety Techniques Part 1

Anxiety is a future based emotion. It is looking into the future with a sense of dread.

Examples of situations in which you might become anxious and catastrophise include:

  • Asking for a raise at work.
  • Needing to change jobs because of unacceptable circumstances at work.
  • Needing to talk to your spouse about finances, unacceptable habits, or other topic.
  • Needing to learn to give a speech in order to advance at work, hold a volunteer office, etc.
  • Wanting to ask someone out on a date (perhaps, you are post-divorce and back in the “market”)

Using anxiety as a tool:  The key is to RESPOND (not to react) to your anxiety. This is the EUSTRESS side of anxiety.

  1. View your anxiety as a messenger telling you that action may be needed.
  1. Use your anxiety as a motivator to take action.

You use your anxiety as a tool when …

  • That report is due at work, or at school, and you stay up all night to get it done.
  • You are going on vacation in two days and you manage to clear your desk and make arrangements so you can leave without worrying about what happens while you are gone.
  • You start a new business, buy a new car, or take out a loan on a house and you read all the documents a second time to make sure that “all the i’s are dotted and all the t’s are crossed”.

I welcome your comments on the above.

 

Fear and Anxiety

I noted in my last post that fear and anxiety were not the same emotion.

Too often, people confuse the two emotions.  An example is the saying, “I’m afraid I might not do well on the exam next week.” Now, I am not saying we need to change the way we talk.  I am saying that if you want to learn to master your emotions, you would benefit from knowing the actual feeling you are experiencing and even using the right word to discuss it. This is so you can choose the most adaptive response to the situation you are facing and to which your feeling is alerting you.

Fear is a present “here and now” feeling.  It is the hair on the back of the neck feeling of dread you might experience if you are facing a robber who is pointing a gun at you or if you are alone in an abandoned garage and you hear footsteps, or, and this one is important, you are looking at someone who is standing in an elevator appearing to be just fine but who just doesn’t feel “right” to you.

The best advice is to always listen to your fear.  This does not mean that the guy in the elevator is a danger to you. For people who have developed a prejudice toward others, fear may come up and be totally inappropriate. All I am saying is that if you feel fear, act on the side of caution and take the next elevator.  Gavin de Becker’s book The Gift of Fear is an excellent source for information on this emotion.

Anxiety is a future based emotion the message of which is that there MAY be a threat and it MIGHT “kill” me.  Anxiety is the “butterflies” in your stomach, the sweaty palms, the nervousness, or the uneasy sense of impending doom you might experience if you have an interview coming up for a new job, you get pulled over by a policeman, you want to meet a new someone, and so forth.

There are two types of anxiety.  Eustress is the enabling form of anxiety in which you use the nervous energy of your emotion as motivation to study for the exam, prepare for the interview etc.

Distress is the disabling form of anxiety which stops you in your tracks, prevents you from taking action on your own behalf, leads you to make an excuse why you shouldn’t approach your new someone and so forth.

Mastering your anxiety involves assessing the nature of the possible threat. What would happen if the threat actually took place? Could you survive it? If you could survive it, you can move to eustress.

Another “trick” for mastering anxiety is to turn it into anticipation (or enthusiasm).  Anticipation is the flip side of anxiety.  The energy of both emotions is the same.  The message of anticipation is that if I handle this situation, good things could possible take place that I might really like.

Think about how you approach your anxiety.

If you have questions or comments, please leave a comment.

The Emotional Process Part 3

In an earlier post I mentioned the 6 primary emotions of mad (anger), sad, glad (happy), fear, disgust, and surprise.  With the exception of glad and surprise, all the primary emotions are primitive threat detectors.

Each of the primary threat detectors focuses on a different threat.  The “message” of each emotion is an alert that you may be facing a specific threat. An important part of mastering your emotions and using them as strategic tools is the ability to recognize that your emotion is alerting you to and preparing you to deal with a possible threat so that you can choose how you want to respond to the situation in which you find yourself.

Remember that the fast track message from your senses to the amygdala sets you up to react to the threat as if it was a real and valid issue that would hurt you if not eliminated. Also, remember that your initial perception may not always be accurate. The slower track message to the cortex gives you the opportunity to master the emotion.

So, let’s look at the message of each primary emotion.

The message of mad (anger) is that you perceive a threat that you believe you can eliminate if you throw enough force at it.  When you get angry, your attention narrows onto the “enemy”, adrenaline is released into your body, and you are ready to go to war. We will focus more on the anger mastery cycle in a future post.

The message of sad is that you have experienced a significant loss in your life.  The emotion of sadness is experienced as a loss of energy and a desire to withdraw from the situation.  If you have experienced a significant loss, it is in your best interest to take some time and process the loss so that, when you are ready, you can return to “life” and begin to move on.

In is important to keep in  mind that emotions are not experienced as an “all or nothing” phenomenon. It is not the case that the feeling is either present or absent.  You can experience the feeling as a less intense sensation that something minor has happened or as an overwhelming sensation that some major has taken place. Think about being sad that your favorite TV show has been cancelled by the network verses losing an important family heirloom or experiencing the death of a relative.

The message of fear is that you are facing a threat that will kill you unless you escape.  Fear is a present “here and now” emotion and is not the same as anxiety which is a “future based” emotion.

The message of anxiety, by the way, is that you are facing a threat which MIGHT be harmful to you.  I will talk about anxiety in a future post.

The message of disgust is that you have encountered something unpleasant, repugnant, distasteful, or offensive.  Disgust is what you experience when you taste a food that is spoiled and you recoil with an anguished look on your face.  The emotion sets you up to recoil, and expel or get away from the threat.

I hope this has been informative and I look forward to your comments.

The Emotional Process Part 2

In my last post, I spoke about the emotional process and detecting threat.

While your emotions are designed to detect threat, this doesn’t mean that an actual threat exists.

When we were living in caves, all threats were real and would kill us.  There was no ambiguity.  If it looked like a threat, it was a threat.  This type of threat is called a survival threat. Our emotions evolved to protect us from survival threats. Survival threats exist today and include being confronted by someone who wants to physically harm you, seeing a loved one whose life is at risk unless you are able to rescue them and so forth.

Problems arise because, today, most of the threats we face are psychological threats.  Psychological threats may hurt us but are not fatal or they may not be threats at all.  Threats to your ego, your values or the way you think things “should” be are psychological threats.

The emotional process involves acknowledging your feelings and the possibility that a threat actually exists, taking a deep breath before you react to both physically calm yourself down and to give you some psychological distance between you and the threat, and assessing the nature of the threat before you choose a response.

The same process occurs when you are making breakfast and you burn the toast.  Your smoke detector goes off.  Rather than call the fire department, you assess the nature of the threat the detector is warning you about, realize that there is no threat and throw the burnt toast away.  If the smoke detector went off in the middle of the night, your assessment might be very different.

When I talk about each of the primary emotions, I will tell you what the threat is and the choices you have about responding to the threat.