Relationship Primer: Tips 1 and 2 for Getting the Most out of a Relationship

In my earlier posts, I defined what a relationship is, listed three categories of relationships and addressed the four attributes of a relationship.

In the next two posts, I will address 4 tips which will help you apply what you have learned so far about relationships and give you some suggestions about how you might choose to intervene if you want to improve a relationship that is “working”  or change a relationship that is dysfunctional. 

The four tips are:

  1. Master Your Emotions
  2. Master Their Emotions
  3. Remember and apply the Basic Relationship Rule
  4. Shoot for a win/win but settle for a compromise

I will discuss tips 1 and 2 in this post and tips 3 and 4 in the next post.

Relationship tips 1 and 2:

Tip #1: Master Your Emotions

Because I have written several posts dealing with emotions and emotional mastery, this section will only cover mastering your emotions in the context of relationships.  As a reminder, you can access all of my previous posts by clicking the Index tab above.

There are two reasons why mastering your emotions is the first tip.  The first reason emphasizes the importance of relying on your emotions to alert you to your surroundings and the possibility that something isn’t right in your relationship.  Accurately  perceiving your interactions with others is critical to maintaining or improving the relationship that you have.

The second reason emphasizes the importance of lowering your arousal level so that you can clearly assess the nature of the possible problem and focus on an effective response. If your arousal level is too high, you are more likely to react and possibly escalate the situation than to respond and move forward.

The Anger Mastery cycle illustrates, using anger as an example, how the emotional mastery cycle works. The link, by the way, takes you to a downloadable copy of the Anger Mastery Cycle.

 We all constantly scan our surroundings for any possible threat.  When a threat is perceived, an emotion is elicited which alerts us to our initial perception of what is happening to us. Our emotions then evoke a behavioral reaction.

Your emotions, therefore, are your window on the world.  They are your “early warning system”.  Your emotions alert you to how you perceive what is going on around you and prepare you to deal with whatever you see that “isn’t right”. This alert is the function of the emotion.  The content of the alert is the message of the emotion.

Our emotions may communicate that:

  • we do not like what we see (upset, frustrated, displeased, disappointed),
  • we perceive a current threat (anger),
  • we see a possible future threat (anxiety), or
  • we are aware of a need to move away from the interaction (disgust or fear).

Or,

  • when a relationship is “working” and is relatively free of complicating issues, our emotions inform us that we want to stay in the relationship (happy, content, satisfied) and we tend to just “go with the flow”.  

This “communication” is the message of the emotion.

Emotional mastery includes: 

  • managing your emotional arousal level so that you don’t escalate an interaction and
  • validating the emotion to give it credibility
  • assessing the message of the emotion against the situation
  • using the message of the emotion to choose an effective response

Most of you have probably heard of emotional management (as in anger management.) Mastery exceeds managing an emotion and involves both understanding what the emotion tells you about how you are viewing the situation and using that information to assess your perception.  Finally, mastering an emotion involves choosing an effective response  (based on your assessment) which will lead to a better outcome (in whatever situation you find yourself).

In the context of a relationship, when you “feel” that something isn’t right, your first step is to take a deep breath.  This lowers your arousal so that you do not react to the perceived violation.

Too often, when we believe we have been “wronged”, we want to lash out, or react. This is not recommended because, while our initial perception may be correct, we might also have misunderstood. It is, therefore, preferable to respond to the situation rather than react.

When our emotions inform us that there is a “problem” with a relationship, we start looking for ways we can “work things out”, “make things better”, “come to an understanding”, and so forth.

Mastering our emotions involves learning to stay emotionally cool while still validating the emotion, assessing the situation to see if it does, indeed, match the emotion, and then using the energy that the emotion gives us to choose how we want to respond to the violation we “feel” has occurred. 

Tip #2: Master Their Emotions

Tip #1 advised you to master your own emotions so that you can lower your arousal level, validate the message of the emotion you are experiencing and respond rather than react to a perceived threat.  That you would master your own emotions makes sense because you can directly impact what you feel.

That you would attempt to master the emotions of another person is less intuitively satisfying and doesn’t seem to make any sense. 

Until it does!

Think about it for a moment.  Your goal in a relationship is to make the relationship work.  The threat you perceive is negatively impacting your interaction with another person and eliciting (not causing) your emotion.

This is also the case for the person or people you are interacting with.

While it is true that you can’t directly impact what another person feels, knowing how the emotional process works gives you an opportunity to indirectly impact their emotions by helping them alter how they perceive you and what is going on between you.

Here are the key steps to mastering another person’s emotions…

  • The emotion you are observing in the other person, and the message that emotion communicates to you, gives you insight into how that individual perceives you and their interaction with you.
  • Understanding this perception allows you to implement the emotional mastery cycle and validate their emotion. Remember that validation does not mean acceptance.  So, you can say something like, “I can see that you are (angry, annoyed, frustrated, etc.))
  • You can then assess the nature of the perceived threat by checking out the basis for the threat by asking for clarification regarding what you might have done which led to their perception of you as (a threat, an obstacle, uncaring, rude etc).
  • You can then, if appropriate, apologize for any misunderstanding.  Be aware that you are not admitting guilt here. You are only acknowledging that something you did might have been misunderstood.
  • You can, then, choose how you will interact with them and seek a resolution by clarifying what you did, asking for additional input from the other person and so forth.

Note that when you validate their emotions, apologize, and ask for clarification,  you are facilitating their changing how they perceive you which should help them lower their own arousal and be more open to anything you might have to say.  This is the key to mastering their emotions.  You are not doing anything to directly impact what the feel and the behavior that feeling evokes but you are using the message of the emotion to help them change their perceptions.

Once you have implemented tip #1 and  both lowered your own arousal level and understood your perception of what is going on in the relationship and you have implemented tip #2 to help the other person lower their arousal level so that they are more open to interacting with you, you can begin to gain some additional understanding into their actions by implementing tip #3.

The next post discusses tip #3 and tip #4.

 

 

 

Saying “I’m Sorry” in a business setting. My take!

My last two posts looked at what constitutes a relationship and what attributes are associated with a relationship.

In this post, I discuss an example which touches upon relationships (and other) issues in a business scenario. Additional elaboration on these issues will be reserved for later posts.

Have you ever done something at work you wished you hadn’t such as being late to a meeting?

Or, failed to do something you wish you had done such as completing a report that was due?

And, when you attempted to rectify the “undesirable” action by saying “I’m sorry (plus an explanation for the “perceived failure”), your boss, or the person to whom the apology was directed looked at you with disdain, displeasure, or disgust.

Even if this scenario hasn’t happened to you, you might still be able to identify with it.

So, what happened?

Well, let’s assume that your “explanation” was, indeed, an attempt to explain the underlying basis for the action that did occur (being late) or the action that did not take place (the absent report) rather than an attempt to simply justify or, in some way, excuse your actions.

In other words, your intent was not to deny, minimize, or avoid responsibility for your actions. Rather, it was an attempt to provide a context for what you did.

The reaction of your boss, however, suggested that he viewed your “I’m sorry” as an excuse and assumed that you were not taking responsibility for your actions.

So, is saying “I’m sorry.” in a business context appropriate?

Well, let’s explore this question from an emotional mastery (basically an emotional intelligence) perspective in the context of building (or maintaining) a relationship.

Basic Concepts:

  • emotional mastery:

The basis of emotional mastery is the idea that emotions are tools which, when mastered like any other tool such as a cell phone, allow you to interact more effectively with your environment and make better inter- and intra-personal decisions.

  • mastering your own emotions:

You master your emotions when you accept your initial emotional reaction as informative, understand the meaning of each emotion (the message), assess your surroundings to see if your initial perception was accurate, and use the assessment to choose how you want to respond to what is going on.

  • relationship:

A relationship is any interaction with another person that has value, is personally meaningful, or personally significant, and which, if not handled appropriately can result in unwanted consequences.

  • mastering the emotions of another person:

You master the emotions of someone else by observing their actions and attempting to understand the emotion they are experiencing. Then, by using this knowledge to address any problematic issues they might have with you, you attempt to facilitate a mutually beneficial change in their behavior by changing their perceptions of their interactions with you.

  • Retrospective mastery:

Managing the emotions of another retrospectively involves assessing the emotion that is displayed and working backward to understand and change the emotion.

  • Prospective mastery:

Determining how you want to be perceived and acting accordingly.

  • Manipulation vs Mastery:

When you opt to facilitate change in another person solely for your own benefit, you are manipulating the other person.  If you are detected, your relationship with that person will deteriorate.

When you opt to master the emotions of another so as to improve the relationship with that person in such a way that the change is mutually beneficial, you are mastering the emotion.

Mastery is productive. Manipulation is counter-productive.

“I‘m sorry”.

By itself, the meaning of this phrase is ambiguous.

For example:

  1. “I’m sorry I didn’t attend the meeting. I was held up in traffic.”
  2. “I’m sorry for your loss.”
  3. “Sorry about that.”

#1 is perceived as an excuse or attempted justification.

#2 is perceived as an expression of condolence and sympathy

3# is perceived as an expression of indifference.

The phrase “I’m sorry.” takes on meaning from:

  • the context in which it is said,
  • the “modifiers” that follow it (the information provided regarding what one is sorry for or about), and
  • the perception of the person receiving the “apology” in terms of the relationship with the “apologizer”, the perceived intent of the “apologizer”, and other factors

The perception of the “receiver” is impacted by many factors including:

  • relationship with the “apologizer”
  • past experiences with, and opinions about, “I’m sorry”
  • how one views any “failure to live up to expectations”
  • and so forth.

Think about this for a moment.  While there may be times when you are able to discern the nature of your boss’s reaction toward you (his perceived “threat”), there will also be times when you can’t know for certain what the basis of this perception is.

So, you may need to adjust your own comments to cover a range of possibilities.

“I’m sorry” plus restitution

When you said, “I’m sorry” and gave your explanation, your boss responded with a look that suggested his displeasure, some form of rebuke or censure, or even mild anger.

Emotional mastery would suggest that your boss perceives your communication as both inappropriate and as a “threat”.  This is the message of “anger”.  The threat, here, might involve:

  • his (or her) view of you as an “irresponsible” employee who wants to make himself feel better by justifying his “failure” to act appropriately (accountability),
  • his view of any “explanation” as a “justification” or “excuse” designed to manipulate him.

When you are attempting to interact with another person and “master” (or validate) their emotions within the context of the relationship you have with that person, you need to insure that you address the (possible) perceived threats that person might be reacting to.

When addressing a perceived threat, think about the concept of restitution.  Restitution is defined as the restoration of something lost or stolen to its proper owner and usually appears in legal settings where a crime has been committed.

While it is, admittedly, a bit of a stretch to include the idea of  restitution with saying “I’m sorry.” as no crime has been committed, here is how I am viewing your apologizing to a skeptical boss.

Your actions are perceived as a violation of how things “should be”.  Your boss expects you to be responsible.  Your actions have violated this expectation and it this expectation  that constitutes the “loss” that you are restoring.

So, your “explanation” now involves your stating how you will make things right or restore equilibrium.

Put another way, your boss isn’t so much concerned about why you did what you did as much as he wants to know what you will do to make everything right now that whatever you did is already done.

Hence…

I’m sorry.” in a business setting? Yes, with caveats.

It is here that your intentions and how you interact with your boss become important. These are relationship elements.

Caveat #1:  Never just say “I’m sorry.”

The reason here is that, as I noted above, this phrase is like a verbal Rorschach card which, because of its ambiguity, is prone to be misinterpreted based on the biases of the listener. Understanding and accommodating these biases are done in the context of the relationship.

Caveat #2: Be aware of your own intent in saying “I’m sorry.” and clearly communicate that intent.  This is mastering your own emotions.

What are you feeling concerning the “mistake” for which you are apologizing?

Did you unintentionally make the mistake? (feeling guilty and responsible for making it right)

Was the mistake unintended but the result of a situation beyond your control? (feeling content but still responsible for making it right)

And, so forth.

Caveat #3:

Be cognizant of the likely perceptions of your listener.

If you know that your boss expects accountability and responsibility, follow your “I’m sorry.” with a brief delineation of what happened and a clear description about what you will do to make it right.

The “I’m sorry.” communicates your accepting responsibility for any unexpected outcomes.

Your explanation supports the acceptance of responsibility and commits to a plan of action to “make it right”.

Caveat #4: Be cognizant of your relationship with your listener.

How does your listener view you and what expectations does he (or she) have about you.

Tailor your response with these expectations in mind.  For example, how direct can you be with this person.  Do you need to acknowledge  power, gender or seniority differences in your communication?

With these caveats in mind, saying “I’m sorry.” is appropriate because it communicates accepting responsibility and is reinforced by a plan to move forward.

In my next post, I will go into greater detail than this post permitted regarding mastering your own emotions in the context of a relationship (Relationship Tip #1) and mastering the emotions of another person in the context of a relationship (Relationship Tip #2).

And, the post after that will go into greater detail of interacting with another person.  Relationship Tip #3 will address the Basic Relationship Rule and Relationship Tip #4 will look at shooting for a Win-Win but settling for a compromise.

I welcome your comments.

A “personal” note to all my registered readers.. Thanks and help me improve this blog.

I put the word “personal” in quotes because I would like to think that I am writing to each one of you separately.  As I do not do mass email campaigns and I do not want to “spam” anyone, I do not use any of the addresses you post when you register.  Hence, this is the only way I have to reach you.

Thank you for registering for my site and showing your support.  My purpose in writing my posts is to educate and entertain you my readers.  I do my best to try and anticipate what you would like to read but I know I can always do better.

With this in mind, I really would like you to help me make this a better, more relevant blog.

Two points:

First:

If there is a subject you would like me to address in a post, please feel free to leave a comment on the blog.  I review all comments before they are posted.

Or, if you prefer, send me an email.  My address is TheEmotionsDoctor@gmail.com.  Put “blog comment” in the subject line.

Second:

Please let me know if the Index Tab that I have added to the site to help you to more easily get to the specific post you want is working for you.

Thanks, again, for your support, please keep coming back to the site, and let others know we’re here.

Ed Daube,  Ph.D.   The Emotions Doctor.

Relationship Primer: The Attributes of a Relationship

This is part 2 of the Relationship Primer series. In the last post, we defined what a relationship is and discussed three categories of relationships.

In part 2, I discuss the attributes of a relationship.

You can gain a better understanding of a relationship in terms of the function the relationship serves, what sustains it, what accounts for one’s actions within the relationship, or what might account for the relationship becoming unstable or problematic by taking a closer look at the attributes of the relationship.

The attributes of a relationship work across all three categories discussed in the last post.

The attributes of a relationship include:.

  • The context (including time frames) in which the relationship exists.
  • The rules (explicit or implicit) that apply to the relationship.
  • The expectations you and the other person bring to the relationship
  • Miscellaneous factors such as gender, power differences, age, and elements unique to each individual such as interpersonal skill sets and self-image.

Context

The context of a relationship is the setting in which that relationship occurs.  Some examples of context include..

official settings:

  • your work,
  • a business such as a store or an airport counter,
  • a governmental office,
  • an official phone contact including tech support, making an appointment, or placing an order
  • ordering food at a “sit-down” restaurant
  • a school,

casual settings:

  • starting a conversation with a stranger
  • a party
  • a “blind” date

Rules:

A rule is an explicit (stated or written) or implicit (implied or understood) regulation, mandate or principle governing conduct within a particular setting. 

Explicit rules include:

  • policies
  • contracts
  • codes including ethics
  • laws
  • parental “mandates” which apply to kids

Implicit rules include:

  • precedents (as in “the way things are done around here”)
  • implied guidelines (as in “this is the way you deal with that boss”)

If you don’t know the rules that exist within a given context or setting, you are more likely to “cross the line” and be perceived as acting inappropriately. This can lead to conflict.

If the rules are explicit, as in written policies, laws, mandates or ethics codes, it is reasonable to assume that others within your setting are familiar with, will understand, and will act according to those rules. Or, if their actions violate a given rule, informing them that a rule exists should be sufficient to produce a change in their behavior.

If you know the rules, you expect others to act in accordance with the rules and you “judge” or label the behavior of others as “right” or “wrong” based on whether that behavior conforms to or violates the rules. 

Expectations:

Context and rules often determine the expectations that participants have about how they and the other person in the relationship should act.

An expectation is a future prediction about what we believe will happen and, more importantly, what we believe is required to happen (based on whatever criteria are being applied).

Please note that an expectation involves…

  • our prediction regarding what will happen in the future and
  • our statement of what is required to take place. 

What makes expectations so critical is the belief, expressed as an expectation, that another person is obligated or required to act in accordance with the expectation.

So, if I expect you to do something and you do not, I perceive you as violating some norm or rule.  It is this perceived violation that elicits my anger, displeasure, criticism, or desire to punish or correct the violation.

One’s expectations are often the basis for misunderstandings and conflict in relationships!

Sometimes, we are aware of our expectations.  For example, we expect our server at the restaurant to be polite and attentive.  If the restaurant is not busy, we expect our coffee to be refilled as frequently as needed.  If the restaurant is busy, our expectations change accordingly.  If our coffee gets cold and is “never” refilled.  Our displeasure is clear, our expectations have not been met and the tip we may leave might reflect this displeasure.

At other times, we may not be explicitly aware of our expectations but someone does something and we are surprised at what we see.  This “surprise” is an indication that an expectation has either not been met or has been exceeded.

Our expectations impact our emotions and our actions whether we are aware of them or not.

Sometimes, there can be a conflict between the expectations of the participants in a relationship. 

When I was working as a Psychologist in a juvenile correctional facility, I wrote a report in which my “recommendation” was in direct conflict with what the Institutional team was recommending.  The Superintendent called me into his office and berated me for “not being a team player”. His expectation was that I, as a team player, would go along with the team’s recommendation.  I agreed with him about, and assured him that, I was a “team player”. In this instance, however, I had a higher standard I had to meet. My psychological data led to a different conclusion and I had an “ethical” responsibility to follow my data. My personal expectation was that, when ethics trumped loyalty, I would be ethical.

Another example is when a boss might expect that he (or she) can “take advantage” of a subordinate who “expects” to be treated with respect.  The “me-to” movement is beginning to address this “injustice”.

Miscellaneous factors:

Finally, there are other (miscellaneous) factors which can impact a relationship. Miscellaneous factors may impact the “expectations” each participant brings to the relationship.

Miscellaneous factors include:

  • gender (or gender identification)
  • power differences (when one’s position involves the ability to negatively impact a subordinate and this “power” is used to exploit a subordinate)
  • each participant’s model of the world (one’s model of the world is a general view of “the way things are in the world”or “the way things should be in the world” regarding right and wrong, interpersonal relationships, honesty, values, appropriate vs inappropriate actions, and so forth)
  • skill sets (These are the abilities that each person has including assertive skills, problem solving skills, and communication skills.)
  • the self-image of each participant (This is the picture one has of oneself and includes self-confidence, one’s place in the world, how one relates to others, one’s sense of entitlement and so forth.)

In the next post, I will look at an example of an interaction which touches upon the concepts of mastering emotions and relationship issues (reacting with another person).

Relationship Tips #1 and #2 address mastering emotions and will be covered in a later post as will Tips #3 and #4 which look more specifically maximizing your interactions with another person.

If you are registered with this blog, please leave a comment.

 

 

 

Relationship Primer: What is a “relationship”?

This is the first of a series of posts on relationships.

In this series, I will help you…

  • understand what relationships are 
  • how you can appreciate the relationships you have that are “working” 
  • how you can attempt to improve the relationships that are problematic.  

In this post, I look at what actually constitutes a “relationship”.

Enjoy, and, if you are registered, please leave a comment.

What is a “relationship”?

Take a moment and think about the relationships you currently have.

You probably thought about your significant other, your kids, or perhaps someone like a family member that you used to be able to relate to but are now estranged from.

Of course, you thought of the easy, or obvious, relationships.

But, did you think of your boss, your co-workers, the clerk at the store who helped you find the perfect gift, the policeman who pulled you over on the way to work, or the tech guy you called to help you figure out how to make your phone do what it is “supposed” to do but doesn’t do for you?

Or, did you think about the person at work  you have to interact with in order to do your job but who, in reality, is a “jerk” because that individual marginalizes, demeans, or discounts you in some way?

On both counts, probably not.

What is a relationship? A working definition:

A relationship is any interaction with another person that:

  • has value, is personally meaningful,or personally significant

or

  • which, if not handled ” appropriately”, can result in unwanted consequences.

“Relationship” only indicates that there is a connection between you and another person and that you and another person are participants in the relationship.

The definition of a relationship does not, by itself, tell you anything about you, the other person, the nature of the connection, its valence (positive or negative) or how serious the connection is.

All of these elements are important and help to delineate what the particular relationship entails.

The category which you decide best describes any relationship in which you are a participant can impact the expectations you bring to that relationship.

I discuss expectations and their impact on a relationship in the next post.

Three Categories of Relationships

There are at least three categories of relationships.  The first two are obvious.

The third, while less obvious, is no less significant.

  1. Personal – family, marriage, kids, in-laws, friends, significant others
  2. Business – your boss, co-workers, or customers with whom you interact
  3. Unrecognized – the clerk at the airline ticket counter, the tech person you call about your computer, the cop who pulls you over.

Unrecognized relationships are those interactions with others  that you do not typically recognize as “relationships” but which can impact your life.  They may help you get an upgrade on your airline ticket or hotel room, help you avoid a traffic ticket, or improve your ability to achieve other “outcomes” you desire.

Years ago, I happened to be standing in line at an airport and watched a man aggressively tell the clerk that he had to get on a specific flight.  The clerk had informed him that the flight was full.  He postured, the clerk repeated what she had said, and the man left in a huff.  The next person in line approached the clerk politely, stated his need to be on the flight and, was able to get a seat.  This second customer approached the clerk as if he had a “relationship” with her.

Fluid versus concrete distinctions

The categories I have noted above and the examples I have given for each are in no way meant to be either definitive or rigid.  They can overlap.  For example, your co-worker can be a personal friend.

A suggestion: Avoid “labels” and think of all “connections” as “relationships”

As a general rule of thumb,  I try to communicate to others that I see them as a “person” and not just as a “label” such as “employee”, “cop”, “clerk” and so forth. In other words, while the connection I have with this person may not last very long, if it is “meaningful”, it is still a “relationship”.

Indeed, I am suggesting that going forward you consider all important connections that you have with other people as “relationships”.  When you do this, the importance you use as a lens through which you view that connection will have a significant impact on how you relate to the other person.

Why is this the case?

Well, there at least two reasons:

  1. When you define a connection with another person, you are viewing that connection as significant or worthy of attention.
  2. If a connection is significant, you will take some time to figure out what is going on with, how to make progress within, and how, possibly, to improve that connection.

That a connection is significant does not imply that it is positive, desirable, or healthy. As an example, that “jerk” at work may be someone whose cooperation you need to complete a project. While you might like to eliminate him (or her) from your life and consider the connection undesirable, negative, or unhealthy, it is still significant.

And, it is, therefore, a relationship.

The Attributes of a Relationship:

It is possible to gain a better understanding of the connection that constitutes the relationship by examining the various attributes which define your relationship.

I’ll discuss the attributes of a relationship in the next post.

 

An Open Letter to my Registered Subscribers

Blog Registration:

I recently adjusted my blog so that only those who register can leave a comment. Many of you have chosen to register and I thank you for your support.

Your Email Address:

I want you to know what happens to the email address you provide when you register.

The short answer is nothing.

I do not like spam and I assume that you do not either. While I could be wrong, it is entirely possible that you gave your email address because it is required in order to register and be able to leave a comment and NOT because you wanted another source of email notifications in your inbox.

Based on this assumption, you will not be receiving emails from me.

Communicating with me:

I DO, HOWEVER, WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU ABOUT HOW I CAN MAKE THIS BLOG BETTER FOR YOU!

So, as a registered reader, please leave a comment on the blog or feel free to contact me via email. My email address is TheEmotionsDoctor (at) gmail.com. 

Note ==> Put “TED” in the subject line. 

I, personally, read all comments and TED related emails.

New Posts:

I post a new article every other Wednesday because I want to educate my readers about emotions and about relationships.

So, visit the site (at least) every other Wednesday for a new post and leave a comment if you choose. (Liked the article because…Didn’t like the article because… Want more information about…)

Finally-A Reminder about the “Index Tab” to help you access earlier posts:

Remember to click on the “Index Tab” in the upper right hand corner of the home page. I have upgraded the index to list posts by Topic, Title and Date to help you more easily access any article that interests you.

Again, thanks for your support and continued involvement with my blog.

Ed Daube, Ph.D. The Emotions Doctor.

Five Steps to Mastering Emotions.

Both self-control and effectively interacting with others require you to master your emotions as strategic tools.

This is a bold statement that you might find odd for at least two reasons:

  1. While everyone talks about managing emotions, few authors talk about mastering emotions. (Mastering one’s emotions includes and goes beyond managing one’s emotions.)
  2. Emotions are critical components in successfully dealing with issues that primarily involve you (self-control) and with issues that involve others (relationships).

Anger as an example

Many articles have been written about managing the emotion of anger. In these articles, the authors tend to view anger as a “negative” emotion which must be controlled so that it doesn’t explode in unwanted, often destructive, behavior. Managing anger involves calming down (lowering your level of arousal), forcefully controlling your anger, or preventing it from being expressed by distracting yourself in some fashion.

There are at least three problems with this approach to anger.

The first that anger is labelled as a “negative” feeling. There is no such thing as a negative emotion as all emotions are adaptive and have evolved to provide you with actionable information about the world around you.

Secondly, in spite of the questionable practice of misrepresenting inappropriate behavior as an “anger problem”, anger is never the main issue. Anger is just a feeling. How one chooses to deal with his anger is always the “problem”. This choice places responsibility on the person not the emotion.

Thirdly, managing one’s anger is implied as the only (or best) way to deal with this often very strong emotion. From an anger mastery perspective, managing one’s anger is only the beginning of the process of adaptively dealing with anger.

Teaching someone who has an “anger problem” to manage his (or her) anger is one goal of treatment. It is not the ultimate measure of success.

Mastering Emotions

Few articles talk about managing or mastering all emotions (including anger). It seems a bit ridiculous to think about managing your excitement or mastering your guilt or your anxiety.

But, this is exactly what I am suggesting!

Mastering your emotions involves five steps.

  1. self-awareness
  2. manage your own arousal
  3. understand the message of each emotion
  4. assess the match between your emotion and the situation in which you find yourself
  5. choose an adaptive response

Step 1: Self-awareness

In order to master your emotions, it is important for you to be aware of how that emotion physically presents itself in your body. In other words, where and how do you experience each emotion. What part of your body tenses, feels warm, or begins to churn when you feel angry, anxious, upset, guilty, ashamed, and so forth?

You may not be aware at this point of how your body reacts to each emotion but you can become familiar with your body by observing what you feel the next time you experience the emotion you want to learn to master.

In Chapter 4 of my Amazon best selling book Emotions as Tools: Control Your Life not Your Feelings, I have included checklists to help you identify how your body specifically reacts. Choose an emotion and use the tables to monitor your body.

Step 2: Managing Your Own Arousal

Once you become aware of your initial emotional reaction, it is important to lower your physical arousal so that you don’t immediately take an action (react) following the emotion.

Ultimately, you want to respond to your situation.

Lowering your arousal level does not “come naturally” and must be learned. You do this by teaching yourself to take a step back from the situation and taking a deep breath. The step-back gives you some physical distance and the deep breath gives you some psychological distance from the situation.

Think about the last time you got excited and “caught up in the moment”. You might have purchased something you later realized you didn’t need or said (or did) something you later regretted.

Whether the emotion is excitement about a new adventure or “shiny object” or anger regarding the violation of an important value, stepping back from the situation and taking a breath will give you an opportunity to adaptively deal with what comes next.

Step 3: Understanding the message of each emotion

Each emotion communicates a different message to you based on how you initially perceive your situation. Understanding this message enables you to assess your initial evaluation of what is happening. Your emotions are always valid as they represent your initial (often unconscious) evaluation of your situation. However, the emotion may not be accurate as you might have misinterpreted another person’s actions or intent. Or, you might have reacted to what is going on based on your own past experiences, current levels of stress, wishful thinking, and so forth.

Step 4: Assessing the match between your emotion and the situation in which you find yourself.

Once you have tuned into the emotion you are experiencing and understand what that emotion communicates to you about how you are viewing your situation, you can take a physical and psychological step back from the situation and attempt to assess the degree to which your reality matches your perception.

You do this by asking yourself questions such as:

*Have I misunderstood what is going on here?

*Is there another point of view that I am missing?

*What evidence is there to support my perceptions?

Based on your assessment, you are ready to move on to the next step.

Step 5: Choose an adaptive response.

The fifth step is to choose an adaptive response to the situation. An adaptive response is an intervention which helps you improve your situation.

If you believe your emotion matches the situation than you will choose a response that utilizes the energy of the emotion as motivation to manage the situation.

This is mastering your emotion.

If you believe that your emotion does not match the situation, than you might choose to change your perception by asking for clarification or additional input from others with whom you are interacting. When you change your perception, you change your emotion.

This response is also mastering your emotion.

Mastering your emotions opens up opportunities to be more effective in your relationships with others. Emotional mastery can also help you improve your own life by helping you become more effective in meeting the goals you set.

In addition, you can apply the same principles of emotion mastery to dealing with the emotions of others.

5 Facts About Emotions to Help You Take Back Control of Your Life.

This is a reprint of an article I published on Vigyaa.com When you have finished reading the article, I recommend you click on over to Vigyaa and look at some of the interesting article published over there.

Most people have it backwards. They think they need to control their emotions to master their lives. The truth is that when you master your emotions, you gain control of your life. Here are some “facts” to help you master your emotions.

Two Important questions:

1. Do you, or someone you know, get angry and do things you later regret?

2. Do you, or someone you know, get anxious and avoid doing something you later wish you had done?

For many people, the answer to both of these questions is YES.

Because of how emotions work, it often feels like emotions such as anger and anxiety control us and cause us to act, or not to act, in ways we might later regret.

This can leave us with a sense that we are not in control of our lives.

The reality, however, is that we are in control of our lives and emotions help us maintain this control.

Here are 5 facts about emotions which will help you take back control of your life.

Fact #1Emotions are Tools you can learn to master.

If you have ever purchased a new “smart” tool such as a computer, cell phone, TV, car, or sewing machine, you know that these “tools” often involve a learning curve. For example, if you want to get the most out of your new phone, you will need to acquire some new skills.

Mastering your new tools greatly enhance their usefulness.

Mastering your emotions as tools could make your life more meaningful, improve your relationships, and give you back control over situations in which you find yourself.

By the way, the words emotions and feelings are basically the same (unless you are a scientist doing a study or writing technical books) and the words can be used interchangeably.

Fact#2: Your emotions alert you to and prepare you to effectively interact with your surroundings.

Most people believe that their feelings both control and happen to them. While this is partially true, it is also misleading.

Indeed, there is a subconscious element of emotions which you do not control. However, there is also a conscious element which gives you a great deal of control.

Here is how the emotional process works.

The subconscious element:

All of us constantly scan our surroundings for threat. This process is hard-wired in us and helped us survive as a species when our early ancestors lived in caves.

This subconscious element functions the same today as it did millennia ago.

When you perceive a threat (physical or psychological), your brain sends a message to the Thalamus which puts your body on alert. This is called fight or flight. It is your initial reaction to an emotional situation.

The conscious element:

At the same time, the thinking part of your brain gets a wake-up call to begin the process of thinking about the threat you have subconsciously noticed. This element of emotions allows you to assess your situation and empowers you to decide how you will react. This choice helps you improve both your own life and your relationships with others.

The process of assessing your situation and choosing a response is called emotional mastery.

You don’t control your initial reaction but you can learn to master your response to the perceived threat.

Fact #3: Each emotion informs you about how you perceive your surroundings. You can use this information to choose how you will respond to what happens to you.

Two examples of “information” and choice:

1) your gas gauge informs you about the fuel in your tank so you can decide whether you need to stop and fill up

2) a thermometer tells you how your body is reacting to an internal “disease” process so you can decide whether you need to consult a doctor. Your emotions tell you how you perceive what is happening to you and allow you to decide what you might need to do about it.

Each emotion communicates to you a different message based on your initial reaction to an event.

Here are the messages of the some basic emotions.

Anger: You perceive a threat that you believe you can eliminate if you throw enough force at it.

Anger (or mad) prepares you for battle.

Sad: You are facing a loss which may require you to step back, wind down and come to grips with an altered future.

Sadness prepares you for reflection.

Glad: You are facing a situation which looks encouraging and which you want more of.

Glad (or happy) prepares you to engage and increase your level of involvement.

Fear: You are facing a situation which will kill you.

Fear prepares you to escape.

Disgust: You are facing a situation which “leaves a bad taste” in your mouth.

You are prepared to get away from this bad situation, person, or object.

Surprise: You are facing a situation which is different from what you expected. If the surprise is pleasant as in winning the office pool, you may want more of what is going on. If the surprise is unpleasant as in your car not starting, you might wish the incident had never taken place.

Anxiety: You are facing an uncertain future. Another word for anxiety is worry. Anxiety is not the same as fear although people use the words interchangeably.

Anxiety can lead to action or inaction.

The issue with anxiety is that the future MAY or MAY Not take place. If you act as if the future will definitely occur and will result in negative consequences, you may do nothing or avoid that about which you are worried. This is anxiety as distress. On the other hand, if you, like my students, use the energy of your anxiety to prepare yourself for your future, then you will take effective action to prevent the future about which you are worried. This is anxiety as eustress. These are the two sides of anxiety: same emotion, different interpretations and different responses.

Fact#4Mastering your emotions gives you more control over your own life as well as increased influence in your interactions with others.

Definition of emotional mastery: You master an emotion when you understand its message, take a moment to assess the validity of the message as it reflects upon what is actually happening, and choose a response that adaptively deals with the situation you are facing

Mastery and self-control: When you use your emotions as tools, you are now in a position to effectively respond to your surroundings. You are in control of you and you can choose responses which improve your life by effectively moving you forward toward and motivating you regarding goals that you set.

Mastery and interpersonal influence: You can master the emotions of others and deescalate an interaction by observing emotions in others, understanding how they perceive what is going on (the message of the emotion) and choosing a response which validates (does not approve) their perception and helps them to reevaluate their interactions with you.

Fact#5There are a ton of free resources to help you learn about and master your emotions.

This blog covers all aspects of emotions. To help you access over 100 posts by topic, I have included a tab in the top right hand corner of my homepage which will take you to a PDF of my posts by 5 topic areas: Using Emotions as Tools, Anger, Other Emotions, Relationships and Emotions, and Words and Emotion. You can also download the first two chapters of both of my Amazon Best Selling Books by scrolling up to the “welcome” post above.

About the author:

Ed Daube, Ph.D. is an Amazon best-selling author of two books:

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Happy New Year 2019

To you, my readers:

I would like to wish you all a happy and prosperous 2019.

In submitting my posts on his blog, My intent is that your life and your relationships have been improved by the knowledge that you can master your emotions as tools.

I hope that you will continue to use the suggestions I make rather than just consume them (as most people do).

With this in mind, let me reemphasize that I welcome all of your comments and questions.

If you would like me to address an issue related to understanding what emotions are or how to use them as tools, please take a moment to leave me a comment on the blog.  I read every comment because I want to eliminate spam (there is a lot of it) and respond to all legitimate comments.

So, for 2019, help me help you by leaving your comments.

My only disclaimer is that I can only respond in general terms and, while I will make every effort to answer your questions as completely as I can, I don’t do therapy over the internet so my comment may not completely address your issue.

But, I will do my best.

With that said, I look forward to 2019 and I hope you do to.

All the best.

Why it feels like someone else makes you angry. (Note: They don’t.) And, what you can do.

We’ve all experienced it or read about it.

  • We are trying to put together a shelf, a bicycle or a complex something or other and the instructions for taking the next step are mysteriously absent or lacking the information we need.  We are ready to go to war with the company.
  •  A celebrity  gets angry and beats up his girlfriend or does something equally as dumb and says “I got angry” but implies that his anger made him become aggressive.
  • You fill in your own experience.

it isn’t just that we get angry.  Indeed, we experience the anger as instantaneous and interpret what is happening in this way:

A: Something happens.

B: We react with anger.

C: A seems to cause B.

Or, to put it another way, A made us angry.

While it is true that your initial emotional reaction to a perceived threat is quick, automatic and beyond your control, it isn’t true that your emotion chooses your response and  coerces you to act out.

Let me explain.

Anger is one of 6 primary emotions for which we are hard-wired.

When we lived in caves, we did not have sharp teeth or claws like the predators who wanted to eat us and we had to be able to react quickly to both animal predators and other human predators who wished us harm.

Our emotions evolved to do this.

Basically, we did, and still do today, constantly scan our surroundings for any threat.  When a threat is subconsciously perceived, a fast track message is sent to the Amygdala in the brain which communicates, via the Thalamus, with the body.  We automatically go into fight or flight mode.

We are ready for battle or to run.

The threat response didn’t require a lot of thinking and always matched the threat (survival based).

The problem, today, is that our response often does not match the threat because the nature of the threats we face has changed (psychological based).

While this very quick reaction to threat was adaptive and helped us survive when we lived in caves, it hasn’t changed over the millennia and is the reason you perceive your anger to be automatic.

So, yes, your anger may be automatic.

And, if you react without much thinking, that’s your caveman coming out and it feels automatic and beyond your control.

Your behavioral response, however, is neither automatic nor beyond your control.  And, here is why.

As our brains evolved, the cerebral cortex, or thinking part of the brain gave us the ability to choose how we wanted to respond to the automatic or, more primitive, parts of our brain.

So, at the same time that the fast track message goes to the Amygdala, a relatively slower message goes to the Cerebral Cortex whose task is to interpret the nature of the threat and the best way to respond to it.

You’ve experienced a similar reaction-response sequence if you’ve ever made a quick assessment of  situation, reacted, said or did something, got more information and found out that your initial reaction was incorrect and did not match what was actually taking place.

The emotion you felt could have been anxiety if you were worried about something that was never going to happen in the first place such as when you wanted to ask your boss for a raise but avoided it  because you knew he would say “no” and were surprised when you finally got up the courage to ask and he quickly said “yes”. Or, it could have been anger if you went “off” on your kid for being late, saw his/her face, got more information and felt very bad when you found out that your kid drove his inebriated friend home and forgot to grab his cell phone.

The slower track message to your cerebral cortex ALWAYS give you a choice about how you will respond to your anger.

The challenge is that the quick anger reaction is both automatic and more attention grabbing than the slower, we’ll call it thinking, message.

You have to learn how to respond rather than react to perceived threats.

Here is the process..

  • Accept that you make you angry.
  • Learn to pay attention to the “signals” your body gives you when you are reacting with anger (warmth, tightened muscles, focused attention).
  • As soon as you become aware of your anger, remind yourself to take a breath and take a step back from the perceived threat.
  • Use this “break” to assess the real nature of the threat.
  • Choose an effective response which matches the nature of the threat.

It is not easy to learn this process but it is doable.

I welcome your comments.