How to master the emotion of Resentment

When you perceive  that you have been mistreated, slighted, wronged, or victimized and taken advantage of by someone and you were not in a position to do anything about it (emphasis added), the emotion you experience is resentment.

To put it another way, resentment involves the perception that someone has taken advantage of, or victimized, you because they have an “asset” such as power, position, or influence that you do not have.

This is the message of the emotion of resentment.

By contrast, if you were focusing only on the issue that someone has wronged or victimized you without the element of some unfair advantage, this action on their part would represent a threat and the emotion you would be feeling is anger.

I will address anger specifically below.

Resentment can be accompanied by other emotions including frustration, hostility, bitterness, other “hard feelings” and, of course, anger.

The downside of resentment is that your self-esteem, self-worth or value can be diminished if you put yourself down relative to the other person.

On the upside, however, short-term resentment can bolster self- esteem by allowing you to blame others for what may be your issues.

“Blaming others” is not, however, using your emotions either adaptively or strategically.

Adaptively and strategically deploying your emotions is the approach advocated by the Emotions as Tools Model which focuses on mastering one’s emotions in order to improve your life and your relationships.

Let’s unpack this approach from an Emotions as Tools perspective:

How do you master resentment?

In order to answer this question, I need to revisit the emotions cycle.

Remember that you constantly scan your surroundings for any “threat”.

When a threat is perceived, the amygdala in your brain reacts, generates an alert which triggers the sensation of an emotion and prepares your body to take action consistent with the emotion and the perceived threat.

This reaction happens unconsciously and is what you are referring to when you say “I resent (whatever is your target)”

At the same time as this reactive message goes out, a signal is sent to the cerebral cortex which is the thinking part of your brain.

Emotional mastery engages the cerebral cortex to assess the situation and choose how you want to respond to what is happening.

Remember the message of resentment.

When you resent another person, you have perceived them as hurting you by utilizing an advantage that they have over you.

Thus, there are two parts to this interaction.  One is the wrong that may have been done to you and the second is the use of an unfair advantage.

From this perspective, you need to question your perception which elicited the emotion.

And, so that you can do this as objectively as possible, you need to take a psychological step back from the situation to create some “space” between you and the other person. This is not easy and you may have to get some help to do it. But, it is doable.

Mastering an emotion involves…

  1.  Accepting that no-one causes you to feel anything.  You create what you feel by how you perceive what is happening to you.
  2. Questioning the message of the emotion in terms of the extent to which it informs you about…
  • what is actually happening in your situation
  • what actions, if any, are needed to bring about adaptive changes in your situation and
  • the energy you have access to in order to facilitate taking those actions.

Let’s apply this to the emotion of resentment…

An important element in the Emotions as Tools Model is the awareness that, while you may or may not have been victimized, wronged or taken advantage of, you are not “powerless” and may have options available to you to deal with the situation you are in.

Here are the questions you need to ask and get answers to:

  • What is actually happening in your situation?
  • What did the other person actually do?
  • To what extent was I wronged, slighted, insulted or denied my “fair share”?
  • To what extent did the other person take advantage of me? If they took advantage of me,  what was involved (position, power, gender, my situation)?
  • Was I actually “wronged” or is there some other explanation for what they did including a possible misunderstanding (by you or the other person),  poor communication skills, inadequate social skills, etc.

If there was no “wrong”, you may only need to clear up any misunderstanding.

If there was a “wrong”, then you need to ask and answer several additional questions:

  • Given that there was a “wrong” which led to my being “taken advantage of”, what are my options for “making the situation right” ?
  • What options do I have available to me which won’t put me at greater risk including office policy and power differentials between me and the other person? (This acknowledges the “advantage” the other person may have.)
  • Can I approach this situation directly or do I need to take a more indirect approach?

If there was, indeed, a “wrong” then you will need to engage the emotion of anger and you will need to “forgive” the other person.

WhileI have addressed both anger and forgiveness in other posts, let me give a quick overview…..

Anger is a primary emotion which serves as a primitive threat detector.  Anger subconsciously alerts you to and prepares your body to engage with and eliminate a perceived threat.

The message of Anger is that you perceive another as a threat and you are ready to go to war to eliminate the threat.

In the context of resentment, anger is important because it provides the energy to pursue your plan to “right the perceived wrong”.

The concept of forgiveness is NOT that it absolves anyone of any responsibility for their actions.  Forgiveness is for YOU and involves the process of stepping away from and disengaging from the other person so that you can focus on your options.

So, you experience resentment, assess that you have been both wronged and taken advantage of, and use your anger to develop and carry out a plan to make things right.

If you were only wronged but no unfair advantage was utilized, your resentment resolves into anger and you can pursue your plan.

A reminder..

When you experience yourself feeling resentful toward someone, keep in mind that resentment is often a compound emotion which includes anger.

Because anger is both a very powerful emotion and a very familiar emotion, you may identify your anger before you identify your resentment.

I am not saying that one feeling is more predominant over the others.  In fact, they are all mixed together.

Dealing with mixed feelings is often difficult because you may only be aware of one feeling and may not recognize that others are present.

So, you may have to ask yourself, when you are angry or resentful of another person, if there are other feelings present.  If so, label each one accordingly and attempt to “master” it as best you can.   As anger and resentment are the strongest emotions here, once you master them, the others may just resolve themselves.

And, I NEED TO EMPHASIZE, if you believe that the situation you are in represents a risk that you do not feel you can safely handle alone, seek help from a professional.  Dealing with emotions such as resentment in any context in which someone is taking advantage of you can be dangerous so proceed with caution if necessary.

 

 

Asking Questions: A Critical Tool You Can Use to Master Emotions

I have discussed the Emotions Cycle (EC) in numerous previous posts.

This cycle describes both how the emotions we experience are elicited and how we can strategically deploy those emotions as tools.

Recall that the EC involves our constantly scanning our surroundings.

This unconscious process is:

  •  protective in that we continuously  and automatically scan for any threats,
  • informative as it alerts us to any situation which requires that we quickly take action to insure our “survival” and
  • energizing as it automatically prepares our bodies to take the necessary action.

There are at least two basic categories of emotions: Survival based emotions and Engaging emotions.

  1. The “survival” focussed emotions are primitive threat detectors and include emotions such as anger, fear, disgust, anxiety.  These primitive threat detectors prepare us for “fight or flight”.
  2. The “engaging” emotions such as happy, anticipation, and excitement prepare us to enthusiastically interact  with what  is going on.

Once we experience an emotion, the conscious part of our brain kicks in and provides us with the opportunity to validate the emotion.

Validation involves:

  •  accepting that the emotion is giving us information about how we perceive what is going on
  • examining the extent to which our initial perception matches what is actually happening and
  • matching the emotional response to the “reality” of what is going on in the situation.

Once, we determine the degree to which what we think is happening matches what is actually happening, we can choose how we want to respond to the situation.

The process of validating our emotions involves asking questions.

The Process of Asking Questions

While it sounds easy to “just ask questions”, the process of asking the right question in order to elicit useful answers isn’t easy as it involves:

  • lowering your arousal level so that you can…
  • focus on the situation at hand and
  • remaining both mindful and somewhat objective, or detached, from that situation, so that you can…
  • understand the nature of the informative answers you are seeking.

Indeed,  if we don’t ask the “right” questions, the answers we get won’t be of much use to us in generating an adaptive response to our situation.

The “right” question is the one that focuses your attention on, and attempts to gain insight into, what is actually going on in your situation that elicited the emotion you are experiencing.

So, let’s take a closer look at both the process of asking questions in the context of gaining insight into your situation by validating your emotions and exploring some examples of questions you might ask.

Step 1: Create safety.

Before you can effectively deal with any emotional situation, you have to create some “safety” in that situation.

So, the first step, which prepares you to ask questions, is to take a step back from what is going on and the second step is to take a deep breath.

The first step creates physical safety and the second creates psychological safety.  If your situation only involves you, then taking a deep breath, or two, is all you need to do.  The deep breath has a calming effect on the body and provides an opportunity for you to  increase your objectivity.  The more intense the emotion, the more problematic it will be to remain objective or “detached”.  But, it is doable and the more you work at maintaining some detachment, the easier it gets.

(Note: Remember that emotions and feelings are, in this context, the same thing.)

Step 2: Identify your initial feeling.

You can gain some insight into your emotional reaction by asking:

What am I feeling here?

The emotion you initially experience is elicited by your subconscious perception of what is going on.  It is influenced by the present environment, the other person’s behavior, perceived differences in status between you and the other person, your own past and any emotional “baggage” you may bring with you into the present.  This baggage can involve previous situations which seem (but may not be) to be similar to the present, your insecurities or doubts, your interpersonal skill sets, etc.

The important issue here is to remember that your initial emotional reaction may, or may not, be accurate.

It’s nice if only one feeling comes up but sometimes you may experience several (or mixed) feelings.

You will need to accept whatever answer comes up and avoid judging (in any way) what you are feeling.

Accepting the feeling is the first step to validating it.  You do this by remembering that:

  • you are entitled to feel whatever you feel
  • you may not be entitled to act on the feeling
  • this is your initial reaction
  • you will be exploring this feeling to see how well it fits the situation
  • you can change the feeling.

Step 3: Clarify the situation.

You can gain some insight into the situation you are facing by asking:

What is actually happening here?

This is where you attempt to be as objective as you can.

This question encourages you to look at both what appears to be happening (your initial perception) and what might be happening (other ways to view your situation).

Other questions include:

  • Could I be missing something here?
  • What interpretations or judgements am I making about the other person and what he/she is doing?
  • What is the other person trying to accomplish here?
  • Could his/her actions be the result of a lack of ability to express his/her needs in a more appropriate way?

NOTE:

  1. It is important to note that you are not excluding the possibility that your initial perception is accurate and that the other person’s behavior is both inappropriate and represents the actual threat your feeling is telling you exists.
  2. By asking the above questions, you are either redirecting your thoughts so as to change how you perceive what is happening and your feelings about it or you are confirming your initial perception as a precursor to taking action.

Step 4: Bring your feelings in line with the situation.

This step involves aligning what you feel with what is going on.  Alignment will help you choose an adaptive response to your situation (Step 5).

Alignment asks:

To what extent does what I am feeling match what is going on?

Here, your intent is to bring what you are perceiving and feeling in line with what is actually happening.

Other questions you might ask include:

  • Does the intensity of my feelings match the situation?
  • Do I have several feelings I need to consider?

Now, that you have decided what is going on and how you feel about it, the next step choose an adaptive response.

Step 5: Choose an adaptive response.

The question you need to ask here is:

What is the best way for me to respond to what is going on?

What often happens when someone reacts to an emotional event is that they overreact, get a response from others they later regret, and blame the emotion for “causing” them to do what they did.

They might say, “If I wasn’t so angry, I would not have (done something stupid, acted out aggressively, hurt someone, etc.).  While it may be true that if the emotion were not present, the inappropriate action would not have occurred, it is NEVER true that the emotion CAUSED the inappropriate action.  What we do is ALWAYS our CHOICE!

Other questions you might ask here include:

  • What are my options for expressing my feelings?
  • Are there “display” issues I need to consider?
  • What actions do I want to take?
  • What are the consequences of each option?
  • What result am I hoping for?
  • What if I do nothing?

This 5 step process uses questions to move you through the Emotions Cycle.

Final notes.

You have now  completed the Emotions Cycle starting with your initial unconscious perception and ending with your conscious choice of what actions you want to take.

You did this by asking relevant questions, paying attention to the answers to those questions, changing your perceptions as dictated by those answers, and choosing an adaptive response.

 

Dealing with the Emotion of Guilt. Part 2: The Steps

This is the second part of a 2-part series designed to both educate you about the emotion of guilt and provide you with the steps you need to take to deal with and resolve the emotion.

In part 1, I discussed several emotions which you might experience when you consider some action you took in the past that yielded results you did not anticipate or want.  The one emotion I wanted to specifically focus on was guilt.  I defined and explained this emotion.  I also introduced you the Basic Relationship Rule (BRR) and listed the 6 steps.

In this post, I will discuss each of the 6 steps and tell you what you need to do to implement them.

Enjoy.

Steps 1 -3 focus on you and the other person.

Steps  4-6 involve you dealing with your guilt.

Step 1: Assess the situation. 

The emotion of guilt tells you that you believe you have done something wrong.  Your first step is to review what you did, in light of what happened after you did, including any consequences, and determine whether or not you did anything wrong.

It is entirely possible that you did nothing wrong and that your guilt is not giving you accurate information.

Step 2: Accept responsibility for your actions.

 If you did something wrong, it is imperative that you accept responsibility  for your actions.  Your guilt is motivating you to make the situation right and accepting responsibility for what you did is critical.  If you don’t feel responsible, you won’t see any need to take corrective actions.

Step 3: Make it right with the other person (if possible and appropriate). 

Here you decide what needs to be done to correct whatever it is that you did. This might involve nothing more than sincerely apologizing.

(Incidentally, I wrote a blog entitled: Saying “I’m Sorry” in a Business Setting. My Take in March 2019)

Or, it could involve additional actions.  What you need to do will  vary with the situation, what you did, the context in which you did it, your relationship with the other person and so forth.

You may need to reestablish your credibility, your reliability, your reputation, your honesty and so forth.

Step 4: Understand your actions.

In order to resolve your guilt, you need to understand what led up to your doing what you did. Please note that understanding does not eliminate responsibility which is why you had to take responsibility for your actions in Step 2.

This is where the BRR comes in.

The BRR reminds you that you did the best you could given your Model of the World (how you perceived what was going on at the time) and your Skill Sets (what actions were available to you to deal with your situation).

Your best, in the situation, was not THE best possible action. It was just the best you could do.  Clearly, you need to figure out what you need to do so you have more options available to you going forward.

Your actions stemmed from your perception, understanding and instant analysis of what was happening at the time. Clearly, since you did not get the results you wanted (You’re feeling guilty about what you did!), you need to look at your Model and your interpersonal skills, at the time and ask some important questions.

  • Did you misinterpret what was going on?
  • Did you overreact?
  • Were you defensive when you didn’t need to be?
  • Were you feeling awkward, embarrassed, or inadequate and, therefore, over-compensated?

Perhaps, the actions you took came about because you did not know how to respond to what was happening.  You may have correctly understood what was going down but did not know what to do.

This happens with men who may feel anxious and inadequate in dealing with others and, because the emotion of anxiety leaves them feeling “weak”, go to their anger (as a secondary emotion), feel empowered, and make dumb decisions.

Once you understand and have learned from the actions you took, you are better prepared to make some changes in yourself about how you view and respond in your interactions with others.

Step 5: Forgive yourself.

I have written several articles on forgiveness.

The concept here is that you give yourself permission to move on. You did what you did, you accepted responsibility for your actions, you understand what precipitated those actions and you have made both amends and changes.

Now, it is time to remind yourself that you can let the past go of the past and move on.

Step 6: Let the guilt dissolve.

I’ve added this step as a reminder to you that, just because you have done all the other steps, the guilt you feel may not just go away.

So, when (or if) you experience guilt when you think about your past actions, this is normal.  Should this happen, remind yourself that you have done everything necessary involving the incident from your past and you are ready to move on.

Do this whenever it is needed and the guilt will, in time, dissolve and go away.

You can do it.

 

Understanding and Dealing with Guilt. Part 1: A Comprehensive Overview

This is my first post of 2021 and, in the spirit of getting off to a new start and moving beyond your past, I want to talk about one of the feelings that you might experience after you’ve done something that turns out bad and yields an unwanted result.

This is part 1 of a 2 part series of posts.

Part 1 will give you an overview of the emotions which might be elicited (NOT caused!)  by some action you took in the past and will introduce you to the Basic Relationship Rule.

Part 2 will discuss the actual steps you need to take to deal with, dissolve your guilt and move on.

Part 1

Actions taken and the feelings these actions might elicit.

If you feel guilty, you are focusing on the “bad” thing that you did.

If you shame, you are focusing on yourself as a horrible person for having done it.

If you feel regret, you are wishing that you had not done it.

If you are angry, you view the results as representing some sort of threat to your expectations, your goals, your values, and so forth.

You can feel any, all, or none of these feelings following what you did.

Past articles

The last article in which I discussed guilt and shame was posted in September 2017. I discussed regret in July 2016. You can view these posts by going to the Archives to the right of this page and clicking on the specific month of the post you want to read.

The Index Tab: A reminder.

By the way, you can access all of my posts by clicking on the Index tab in the upper right hand corner of this page and opening up the PDF.  To make your access easier, I have listed all of my posts by category, title and date.

The Emotion of Guilt

In this post, I will revisit the emotion of guilt and the message it conveys, discuss how to strategically deploy this emotion, and talk about how you can get rid of the feeling by applying the Basic Relationship Rule (BRR) to yourself and deploying I.W.B.N.I’s once you have validated and strategically deployed the emotion.

Guilt is a powerful emotion the message of which is “I did something wrong.”

Guilt is a backward oriented feeling.  Its focus is on the past.

In other words, you do not feel guilty when you are engaged in the action, you later feel guilty about.

Rather, you feel guilty when you reflect back on what you did in light of the consequences that resulted from the action you took.

The downside of guilt is that, if not handled appropriately, it can weigh on you, negatively impact your effectiveness in life by eliciting feelings of worthlessness (shame or depression), and impact your relationships with others.

It is this downside that probably leads some writers to advocate that you get rid of, or eliminate, guilt.

Unless you are talking about guilt that is persistent, intrusive and not connected to a specific set of actions, I do not agree that you should eliminate the feeling.  This approach to guilt implies that there may be something wrong with the emotion, per se.

I maintain that ALL emotions are adaptive and need to be viewed as tools that inform us about situations which require our attention.  This is the upside of an emotion.

Using this emotion as a tool, the upside of guilt is that it alerts you to an action you took which needs to be examined, perhaps corrected and learned from. This alert is the message of guilt.

Put another way, you strategically deploy your guilt as  a tool when you validate it, use its  power as a motivator to critically revisit your actions and examine the circumstances that existed at the time, the decisions you made, and the actions you took from the perspective of what you did, the results you experienced and what you intended to happen.  Once you do this, you can use the power of the emotion as a motivator to “make it right” and resolve to learn from your mistakes and move forward.

So, how do you resolve and dissolve  guilt once you have strategically deployed it as discussed above?

The process of resolving guilt involves applying the principles of the Basic Relationship Rule (BRR) to yourself.

The BRR states: Everyone, in every situation, does the best they can given their Model of the World (as it applies to the situation in which they find themselves) and their Skill Sets.

Usually applied to others..

Typically, the BRR is used to understand the behavior of another person with the goal of developing, maintaining, or correcting the relationship you have with that person.

Equally as valid when applied to you…

As it applies to you and the behavior about which you are feeling guilty, the BRR tells you that the “offensive” behavior was the BEST you could do, in the situation, given how you viewed that situation (your MODEL) and the SKILL SETS (your interpersonal abilities) you had, at the time, for dealing with what was happening between you and those you interacted with.

Here are the steps to deal with guilt.

  1. Assess the situation.
  2. Accept responsibility for your actions.
  3. Make it right with the other person (if possible and appropriate).
  4. Understand your actions.
  5. Forgive yourself.
  6. Let the guilt dissolve.

I’ll discuss the specific steps in detail in the next post.

 

 

 

Happy 2021

Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve.

We are on the verge of a brand new year.

While we have all experienced many challenges in 2020, my hope for you is that you will have HOPE in 2021.

Your thoughts are critical!

As readers of this blog, you know that it is not the events that we encounter that determine what we experience. These events are filtered through our perceptions and how we choose to interpret these events determines what we experience and the emotions that are elicited by the event.

In other words, while “shit” happens, its impact on us is totally up to us.

If I step in dog poop, it is upsetting.  If I change my grandson’s poopy diaper, it is what it is.

So, it 2021, my hope is that you will…

  • deploy mindfulness to keep you focussed in the moment
  •  master your emotions so that you control your life and it continues to move you closer to your goals.

Your Relationships Connect You!

How you interact with others can have a critical impact on how you live your life.

The Basic Relationship Rule is your guide to better relationships: Everyone in every situation does the best they can given their Model of the World and their Skill Sets.

So, it 2021, my hope is that you will…

  • deploy the Basic Relationship Rule so that your relationships with others continue to grow and bring you pleasure.

Be safe and Happy New Year to you and yours.

Chanukah, Christmas and Kwanza.

As I am publishing this post, many are you are almost to the end of celebrating Chanukah.  I hope yours was a joyous celebration.

Christmas is next week.

I would like to wish you and yours a safe, happy, and very Merry Christmas.

And Kwanza is also next week.

Google says the appropriate greeting for Kwanza is Habari Gani.

If this is wrong, I apologize.

Whichever Holiday you celebrate, we live in stressful times so make your Holiday a joyous one.

And, while you still need to be cautious about covid, you can still celebrate and enjoy the moment.

A Gift to Others and You: Strategically Deploy the emotions of anticipation and surprise this holiday season.

In my 11/4 post, I discussed the emotion of surprise.

In my 11/18 post, I addressed the emotion of gratitude.

As I write this, it is the beginning of December.  We have just finished with Thanksgiving and are about to enter the “Holiday Season”.  While covid-19 may change the way we experience this Holiday Season, I’d like to suggest that you thoroughly engage and experience two emotions you probably don’t think too much about.  Specifically: Anticipation and Surprise.

Some basic concepts:

The emotion of Anticipation

Anticipation is the flip side of the emotion of anxiety.

Anxiety is a future based emotion the message of which is that there may be a threat in the future that may “kill” me.  When we get anxious, we often act as if the possible threat is an actual threat and react by being unable to take any effective action.  This is anxiety as distress.  Anxiety as eustress takes the energy of the emotion and uses it to prepare for the possibility that the threat may occur.

Note: The Index Tab above will take you to a PDF which lists all of my previous posts, including those on Anxiety, by category, title and date.  Click on the tab and look for the specific post which interests you.

The emotion of anticipation is also a future based emotion.  For anticipation, however, the message is that there is a possible event in the future that I want to experience.

Anticipation both sets up an expectation regarding and prepares you for something good.

The emotion of surprise.

Surprise, as an emotion, grabs your attention and focuses it on an event. The message of Surprise is that an unexpected event has occurred and you need to assess it to see if it is beneficial or detrimental.

The issue of perceptual sets.

Did it ever occur to you that you might not see your surroundings as they actually are?

Huh, you say, what does that mean?

Well, the psychological fact is that, while you may see something, like a fast food restaurant, you may not notice it because it has little value to you unless you are hungry.

The concept of perceptual set says that your emotions and your expectations will impact how you interpret what you see.  In other words, you will “see” what you expect to see.

We see what we look for…..

A rather interesting experience was conducted several years ago in which groups of subjects were asked to watch a video of two teams playing basketball. One group was asked to count the number of times the red team dribbled the ball and the other group was asked to do the same thing with the blue team.

Each group did as they were instructed to do.

However, in the middle of the video, an actor dressed as a gorilla was shown dancing on the screen.

Each group was asked if they noticed the gorilla and a significant number of subjects indicated that no gorilla appeared on screen.

The subjects were so focussed on counting, they failed to notice the gorilla.

In previous posts, I’ve written about driving down a  street and not really seeing any of the fast food restaurants and driving down the same street when hungry and “seeing” all of the restaurants.

How does all this fit together and what does it have to do with the Holiday Season?.

Typically, the Holiday Season is upbeat and a time when we engage with others in a feel good way.  Yes, I know that there is downside to the Holidays as well including the stress we may experience having too much to do and too little time to do it, thinking about past Holidays and so forth.

Surprise

But, this Holiday Season, try setting yourself up to look for, and find, things that surprise you. This is strategically deploying the emotion of surprise so that it works for you.

You want to be surprised!

When surprised, you will be motivated to engage with the object/issue of your surprise.

You will see things about others and yourself you haven’t noticed before.

Here is what you are going for…

A gift to others...

The “gift” you give others will involve seeing them in a new light and, perhaps, improving your relationship with them.

Look for something new in a friend that you can compliment them about or something interesting that you haven’t really paid attention to before that you can engage with them about.

Look for something new in your kids or your spouse that is surprising to you because you haven’t really paid attention to it before.

A “gift” to yourself...

Look for something new about yourself that’s either always been there or that is something you’d like to do, build upon, or engage in as in “Wow, I never realized that about me!”

Anticipation

I don’t know about you but I suspect that you, like me, remember Christmas morning waking up experiencing the emotion of Anticipation of what might be under the tree when I went downstairs. I was all excited.  I didn’t know what I would find but I was anticipating that it would be good.

This is the emotion I want you to experience but I want you to expect that you will be pleasantly surprised by what you observe in and  learn about those who are close to you and yourself.

Putting It All Together

If you set out to do this as I’ve suggested, you will be looking for new “positive” ways to view yourself and others which will surprise you and you will anticipate or expect to find what you are looking for.

The Emotion of Gratitude

In my last post, I addressed the emotion of surprise both because I was surprised (pun intended) that not a whole lot is written about it and because I wanted to bring it to your attention.

I will address the emotion of surprise again in my next post when I talk about applying this feeling this year.

In this post, I will address the emotion of gratitude.

There are two reasons for this..

  1. Next week, in the US, we will be celebrating the Holiday of Thanksgiving.
  2. While there are articles out there which address gratitude, you may not be all that familiar with this emotion.

For me growing up, Thanksgiving was a holiday marked by eating too much good food. We knew of the Pilgrims and the origin story of the Holiday.  And, maybe, we even gave some verbal homage to what we might be thankful for.  We didn’t spend any time thinking about the emotion of gratitude.

But, then, in my family of origin, we didn’t spend much time talking about any emotions. That is another story.

With my kids, I would always ask them, during Thanksgiving, to mention something they were thankful for, which they did.

Probably just to humor me.

You may have experienced something similar in your family.

So, I went searching for some information on the emotion of gratitude and I found an article which covers just about everything I was going to put in my post.

Here is the link to the Harvard Mental Health Letter from June 5, 2019.

Enjoy.

And, Happy Thanksgiving.

In Praise of Gtatitude

 

 

The Emotion of Surprise: Positive or Negative? Neither…and much more!

This post originated with a question I received on Quora.com which asked if surprise was a positive or negative emotion.

The question intrigued me because surprise isn’t often a topic of interest.

This post covers my answer to this question and more.

The Answer:

Surprise is neither positive nor negative.  It is just a tool.

  • But, how you experience the emotion, whether you are comfortable or uncomfortable with the emotion (it’s hedonic quality), may, however, be either p0sitive or negative.
  • And, whether it “works” for you (is adaptive or maladaptive), may also be important.

The Answer Explained:

There are, in fact, three parts to this question.

The first part addresses the emotion of surprise, the second addresses a myth that there are positive and negative emotions and the third part discusses an alternative way to label an emotion.

I. Surprise: the emotion

Surprise is one of the universal emotions and arises when we encounter sudden and unexpected sounds or movements. As the briefest of the universal emotions, its function is to focus our attention on determining what is happening and whether or not it is dangerous.  Paul Ekman.com

Surprise is one of 6 primary emotions that humans and some other species are born with. The other 5 are mad, sad, glad, fear and disgust.

Each emotion has a specific function of, as I noted above, alerting us to our surroundings and preparing us to engage with those surroundings.

 Surprise signals something unexpected that we need to give more attention to, engage productively with, or avoid.

Other words for “surprise” include:

  • startled (shocked and dismayed),
  • confused (disillusioned and perplexed),
  • amazed (astonished and awe) and
  • excited (eager and energetic).

These words are from an article Embracing Emotions in the Workplace by the Industrial Relations Centre of Queens University (irc.queensu.ca)

NOTE: I have written about these emotions and others in previous posts.  You can access all of my posts by category, title and date by clicking on the INDEX tab in the upper right hand corner of the home page.  This will take you to a PDF which, when opened, will tell where you need to go in the archives to access the post you want.

II. The Myth:

It is widely believed and often repeated that there are positive and negative emotions.

The Facts:

As I have discussed in my Amazon bestselling book: Emotions as Tools Control your Life not your Feelings, and and other posts on this Blog, there is no such thing as positive or negative emotions.

  • There are emotions that feel good and emotions that feel bad.  This is the hedonic quality of the emotion and is not a descriptor of the emotion.

In other words, good vs bad refers to how you experience the emotion and does not reflect the value of the emotion.

  • All emotions are just tools that you can learn to strategically deploy to improve your life and your relationships.

Emotions inform you about how you perceive your surroundings and prepare you to engage with what is happening to you.

You are familiar with many tools in your life including your TV remote, your cell phone, your car and maybe the cordless drill in your garage.

You do not think of these tools as positive or negative. They are just tools you need to learn how to use.

It is the same with emotions.

Four reasons why the myth persists:

1: How some emotions feel.

There are some emotions which are experienced as pleasant such as happy and others that are experienced as unpleasant such as sadness. This is their hedonic quality. This hedonic quality is frequently inappropriately applied to the emotion giving rise to the misconception that there are positive and negative emotions.

2: How some people behave when feeling a specific emotion.

Some people behave inappropriately when they experience some emotions.  One example is the abuser who beats up his significant other and blames his anger. “If you hadn’t done XYZ, I wouldn’t have gotten angry. And, if I weren’t so angry, I wouldn’t have (abused you).” While it may be true that he wouldn’t have gotten angry had she not done XYZ and it may also be true that he wouldn’t have abused her if he weren’t  angry, it definitely is FALSE that his anger made him do what he did.  His behavior was his choice and his responsibility.

Anger got the blame and the bad reputation.

3: Barbara Fredrickson wrote about positive and negative emotions.  She clearly noted, however, that positive emotions were those feelings which motivated people to engage with their surroundings in a satisfying way.  When you are happy, you want to do more of whatever it is that elicits happiness.  As I noted above, happy is a feel good emotion.

4. Many people still do not understand what emotions are, why they evolved over time and the functions they serve.

The “problem” with the myth:

The problem with labelling  an emotion as “negative” or “bad” is the message these words imply when applied to an emotion.

Think about anything you have labelled as as “negative” or “bad”..

  • The milk has gone “bad”.
  • You received a “negative” evaluation at work.
  • You got a “bad” deal.
  • You have a “negative” balance” in your checkbook.
  • The market is in “negative” territory.

The defining characteristic that all of these examples have in common is that they are undesirable and to be avoided if at all possible.

When we label some emotions as “negative” and others as “positive”, the  implication is that there are some emotions we should keep and others that should be eliminated or avoided.

Yes, I know that this is not how the words are used in the literature.  But, what we say and what others hear are often not the same thing.  You, as a reader of my blog, probably would not misinterpret what emotions are.

But..

  • The author of the question on Quora lacks this sophistication.

And, because the myth is so widespread…

  • I do not think it is beneficial to refer to emotions as “positive” or “negative” without providing a context.

III. Adaptive vs Maladaptive.

  • This is an alternative way to label an emotion.
  • The main focus here is on whether the emotion benefits you in some way or is problematic?

Have you ever heard someone say: “I hate surprises.”?

While all emotions are valid in that they are real for you in the moment and reflect how you interpret what is happening to you, some emotions may not be working for you to improve your life or your relationships because how you react to them elicits results you do not want.

Maladaptive

  • Mal:  “not” or in a faulty manner
  • Adaptive: helps you deal with or adjust to (the situation)

Labelling an emotion as maladaptive for you tells you that you need to examine:

  • how you react to, experience and relate to the emotion when you experience it
  • are the issues with the emotion, per se,
  • are there issues related to a specific context in which you experience the emotion and
  • what it is about the emotion that isn’t working for you.

The bottom line: until you learn how to master these emotions, they may be, for you, maladaptive.

Preview of coming attractions:

On 12/2/2020, my annual Holiday Post will revisit the emotion of surprise. 

Keeping with the Holiday theme, I will suggest that you give a gift to yourself and others by deploying the emotions of surprise and anticipation this Holiday season. 

Yes, I realize that this is a months out and, in today’s environment, it is often difficult to plan for tomorrow.

But, if this sounds interesting to you, I can guarantee that you can anticipate being pleasantly surprised by what you will read.

So, mark your calendar and check it out.

 

 

 

Mindfulness-The Overlooked Key to Emotional Mastery

I have written extensively about mastering emotions in both of my Amazon bestselling books and in multiple blog posts but I have not previously linked mindfulness with mastery.

To be honest, I have always known about, and discussed, the concept of mindfulness and I have written extensively about the unconscious aspect of the emotional mastery and  the process of choosing an effective response..

It did not, however, occur to me, until recently, that mindfulness would have a direct impact on both the unconscious perception of threat and the conscious choice of how to adaptively respond to the situation you might be facing.

Hense, the title of this post in which I refer to mindfulness as the “overlooked” key to emotional mastery.

First, some basic “definitions”.

Mindfulness

While there is a whole lot more to it, the basic underlying concept of mindfulness involves “being in the moment”. This means that your attention is focussed on what is happening to you now.

Most of us do not practice mindfulness.  

You have to consciously work at it.

Emotional Mastery

Again, while there is a lot more to it, the basic underlying concept of emotional mastery involves:

  • acknowledging, and accepting, the “message” of the emotion,
  • assessing the validity of the emotion
  • choosing an adaptive response to the situation and using the “energy” of the emotion to carry out your chosen response

In my last post, I explained, in detail, the Anger Mastery Cycle (AMC).

While the AMC specifically deals with the emotion of anger, the three part process discussed in the AMC applies to all emotions. Rather than focus specifically on a given emotion, I will generalize the emotional process as the Emotional Mastery Cycle (EMC).

Mindfulness impacts every aspect of the EMC.

The EMC starts with the unconscious scanning of your surroundings for any  “threat”.  Once a threat is perceived, the brain puts the body on alert and prepares it to deal with the “threat”.

While the process is, indeed, unconscious..

  • where you focus your attention and
  • what you perceive as a threat

will often be influenced by what you are concerned about in the moment.

While not an exact fit, this example is illustrative of how your “focus” can change.

Think about the last time you were driving around in your car and didn’t really notice most of the fast food restaurants.  The next time, however, when you were driving in that same area,  you noticed almost every one of the restaurants.  The only difference was that, in the first case, you had just eaten and now, you were hungry.

Your “inner state” of hunger influenced what you saw even though all the restaurants were always there.

To put it another way, you are primed by your hunger to notice all the stimuli (restaurants) which were now significant, or relevant, to you.

An analogous situation exists with the scans you constantly make for threats.

Because most of the threats that modern man faces are psychological in nature and not survival based, the filters through which you subconsciously perceive your interactions with others will significantly impact how you interpret the situations in which you find yourself.

As an example, let’s say you have a history of being ignored, passed over, humiliated or taken advantage of by co-workers, superiors, siblings, significant others or friends.  Based on this history, you may be psychologically primed to perceive the actions of others as rejection.

Rejection is the filter through which you interpret any ambiguous interaction. Sometimes, others will be rejecting you and, at other times, you may just have misunderstood what others were saying, or doing, to you.

So, you go into work one day and you are sitting at your desk when your boss walks by you and says says nothing. Usually, he or she, acknowledges you in some way.

You find yourself getting both anxious and angry.

The message of anxiety is that you perceive a possible threat.  This might be the worry that you did something wrong, although you don’t know what, and your boss is upset with you.

The message of anger is that you perceive an immediate threat you need to fight.  In this case, your thinking might be that your boss has a lot of nerve ignoring you given all you’ve done for the company.  You’d really like to show him (or her)!

While either of these motivations on the part of your boss could be true, they are reactions which you are primed to conclude based on your past experiences either with your boss or with others in your sphere of influence.

The reality might very well be that he is preoccupied with some important issue that is consuming him and his actions have absolutely nothing to do with you.

Your interactions with others can be adversely impacted by:

  • the filters through which you view your world, if based on previous maladaptive experiences,
  • the conclusions you drew from those experiences, and
  • the overly broad and automatic application of those conclusions to your current world.

And, the impact of these factors on your interpersonal interactions may be completely outside your immediate awareness.

This is where mindfulness comes in.

Acknowledging the emotion

The process of mastering an emotion starts with acknowledging the message of the emotion.  This is relatively easy if you are tuned into what your body is telling you.

You experience an emotion physically and you acknowledge it by noting:

  • I’m angry.
  • I’m pissed off.
  • I’m annoyed.
  • I’m worried.
  • I’m embarrassed.

You get the idea.

Assess the emotion.

The next step is to assess the validity of the emotion.

This is where you compare what is going on in your interaction with others and how you are perceiving what they are doing.

This step requires you to consciously look at any of the filters which might exist and objectively (as much as you can) question what is actually taking place as opposed to how you are interpreting what is going on.

The questions you can ask include:

  • Is my interpretation of what they are doing/saying the only possible explanation or could something else be going on?
  • Could I be viewing their actions through an old (and outdated) filter?
  • Is my interpretation consistent with their past actions?
  • Could they (or I have misinterpreted) something that was said/done?

Notice how the questions are worded to raise doubt about your interpretation.

Spending time with and practicing both asking and answering these questions will help you to remain mindful in your interactions with others.

An important disclaimer:

Being mindful and “in the moment” is much easier said than done.

But, and this is CRITICAL…

It is doable.

Before you experience the emotion you are targeting as connected to your filter, remind yourself to be both keenly aware of the emotion and TO TAKE A DEEP BREATH as soon as you experience this emotion.

The deep breath will give you the time and the psychological distance to ask the above questions.

Mindfulness keeps you focused so that you will both ask the questions and listen to the answers.