What are your “emotional” prejudices?

In my last post, I discussed the connection between being emotionally authentic and the emotions cycle.

I also mentioned the concept of “display rules” (cultural/work) which impact which emotions are “appropriate” for women or men to express in a given situation.

In this post, I am digging a bit deeper into this topic albeit from a slightly different perspective— predjudice.

To be prejudiced is to pre-judge a person or situation based on a bias, world view, or preconceived set of assumptions which act as filters through which you view, judge, draw conclusions about, and modify your actions regarding the person or situation you are facing.

While you might not be, and probably are not, aware of your prejudices or may not view what you do as based on a prejudice, these beliefs still powerfully impact how you interact with others.

In a recent episode of “911”, a female firefighter valiantly saves a young victim who was underwater from a traffic accident.  The female firefighter puts herself at risk, stays totally focused, does what she was trained to do and administers CPR.  The “emotions” she expresses while doing her job involve focus, concern, courage and commitment. It is a highly stressful situation in which the survival of the victim is very uncertain.

Once the victim begins to breathe and is out of danger, the firefighter expresses her relief by crying.  She is happy, relieved and decompressing.

While the tears are obvious, the EMT is always in control of herself, is situationally appropriate and it is clear that the tears are an emotional tension release.

Her male partner responds to her by saying ” Is this going to be a regular thing?”

She responds, “Probably”.

From an Emotions as Tools and emotional prejudice  perspective, let’s dive a little deeper into this (fictional) exchange,

I thought the writers hit the nail on the head and very dramatically illustrated several cultural biases against emotional displays.

The male’s comments, while not necessarily demeaning, are clearly derogatory and judgmental and imply that his colleague’s actions might not be “appropriate”. It is clear that he respects his colleague and knows that she did an exceptional job saving the victim. But, he is saying that it isn’t professional (or perhaps too feminine  or “like a woman”) to express this emotion on the job as a first responder.

Interestingly, he responds to the release of tension by also tearing up and says, “Now, you got me doing it. Please don’t tell the guys.”

Or, to put it another way, he did not want to be labelled as weak, overly emotional, unmanly, or out of control by his male peers.

The male labelled his female partner’s emotional display (tears) as “inappropriate”.

Or, to put it another way, women should not cry on the job.

He failed to see that her tears were in the service of relieving tension.  They were not an emotional display of, for example, sadness or frustration which, one could argue, might, or might not be “appropriate”.  He only saw a woman crying and made a snap judgement.

He also, by implication, labelled his own emotional display as “inappropriate”. In his mind, men should not cry.

Again, he failed to see that his tears were both a response to the reduction in stress and an empathic connection with his partner.

Males emotionally judging of females and males emotionally judging themselves or feeling judged by other males are  examples of emotional prejudices and can be problematic.

Emotional Validation

The clear implication in the “scene”  was that the male firefighter was reacting to both the ending of a tense situation and to his female colleague’s tears with his own tears.  This was both a release and an expression of empathy.

And, yet, because of his own prejudices, he chose to invalidate his emotions.

Was his emotional display valid? Yes.

Was it appropriate?

Well, the situation was over and the tension had passed. Both he and his female co-worker were recovering from the emergency. So, psychologically, yes, it was appropriate. And, maybe even according to work display rules (outside of the public’s view), the display may very we’ll have been appropriate.

From the perspective of cultural display rules, however, … no it wasn’t (according to his prejudices) appropriate.

There is a bit of a disconnect here in that typical cultural display rules deem it okay for woman to express tearful emotions as long as the display doesn’t get extreme. Sadness and emotional release are considered a feminine characteristics.

But, he questioned her actions in a professional context which is interesting because it was after the incident, in the firehouse, and did not interfere with anything.

She validated her own emotions when she noted that in the future, under similar circumstances, she would respond in a similar manner.

What are your emotional prejudices”?

  • How do you view female emotions?
  • Can a woman be sad, anxious, hurt, or vulnerable? When and under what circumstances (home, work)?
  • Can a women be angry? When and under what circumstances (home, work)?
  • Can a man be sad, anxious, hurt, or vulnerable? When and under what circumstances (home, work)?
  • Can a man be angry? When and under what circumstances (home, work)?
  • Do you have an emotional double standard in which the display rules for men are different from those that apply to men?

Society does seem to have an emotional double standard.

The best way to determine if you have emotional prejudices is to examine your own thoughts/actions when you implicitly or explicitly judge or criticize the emotional actions of yourself or another person.

If you seem to be judging another person based on an emotion, take a breath, take a step back from the situation, and attempt to make an objective assessment of the situation before you choose an adaptive response to that situation.

If you are a follower of this blog, you will immediately recognize that the recommendations to take a deep breath and a step back and then objectively assess the situation before you decide on a response are the steps involved in mastering emotions as strategic tools.







This is a head’s up on an interesting podcast that drops tomorrow 5/16/23.

A podcast Create the Courage to be Fearless on which I was a guest will drop tomorrow on Apple Podcasts.

Here is the link

As a reader of this blog, you know that I don’t think we should be “fearless”.

Rather, we should learn to master fear and use it strategically.

We do talk about this during the episode.


Here is a brief video giving an insight into the podcast.

The potential bind of situational authenticity – A follow-up comment.

In my last post, I addressed the idea of emotional authenticity and noted the diference between situational authenticity in which you true to what is going on and you express the emotion you are experiencing and emotional authenticity in which you are true to the emotion you are experiencing but you choose not to directly express that emotion because of display rules which would elicit unwanted  consequences should you  outwardly display the emotion you are experiencing in your situation.

Situational authenticity

The potential bind is this…

  • You view yourself as an honest person.
  • You validate and honor your emotions.
  • Your default position is to directly state and act upon the message of the emotion you are experiencing.
  • You realize that expressing your emotion directly would put you at risk of experiencing negative consequences you would rather avoid.
  • Do you express your emotions, take the risk and pride yourself on being honest and later berate yourself for taking such a risk?
  • Do you choose to hold the emotion in and berate yourself for being weak or gutless?

There are at least two major problems with this scenario.

First of all, it is, for you, a lose-lose proposition because no matter what you do, you end up feeling inadequate or having gotten “the short end of the stick”.

Secondly, as set up, the choices are a false dichotomy  in that while it appears to be a binary decision in which there are only two choices, there is a third choice which allows you to be honest and authentic and avoid unwanted negative consequences.

Emotional Authenticity

Your third option involves  being true to your emotion.

When your focus is on experiencing and validating the emotion, you are being honest, authentic and true to your emotions.

In addition, you are being aware of your situation and the display rules which exist in that situation.

Your plan of action involves using the energy of the emotion as motivation to seek out and plan your actions around dealing with the threat in such a way that you eliminate or minimize the threat using indirect, possibly more passive (as opposed to assertive), means.

By taking a more indirect approach, you avoid being marginalized, demeaned or attacked while taking pride in the knowledge that you are dealing with the problem your emotions have alerted you to and prepared you to take action to resolve.

Hence, you are honoring the emotion AND staying safe.

The above discussion applies to emotionally intelligent women who view the message of and the emotion of  anger  as valid and men who view the messages of anxiety and vulnerability and the accompanying emotions as valid.  The approach these individuals take to their emotions basically states that their emotions are always valid but the message of the emotion needs to be assessed and the choice of one’s resp0nse will vary with and be sensitive to the context in which the emotion is experienced.


Emotional Authenticity

I was listening to a podcast recently (The Anxious Achiever) and the topic of being authentic came up in the context of women expressing their emotions.  In all of my writings, I must admit, I never considered the subject of authenticity.

During the podcast, authenticity was discussed as directly expressing the emotion in the given situation.  While it was acknowledged by the host and the guest that it was not always “possible” to directly express an emotion such as anger, the connection between being authentic and emotional expression was never really established.

As I began to think about authenticity, I realized that I had a different point of view.

To me, being authentic was baked into the emotional cycle and the concept of mastering your emotions as tools.

I alluded to it but never used the label authenticity.

Recall the emotional cycle which involves the following steps:

  1. unconscious scanning of your surroundings for “threat”
  2. unconscious physical reaction to perceived threat
  3. conscious awareness of the emotion via the body’s physical reaction
  4. take a step back and a deep breath
  5. acknowledge the emotion
  6. assess the validity of the emotion by comparing what you perceive with what is actually taking place
  7. choose an adaptive response
  8. respond

The above is, of course, an overview as there are many elements involved in each of the above steps.

The idea of being authentic applies to step 5 acknowledging the emotion and steps 7 and 8  choosing an adaptive response and responding.

The common misconception is that in order to be authentic (and its sister..being honest), you need to be true to your emotions and take direct action by directly expressing that emotion in your immediate situation.

To put it another way, you are being authentic to the situation.

While this is certainly desirable and, yes, authentic/honest, it isn’t always adaptive.

And, to me, being adaptive, in the situation may be more appropriate to both short and longer term goals as well as safer and more expedient.

I’ll address this in more detail below.

As there are situations in which the direct display of an emotion is problematic, I am suggesting that authenticity be reframed as being open to the message of the emotion (and, therefore to the emotion, per se) and acting in such a way that the message of the emotion is acknowledged and validated by the individual regardless of whether it is directly expressed in and acknowledged by others in the given situation.

If the display rules in any given situation are going to expose you to consequences that it is in your best interest, in that situation, to avoid, then you might need to take an indirect approach to expressing your emotion.

This is what I suggested in Chapter 10 of my book Beyond Anger Management for Professional Women and in several subsequent blog posts (checkout the Anger category under the Index tab above).

Anger can be problematic for women.

When a woman directly expresses anger, she tends to be marginalized and demeaned by men and (sometimes) women who feel threatened by her anger.  Cultural display rules dictate that women are “supposed”to be nice, caring and supportive and anger isn’t appropriate to this view of women.  So, an angry women is viewed as bitchy, hormonal, etc.

So, for a woman to be authentic, she may have to acknowledge that her anger is correctly both infoming her that a threat exists in that a boundary has been violated and preparing her for battle to right the violation

But, how she chooses to manifest (be authentic to) that anger as a motivator to take action may involve a more indirect approach.  In addition, if she is being authentic, she should avoid deploying other emotions such as sadness or hurt as a secondary emotions or being nice.  She doesn’t have to get excessively angry, but she can be irritated, annoyed, upset or even highly concerned and question what is going on but not nice, sad or supportive.

In doing the above, she is still just as angry and is moving to deal with the threat, but is not exposing herself to unwanted negative consequences  in her given situation

She is being true to emotion while acquiescing to the reality of her situation.

A man in that same situation might just get pissed off and be “rewarded” for his assertiveness.

Men, however, have other issues.

Anxiety, uncertainty or even sadness can be problematic for men…

For a man, expressing anxiety or uncertainty might be considered as weakness.  And emotions such as sadness, empathy, support, or love might be experienced as overly emotional or unmanly.

When a man feels inadequate or unmanly, he may express anger as a secondary emotion.  This, by the way, is the basis for the myth that anger is a secondary emotion

The truth is that anger is a primary emotion that humans and subhumans are born with.  Anger can, however, be and is expressed as a secondary emotion to cover over other, often uncomfortable for men, emotions.

So for an man to be authentic, he needs to learn to acknowledge and accept all of his emotions and then assess the degree to which he can, or cannot, directly express that emotion in a given situation.

If he is anxious about a situation, he can acknowledge the perceived possible threat to himself and go into problem solving mode (publicly) to assess his options. Similarly, if he feels inadequate, he may not state this but he can evaluate his own skill sets, what may be missing, and work to get some help to shore up his weak areas.

Or, he can, in a safer setting, reevaluate the real risk of being vulnerable, discover that he can survive that risk, and choose to express his emotion and be vulnerable.

This is the approach that Arum Weiss, Ph.D. takes in his podcasts and books.

So, to bring it all together, cultural, social, or work display rules may render the direct expression of an emotion problematic, non-adaptive, or even dangerous.  Because of this, viewing authenticity as being emotionally true to the situation can be maladaptive or disempowering.

Defining authenticity as being true to the emotion and choosing the most adaptive way to express, honor and utilize the motivating energy of the emotion is adaptive and empowering and consistent with the emotional cycle.

If you google authenticity, you will find a variety of articles on the subject that go into much more detail than is possible here.

Rationalize vs Rational Lies

In my last post, I talked about how I justified stealing pocket patches as a Boy Scout by rationalizing that my actions were okay because my patches had been stolen by another Scout.

Let’s explore this idea…

A physical example:

Have you ever taken a rusty item such as a lawn chair and put a coat of paint on it without having properly prepared the chair by sanding and applying a primer?

I have.

The veneer I applied looked great but did nothing to deal with the underlying “issue” (the rust).  The unresolved “issue” worked its way through the veneer and came back.

The chair looked great until the rust came back!

This is the physical equivalent of psychological rationalizing.

What happens when you rationalize your behavior?

Psychological rationalizing:

Merriam Wester defines rationalizing as:

a way of describing, interpreting, or explaining something (such as bad behavior) that makes it seem proper, more attractive, etc.

Let’s say that you are thinking of engaging in an action that you know is “wrong” in some way because..

  • It violates an external “code of conduct”
  • It is violates an internal “code of conduct” such as your values by being dishonest, or “wrong” for a variety of reasons
  • It utilizes a “short-cut” by cutting corners, disregarding accepted practices,   ignoring important information etc.

The emotion you experience as you contemplate engaging in a “wrong” act is discomfort or guilt.

You know what you are doing is “wrong” and you initially feel uncomfortable about what you are doing.

Rather than utlize the message of your discomfort/guilt as a motivator to stop what you are  (or contemplating) doing, you  minimize the “wrongness” by applying a “logical veneer” which appears to justify or explain your actions.

Rationalizing allows you to continue what you are doing and quiet the guilt which comes up as a reaction to your knowing what you are doing is indeed “wrong”.

It works for a while.

Until, it doesn’t!

The knowledge of the “wrongness” is like the rust on the chair.  It most likely comes back and results in unwanted consequences.

In my last post, I discussed how I felt guilty about stealing pocket patches as  a Boy Scout and “nullified” my guilt by noting that my patches had been stolen previously so I was justified in stealing someone else’s patches.

Let’s unpack this (rationalize vs rational lies)

A word about “rationalizing”..

While the correct spelling of the word rationalize is, indeed,…

r a t I o n a l I z e

the psychological spelling of the word is…

r a t I o n a l    l I e s.

When we rationalize, we tell ourselves plausible lies to justify whatever the issue is that is eliciting discomfort. The “reasons” you give yourself are plausible because they sound logical but are actually lies because they do not really fit or justify your actions!

In my earlier example,

I noted that some of my patches had been stolen.  This was true.

The lie was that I was justified in victimizing another person because I was a victim. This was not true but it sounded plausible.

And, it worked for a while to keep my discomfort/guilt away.

No “wrong doing”…No guilt.

In my last post, I laid out the emotional process.

In summary..

  • step back
  • take a breath
  • assess (this is where rationalizing may come in)
  • choose a response

The Take-away…

When you notice yourself feeling uncomfortable (guilty) about something you are about to do and you begin to justify (or rationalize) your actions, stop and reframe (redefine) the (plausible) reasons you are giving yourself to justify your actions as rational (or logical) lies.

However reasonable they may sound, or even if they are true by themselves, they are lies because they are not appropriate in your situation.

When you accept that you are lying to yourself about (rather than giving plausible reasons for) what you are thinking of doing, you validate your discomfort/guilt as a strategic tool and, possibly, avoid any future unwanted complications which will come about from the “wrong” actions you are about to engage in.

In my next post, I will address two processes which, like rationalizing, contribute to your misperceiving what is going on and the actions you take in an emotional situation: assuming and acting as-if.


A quick note on guilt

You are standing, as a defendant, in a court room and the judge asks you “How do you plead?”

Your answer is “Not guilty Your Honor.”

At the end of the trial, you are either “guilty” or “not guilty”.

In this context, the meaning of the word “guilty” is directly connected to the event in question (the crime) and whether you did, or did not participate in that event.

The word guilty also applies to the emotion of guilt and the belief that you have done something “wrong”.

Let’s briefly explore the emotion of guilt.

The emotion of guilt communicates to you the message that you believe that your actions  have in some way violated..

  • your values,
  • your ethics,
  • your sense of right vs wrong or
  • some stated set of rules of conduct

Two examples…

Example #1:  Rationalized Theft

Many years ago, when I (as a young Boy Scout) attended a Boy Scout Jamboree, I was trading pocket patches with another Scout.  I did not realize until later that this Scout had stolen some of my prized patches.

I was incensed.

Later, when I had the opportunity to steal from another Scout, I did so and justified my actions by rationalizing that it was “okay” because it had happened to me.

(As a head’s up, in my next post, I will discuss the concept of rationalize vs rational lies.)

  • Did I know that what I did was “wrong”? Yes.
  • Did it bother me that I did it? Not at first.
  • Did I feel guilty as I thought about what I had done?  Yes

The emotion of guilt that I experienced was doing its job….

  1. by informing me that I had violated my own value that stealing was wrong
  2. by motivating me to take action to make right the wrong I had committed.

This is what guilt (as an emotion) is designed to do.

When you strategically deploy guilt as an emotion, your task is to go through the steps of the emotional process which includes:

  • correctly labelling the emotion as guilt
  • taking a deep breath to decrease your emotional arousal
  • taking a “step” back from the situation to increase your objectivity
  • assessing the validity of the actions you have taken by attempting to determine whether it was right or wrong according to your values not the context
  • choosing an appropriate response to rectify what has been done (if needed)

When it comes to dealing with the emotion of guilt, there are four options..

  1. assess the situation and realize that you did not do anything wrong, based on the situation, context, and objective reality of what you did that  and let the guilt dissipate
  2. stop the behavior, make the situation right and eliminate your guilt
  3. continue the behavior and attempt to deny your guilt
  4. continue the behavior, rationalize your actions, and move past your guilt.

Options #1 and #2 involve mastering the emotion of guilt and are the most appropriate responses.

Option #3 doesn’t work because the emotion will always come back

Option #4 is just masochistic  in that it rationalizes an unwanted behavior and makes you vulnerable to negative consequences  at some future date.

In this space, I have attempted to give you the tools to understand your emotions, utilize the message of your emotions as motivation to engage the emotional process and strategically deploy your emotions as motivators to improve your life and your relationships.

From this perspective, the best option for you to take when you experience the emotion of guilt is (depending on your assessment) either #1 or #2.

Closure for example #1..

By the way, I acted on my guilt by finding the Scout whose patches I had stolen, explained that I had found them in my backpack, realized that they were his, and returned them.  I still got in trouble but the “sentence” was reduced for “good behavior”.

Example #2:  Exaggerated Guilt

While working as a Psychologist for the California Youth Authority, I treated several young women who had killed their children.

While the “facts” of each case were not in question, treating the impact of the emotion of guilt was an issue.

Specifically, these young women not only felt guilty for what they had done but viewed themselves as “monsters” based on the seriousness of their crime.

My therapeutic approach was to “normalize” their guilt and help them realize that while their actions may have been monstrous, they were not monsters because the context of their actions (including their own abuse) made their actions “understandable”.

Now, I need to emphasize two points…

First. I never exonerated them for what they did.  They did it, their guilt was appropriate, and they were being “punished”.  What I did, therapeutically, was to put their guilt in perspective so that it could function as a learning tool and not as an impediment to their psychological growth.

Secondly, I need to point out that I was never rationalizing or justifying what they did.  The context, in each case, did make what they did understandable.

The context, however, never made what they did right!

The Power of Words 3: “Feeling Stuck”?

                                                                                    This is the third post of a three part                   series on the power of words.  My intent has been to highlight the psychological impact of words we commonly use but rarely think about in terms of what these words actually mean, how they  impact us, and how to choose more adaptive words to facilitate psychological progress.

The words you use to describe how you perceive the situation in which you find yourself are often highly significant for several reasons…

  • The words reflect your perception
  • Your perception reflects your assessment of your situation and elicit specific emotions.
  • Your emotions lead to and elicit behavior which may, or may not, contribute to your successfully dealing with your situation.
  • Like most people, you may use these words almost habitually and not think about what they mean (or what they do, or do not, communicate).

    A not-uncommon scenario…

You are “working” on a project and find yourself unable to make any progress.   

Someone asks you:

                                                                                                       “How’s it going? ”            

You say,

                                                                                            “I‘m stuck.”

What exactly does it mean to “be stuck”?

Let’s take a look at what stuck might involve.

“Being stuck.”

These words only communicate that forward progress on the project has stopped.

That’s it.

There is no information in this communication that you can use to restore the progress you were making before y0u “got stuck”.

Let’s dig deeper…

What is the underlying reason that you are “stuck”?

This information is crucial if you wish to get unstuck because you have to know the obstacle you are facing in order to do something about that obstacle.

Are you….

  •  facing a “wall”?
  •  in an emotional quagmire?
  • have misaligned priorities?

The wall —-

  • There is some obstruction preventing you from moving forward.
  • You need something you don’t have such as an approval, an idea, or a change in something  like a policy.
  • You are lacking resources/authority/understanding/courage.

An emotional quagmire

  • Your emotions are holding you back.
  • You are procrastinating.
  • You are seeking perfection.
  • You are anxious and focusing on what could go wrong.

Misplaced priorities

  • You are being “forced” to do something ( it is someoneelse’s priority)
  • There are burdensome time constraints.
  • You have other priorities.

Once you have identified the underlying obstacle that you are facing, you can use the correct words to describe that obstacle and you can make a plan to deal with, move through, and, thereby, eliminate the obstacle.

Examples include:

  • I cannot progress until I get the needed authorization, resources, data sets, etc.
  • I am not making progress because my approach to this project isn’t producing useful ideas.  Perhaps, I need to step back and take a different perspective.
  • I’m not making progress because I am so anxious about how the project will turn out.  The message of anxiety is that there MAY be a future threat.  I need to examine the validity of possible threats, move on if these threats are not credible or take action to nullify them.
  • I am not making progress because I am annoyed that I am being redirected from my priorities to work on this project. Oh well, suck it up. This is the job and, while I might not like it, it is what it is and I need to focus to get it done so I can get back to my priorities.
  • I’m procastinating because I want this project to be perfect.  Yet, when I think about it, perfection is impossible so I will do the best I can and go from there.  That is all I can legitimately expect.

In the last three posts, I have attempted to put a spotlight on the words you use to describe/define the situations you find yourself in.  These words are often not challenged or even given a whole lot of thought.  They just come out and are accepted as valid,. informative and accurate.

The challenge is that the words you use are often not accurate.

Whether accurate or not, the words you use impact your emotions and the actions you take.

Now that you know this, you will be better able to question the words you use in situations that are important to you.

By changing your language, you empower yourself to  take adaptive action. When the obstacle is nullified, you are no longer stuck and you can move forward.

These are links to posts which address other relevant topics to “being stuck”

other emotions

other words

mastering emots as tools

The Power of Words 2: “Divorced” or “Single”? Psychologically, It Makes a Big Difference!

Your marriage was legally dissolved 5 (2,10, 15) years ago.     Do you think of yourself as “divorced” or “single”?

One day as a friend of the family and I were chatting about her “X”, I asked her this question……

“Are you divorced or are you single?”

She looked at me as if I was speaking a foreign language that she did not understand and said… “Huh, what does that mean?”

In my last post, I talked about the power a questioner on Quora had given the innocuous word “ok” to elicit anger.

I’m continuing here to discuss the power of words but in a different context.


If you have gone to court to dissolve your marriage, you are legally divorced.


Now, as a matter of disclosure, I am not an attorney so I can’t address any legal or financial issues that involve the label “divorced”.  I am only addressing the psychological issues.

That said..

Once your marriage is dissolved, you are also  “legally” (in quotes based on the above disclaimer) single.

The power of words…


What this word should mean is that you are now legally separated from your “X” and can move on in your life with a fresh start.


As I explained to my friend, as long as she psychologically considered herself “divorced”, there remained a connection to her marriage and her “X”. To the extent that this connection indicates unresolved feelings including anger, guilt, shame, or regret, she was stuck in the past and was not able to grow beyond her marriage and get on with her life.

This is what was going on.

She believed her “failed” marriage was her fault.  This led to feelings of shame and guilt (self-blame) and regret.

She was pissed at her “X” for cheating.  This led to the feeling of anger.

She wasn’t sure she could fully recover.  This led to feelings of anxiety.

While she was aware of her anger and vaguely aware of her shame and guilt (not the same), anxiety and regret, all of these feelings were wrapped up in, and elicited by, the word “divorced”.

She was emotionally attached to, and looking backward at, her (unresolved) dissolved marriage.


If you were never married or single, you would proceed in your relationship with others as an individual without “legal” encumbrances. Your decisions would involve only you, not someone else.

Again, I am talking psychologically here.

So, I said to my friend, you are a single woman, now and can act accordingly as you go forward.

I also explained, that she needed to resolve the “unresolved” issues which connected her to her marriage and that the Emotions as Tools Model would show her way to do this.

Label, validate, and Assess

The emotional process involves labelling your emotions so you know what they are, validating them so that you don’t deny or minimize them and assessing their message so you can decide whether they accurately reflect your initial perception of your situation.

The words she used to describe her situation and the emotions those words elicited….

In describing her “divorce”, my friend asserted (paraphrased)…

  • I screwed up and should have known better. (shame, guilt, regret)
  • He screwed up.m (anger)
  • Marriage sucks and I don’t want to hurt in the future. (anxiety)

We examined each of her assertions (perceptions) in terms of the “facts” including her actions and his actions, her strengths and weaknesses, who she is a person, etc.

Once the “issues” were addressed (resolution would come with time), the emotions subsided, she was able to acknowledge that she is, indeed, single and that moving on with her life now made sense to her.

The bottom line…

The takeaway here is that the words we use to describe the situations in which we find ourselves can be very powerful in their ability to elicit strong emotions which can negatively impact how we view ourselves and our situations as well as our ability to move forward in our lives.

In my next post, I will address the power of the word “stuck”.

Below, I have given some links to past posts which are relevant to this discussion.

It is important to note that you can access all of my past posts by clicking on the Index tab. When you do this, you will get a drop down menu with several categories for my posts.  Click on the category and you get a listing of all the posts in that category. Click on the post you want and the post will appear.

Note:  There are so many posts on anger, I suggest you click the anger category and pick the one that grabs your attention.

What is the difference between guilt and shame?

You Verses Your Anxiety: 3 Secrets and 4 Steps to turn Your Inner “doom sayer” into an inner “motivator”. Part 1

You Verses Your Anxiety: 3 Secrets and 4 Steps to turn Your Inner “doom sayer” into an inner “motivator”. Part 2: The 3 secrets.

You Verses Your Anxiety: 3 Secrets and 4 Steps to turn Your Inner “doom sayer” into an inner “motivator”. Part 3: The 4 steps.

The Power of Words 1: “Why do I get mad when people say “ok” to me?”

Note: The next three posts will focus on the power of words to emotionally impact us.

  • In this post, I will look at the impact of the word “ok” on a questioner from the website  I often contribute to this site.
  • In my next post, I will discuss the difference between being “divorced” and being “single”.  Both words describe a post-divorce individual but they evoke different emotions.
  • Finally, I will discuss the concept of “being stuck” in the context of “How is that (project) going?”

“Why do I get mad when people say “ok” to me?”

When I was asked this question on, I found it interesting because of what it implied about all emotions including anger and the power we give to words to impact us.  I’m expanding my answer here.

There are two components in this question..

  1. What the emotion of anger (mad) tells us about our perception of our current situation and
  2. The power we give words to influence us

The Emotion of Anger (mad)

The message of anger (mad) is that ..

  • you perceive the situation as a “threat” and
  • you are ready to go to war to eliminate that threat.

Anger prepares you for war.

So, let’s think about this for a moment..

This writer is saying that he (or she) is ready to go to war because of the threat implied by the word “ok”.

The Power of Words

This  “threat” is interesting for at least three reasons…

  1. The individual with whom the questioner is interacting has done nothing noticeably wrong other than to say “okay”.  Hence, there is no objective or obvious threat.
  2. The questioner has imbued the word “okay” with tremendous power.
  3. That power is clearly influencing the questioner eliciting an angry reaction.

To put it another way, the word seems to have emotionally highjacked the questioner.

On the surface, this seems a bit strange. So, what is going on?

The Emotions as Tools Model dictates the steps you take regarding the emotion you are experiencing when you want to strategically master your own emotions or those with whom you interact.

The first action you need to take is to validate your emotion.

Validating the emotion involves:

Taking your emotion “at face value” and as “true” for you in the moment because it reflects your perception of the situation.

Note: this does not mean that your perception is correct or true for the situation.

Your next step is to assess the nature of the perceived threat and whether or not there actually is a threat.

So, for the author of this question, we must assume that he has placed a great deal of significance and importance on the word “ok”.  As the word, “okay”d is neutral.  It is an acknowledgment of a situation, a statement,  or an interaction.  That’s it.

So, we have to assume that the questioner is viewing the word through the lens of some prior bad experience or that the tone with which the word “ok” was said implied some negativity such as sarcasm, ridicule, belittling, or demeaning. Or both.

It is this “lens” that gives the word “okay” its power to elicit a strong emotion.

For you, my reader, think about times when you have gotten upset about either what someone said to you or the manner in which it was said.

Can you relate to my Quora questioner?

With the above as a starting point, here is how I responded on Quora…

While you will have to figure out what exactly it is about someone saying “ok” to you that elicits (not causes) your anger, I can give you some background information which should help you.

Anger is one of 6 primary emotions (mad, sad, glad, fear, disgust, and surprise) which are found in all human species and some sub-human species. With the exception of glad and surprise, all of the primary emotions are primitive threat detectors which evolved to help humans, as a species, survive in a world filled with dangerous predators (human and animal) and situations which could, and did, easily kill us.

Our emotional system consists of our senses which continuously scan our surroundings for threats, the amygdala and thalamus which unconsciously alert us to and prepare our bodies to deal with the impending threat, and, (in us as more evolved humans) the cerebral cortex. The senses and the amydala/thalamus comprise a primitive system over which we have no control. By the way, if we are facing a threat which will kill us (survival threat), we want the whole emotional process to operate (on its own) and keep us safe.

For you, however, most of the threats you face will be psychological threats. These threats include perceived “assaults” on our self-image, our self-esteem, our views of right and wrong, and so forth. A psychological threat will not kill you although it may leave you feeling vulnerable, inadequate, wronged, or attacked.

Words have power through the “meaning” we give them.

With this knowledge, you can now ask yourself what it is about “ok” which pushes your anger button.

Or, to put it another way..

You have given the word “ok” a great deal of power that it does inherently deserve.

What associations do you have with this word, from your past that gives it this power?

Is it that you feel someone is patronizing, minimizing, or marginalizing you?

Have you experienced being marginalized in the past?

Pay close attention to what you are thinking when someone says this to you and you react with anger. These thoughts should contain the information you need to understand what is eliciting your anger.

Secondly, you need to assess your relationship to the person with whom you are interacting.

Is there something about that person that may lead you to believe that they are not being direct or truthful with you regarding the current topic of discussion?

Once you have figured this out what is going on in the moment, you can engage your cerebral cortex (the thinking part of your brain) to remind yourself that there is no real threat.

  • If you are responding to something that happened to you in your past rather than in the current situation and you can choose not to react.
  • If you suspect that the tone of voice you are reacting to reflects a problem in your relationship with the other person, you can comment on your perception and ask for clarification.
  • You then can choose how you want to respond to what is happening in the moment.

The bottom line.

The takeaway here is that you need to be aware of the power you give to certain words (or situations) to elicit (not cause) an emotional reaction in you.  With this awareness, you will  be able avoid being emotionally highjacked by those words/situations in the future.

In my next post, I will take about the words “divorced” and “single” in the context of a legally separated couple.

Mastering the (So-called) Negative Emotion of Anxiety

All of the emotions (think anger, anxiety, sadness, guilt, shame, envy) which either do not feel good (their hedonic quality) or elicit (lead to but do not cause) unwanted behavior are mislabeled as “negative”.

In fact, while it is true that some emotions are experienced or misinterpreted as negative as opposed to others (happy, excited, enthusiastic, optimistic),which are viewed as positive because they “feel” good…..

there are no negative (or positive) emotions.

Let me put it a different way using some common examples..

  • Your smart phone doesn’t do what you want it to and seems to have a mind of its own
  • The spell checker totally messes up your message
  • The remote control for your TV won’t pull up the channel or app you want

When any of these “tech disconnects” happen, do you label the “tool” as negative and toss the device in the trash or do you get annoyed, pour your self some Chardonay or Cabernet, settle down at some point, and get some help (google, your kids, The Geek Squad)?

Of course not…

You figure it all out and get on with your life.

The exact same situation exists with your emotions.

Every emotion is an adaptive tool that, once you learn to master it, can be deployed to improve your life and your relationships.

Understanding Emotions

The function of each emotion is to both alert you to a situation you are facing which requires your attention and to prepare you to deal with that situation.

To put it another way:

Your emotions empower you to…

  • assess the situation
  • choose a strategic response
  • adaptively take action to deal with the situation.

Empowerment means that you are more capable of handling your situation.

The elements of empowerment include:

  • the message of the emotion which is the alert you get from your emotion regarding your perception of what is happening.

With the alert you now have…

  • awareness: you are mindful (present and in the moment) and focused on your situation and…
  • motivation: you are driven to take adaptive action.

Taking adaptive action involves…

  • assessing: your situation in terms of its validity or the match between what is happening and your perception of what is happening and …
  • choosing: deciding on a response that works for you and others in that situation (if there are others).

The action you feel compelled to take when you experience the emotion is the physical preparation your emotion is eliciting in you.

Let’s demystify the emotion of Anxiety

Anxiety is the emotion you experience when you are looking into the future and anticipate that a pending situation might go bad and result in a negative outcome.

Examples include:

  • Having to give a speech that might result in your looking bad, being ridiculed, making a horrible impression, etc.
  • Asking your boss for a raise and being turned down.
  • Going into an interview for a job or a promotion and botching it.
  • Asking someone out on a date and being rejected.
  • Expressing yourself in an important meeting and getting marginalized, criticized, or negatively mislabeled.

In each of the above examples, there are at least three possible outcomes…

  1. It could lead to a disaster.
  2. It might not go exactly as you want but it isn’t a disaster, you learn from your mistakes and you do better next time.
  3. It could result in success.

The reason anxiety is a so-called negative emotion is that it leads us to withdraw from the situation in order to avoid the negative outcome we assume will happen if we participate in that situation.

This is called “anxiety as distress”.

And, it can be debilitating.

Anxiety as distress happens because…

  • we assume the worst,
  • act as-if it is the only possible outcome and then
  • withdraw to avoid that undesired outcome.

To put it another way.. we ask ourselves the question “What if I do XYZ (the situation) and (the undesired outcome) happens?” And the answer we give ourselves confirms our worst concerns and strengthens the desire to avoid that outcome.

Or, in other words…

  • I’ll look like an idiot.
  • My reputation will be ruined.
  • I won’t be able to find that perfect job.
  • I’ll get fired.

While these negative outcomes are possible, it never occurs to us that there are two other possible (or even probable) outcomes…

  1. The assumed negative outcome never happens
  2. Our preparation leads to a desirable outcomeSo, how do we master anxiety as a strategic tool?

First some definitions..

Master: become so familiar with the tool that you know how it works and how to make it work for you.

Strategic: applying the tool to the specific situation in such a way that it both matches the situation in which you are deploying it and accomplishes what you need it to do.

An example from your own experience..

When you started your current job, you didn’t really feel that you knew what you were doing.  You may have been somewhat slow or tentative in your work, maybe asked a lot of questions etc.  As you spent more time doing what you do, you began to master the job in that you understood what you do, did it more successfully and found ways to do it even better (strategy).

That is mastery.

As a tool, anxiety is a future based tool which alerts you to a situation which MIGHT be problematic for you and prepares you to take action which preserves your safety in dealing with that situation.

The key to mastering anxiety involves how you choose to view that situation and what you do to “protect” yourself as you face that situation.

So, if you view the future situation as a certain disaster, avoidance might be an appropriate response.  This is anxiety as distress I noted above.

But, what if you view your anxiety as a warning beacon alerting you to the need to take action to prepare for the situation you are facing?

This is anxiety as eustress and is exactly what you need to do to master your anxiety.

This, by the way, is what my successful students do regarding any upcoming exam.  They get anxious about the exam and use that nervous energy to motivate them to study.

There are two interventions for dealing with anxiety.

  1. Turning a disabling “what if” into an enabling “if–then”!

So, in each of the above examples, your anxiety can motivate you to prepare.

  • You can write and get feedback on your speech.
  • You can role-play an interview.
  • You can think about future actions you might take if your idea, your proposition (asking for a date or a raise) isn’t accepted.
  • You can gather all your facts before you speak up in that meeting.

When you prepare, the calculus changes..

  • If I (prepare and have my ducks in a row), then (it is likely that things will go my way)


  • if (they do not go my way), then (I have a plan for my next move).

2. Survival

You need to at least think about the possibility that the situation could end in disaster.

You do this by asking yourself this question…

“If the worst possible outcome happens, can I survive it?”

The answer will in the vast majority of situations be “yes”.

If you know you will survive even though it may involve disruption or discomfort, you no longer have to avoid it at all costs.

When you are prepared, you still have no assurances that the situation will go your way, but you can anticipate that you will both survive the situation and be in a better position in your next encounter.

That is mastering anxiety.