Why you might dislike having emotions.

Let me start by explaining my (and others) take on what emotions are. I will then address why you may dislike having them. By the way, academic writers will distinguish between emotions and feelings but, in every day use, they are the same.

There are 6 primary emotions that we, as humans, and some subhumans are born with. You can see these emotions develop over time in your kids.

The six primary emotions are mad, sad, glad, fear, disgust and surprise. Some of these emotions appear at birth and some develop a little later. Many of the more common feelings with which you may be familiar can be thought of as a combination of these primary feelings.

With the exception of glad and surprise, all of the primary emotions are primitive threat detectors which have existed since we lived in caves and which were “designed” by evolution to keep us alive so we could procreate and survive as a species. Early man did not have sharp claws or teeth to protect him. He did have his emotional threat detectors.

Here is how the emotional process works….

You constantly (and subconsciously) scan your surroundings for threats. When you perceive a threat, a fast track message goes to your Amygdala in your brain and then to the Thalamus. This elicits fight or flight and prepares your body to react to the threat. At the same time, a slower message goes to the cerebral cortex or thinking part of your brain. The cerebral cortex allows you to assess the nature of the the threat and choose how you want to respond.

Two emotional myths are that there are negative emotions and that your emotions control you. These two myths (there are others) are the reason you may dislike having emotions. I address 5 emotional myths in my book Emotions as Tools: A Self Help Guide to Controlling Your Life not Your Feelings. You can download the first two chapters of my  book without an opt-in by scrolling up to the “welcome” post.

Some emotions are labelled as negative because:

  • they do not feel good when you have them (a negative hedonic quality)
  • you may be negatively labelled by others when you express them, or
  • you may do things you later regret when you experience the feeling.

Feeling disgusted is not pleasurable and feeling anxious or vulnerable may be equated with powerlessness (also not pleasurable).

If you are a woman, you may be labelled a “bitch” or “hormonal” when you express anger.

When you are angry, you may do dumb things.

The emotion is wrongly blamed for the “negative” sensations, the misogynist labels,  and the “negative” acting out.

In fact, there are no negative feelings in the sense that we would not want to eliminate any of them. We may turn off the smoke detector that blares when we burn toast or has a weak battery. This is not a good decision.

All feelings are adaptive and the behavior you exhibit is based on the choices you make in response to the emotion. The feeling may start the process but you are always responsible for the decisions you make and the behavior you exhibit.

So, you may dislike a feeling that is hedonically negative, elicits results you do not want or that appears to cause negative behavior.

Once you realize that all feelings are tools which give you information you can use to improve your life and your relationships, the hedonic quality of the emotion becomes secondary and unimportant. And, once your realize that your emotions do not control you and that you can use your emotions as tools and choose your response, you will welcome your feelings in the same way you “welcome” the little light on your dashboard that tells you that you need to service your car. You may say, “Oh, crap, I don’t want to service the car now (because you are out of town or don’t have the money)” but you ignore the warning at your own peril.

If anger is the emotion that you “dislike”, I recommend you xcroll  up and download the first two chapters of my Amazon bestseller book Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool. You can buy the book on Amazon.

As always, thanks for reading and I welcome your comments.

It’s 2 AM and you are wide awake. What you might be feeling and what you can do about it.

When questioned about the possibility of Donald Trump being elected as POTUS, many non-Trump  voters expressed grave concerns for the future of America.  I must admit, I was one of those voters.  After the election, I found myself awake at 2 AM worrying (or being anxious) about the future of America and the World. This post is the result of that experience.

Anxiety is another word for worry.

Anxiety is the speeding thoughts, the churning stomach, and the inability to sleep because you are thinking about something that has happened, that is happening, or more likely, that might happen and your brain is trying to sort it all out and keeping you awake while it does this.

It is very important for you to to be able to identify that you are anxious as opposed to having a stomachache or just plain insomnia.  Knowing how your body expresses anxiety will enable you to do this.

For me, anxiety presents as my stomach churning, a focusing of my thought/attention on a specific issue which gets replayed over and over. Sleep is elusive because my brain is churning.  Your physical correlates might be different.

It is important to note that anxiety is always a future based emotion.

Anxiety is worrying about some outcome that hasn’t happened yet.  If something has already occurred or is in the process of taking place, it is what it is.  Your worry is about where it might go or what might happen as a result of what is going on.  That is a future based concern about a current situation. Mr. Trump is the President-Elect. That is a fact.

As I mention in my book Emotions as Tools, the message of anxiety is: There MIGHT be a threat out there and that threat MIGHT kill me.

While the focus of your anxiety can be on anything, you can experience anxiety in two different forms.  You can learn to master anxiety so that it doesn’t control you regardless of the form in which you experience it.

The most common type of anxiety is distress.  This is the anxiety that keeps you up at night.  It is worrying about an unwanted future outcome to which you react as if it were inevitable, you are unable to to prevent it, and its consequences to you will be disastrous.

Another way to look at distress is the process of catastrophising.

You catastrophise when you take an unwanted situation and project it into the future in its worst possible form and then react in the present as if this future outcome is inevitable.

As an example, when I was in college, a med student jumped off the roof of a building.  He survived and when questioned about why he did it, he noted the he got a “D” in an Organic Chemistry class.  The interviewer could not understand why one bad grade could lead to a suicide attempt and questioned the student further.  The student’s reasoning was as follows:

  • A “D” grade would keep him out of med school,
  • if he could not get into med school, he would never be a Doctor
  • If he could not be a Doctor, he would not be able to support a family
  • If he could not support a family, he would be a failure
  • Since he is a failure, he had no reason to live any longer (emphasis added)
  • In summary, the “D” grade meant that he was a failure and his life, as a failure, was not worth living.

I’m sure you’ve noticed that the logic is flawed in that

  • it leaves out a whole lot of other possibilities,
  •  it focuses on the worst possible outcome in each situation and
  • it treats that outcome as if it is the only option.

The other face of anxiety is eustress.

Anxiety as eustress looks at a future outcome and uses the upcoming occurrence of that outcome as motivation to take appropriate action to change the nature of the future and thereby eliminate or minimize the occurrence of the unwanted consequences.  When my students study for an upcoming exam about which they are anxious, this is using anxiety as eustress.

The antidote to the 2 AM anxiety based sleeplessness is as follows:

1.Correctly identify that you are anxious.

2.Identify the issue about which you are obsessing.

3.Evaluate and rate the probability of the the future outcome on a 0 to 10 scale with 0 = I can’t really say, 1 = highly unlikely and 10 = very likely.

4. Determine what other outcomes are possible besides the unwanted future you are thinking about.  In other words, is a different future possible?

5.Identify if the anxiety is distress or eustress by assessing whether or not you can do anything to prepare for, minimize, or eliminate the undesired future outcome.

  • if you can do something about it, then it is eustress.
  • If you cannot do anything about it, it is distress.

6. Use the above information to make some choices all of which begin with the letter “D” which should eliminate the anxiety and let you go to sleep.  The three choices involve…

  • Deciding what you can do and writing down the steps you will later take
  • Delegating by writing down who you need to contact for help or what new information you might need to get or
  • Dismissing the situation and moving on because you can’t do anything about it.

The serenity “prayer” comes into play here and goes like this:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

The logic, behind this approach is this.:

  • If you can’t identify, determine the probability of, or do anything to prevent or minimize the undesired outcome or you can’t identify any alternative futures, you are catastrophising, your thinking is flawed and you need to decide to Dismiss or let it go.  With practice, you will learn to turn off the anxiety by focusing on the catastrophising process and realizing the futility of it.
  • If you decide that an alternative future is possible, you can break the catastrophising process and the anxiety that goes with it by focusing on the possibility that another outcome is possible so you can wait and see how the future unfolds.
  • If you can do something to eliminate or minimize the unwanted future outcome, you can Decide or Delegate and  take some notes to remind you to go back to the issue at a future time.  You can then let the anxiety dissipate and you can go to sleep.
  • As you are not able to get to sleep anyway, so you might as well get up, get out a pad of paper, and take some notes.  It may take you 20 to 30 minutes but you will be able to to back to sleep once it is completed.  You are ahead of the game in the long run.

This process is not easy but it is doable with practice.

Oh, and about Donald Trump.. While my worries about future war, the uprising of Russia, China and Iran, and what can happen when an easily angered Narcissist gets real power are possible, it is also possible that Congress might unify, Trump might modify, and cooler heads might prevail. I’ll just have to wait and see.

I welcome your comments.

 

 

The 3M approach to feelings. Part 2

In my last post, I introduced you to the 3M approach to feelings and discussed the first M: Management.  In this post, I will talk about the second and third M and conclude with how you can apply the 3M approach to the emotions of another person.

The second  M ==> Mindfulness

When you are mindful, you are present in, and aware of, the moment.

While we experience an emotion in the moment, our  perceptions of the situation we are facing may be impacted by extraneous information. As these perceptions elicit our feelings, “irrelevant” information can lead to misunderstandings and misperceptions.

This irrelevant information can involve:

  • any experiences we have had in the past which are similar to, but not the same as, our current situation,
  • our tendency to project ourselves into some unwanted future, or
  • our tendency to overreact for a number of reasons.

When we talk about our “buttons” being pushed or “jumping to conclusions”,  we are referring to these three sources of misinformaiton.

Examples include:

  • getting anxious (a future based emotion) because we didn’t do well in a previous interview and we react “as if” our next interview will turn out the same way
  • getting angry (a present based emotion) because we misinterpret the actions of another as mistreatment without getting all the facts
  • becoming jealous because our spouse seems to be giving attention to someone else without really understanding what is going on

Mindfulness says that you should stay in the moment and fully understand what is actually taking place before you “interpret”, “judge”, “draw conclusions about”, or take action concerning the perceived threat your feelings are telling you exists.

When you are mindful, you ask questions about what is going on, you gain the information you need to decide what actions you will take, and you reserve to yourself the option of choosing what you will do.

The third M ==> Mastery

The anger mastery cycle, which applies to all emotions including anger, can be downloaded from this website and involves the third M or Mastery of the feeling.  Mastering an emotion picks up where Managing one’s emotion ends.  Once you have lowered your arousal, you can remain mindful, or in the moment, and assess or validate the threat you perceive exists.

The process of assessment involves:

  • gathering information about what is happening by asking questions,
  • learning about the process and intent of the other person with whom you are interacting,  and
  • evaluating your own perceptions.

Assessment sets you up to make a decision about how valid your emotion is and how you want to respond to what is happening.

If the perceived threat is genuine, mastering your emotion dictates that you use all the energy the emotion provides to develop and execute a plan to eliminate the threat.

If the perceived threat is not genuine but is due to a misperception of what is happening, mastering the emotion dictates that you change the thoughts which are giving rise to the feeling and, by so doing, change the feeling or let the feeling diminish and go away by ignoring it.

The same three M’s can also be applied when you are dealing with someone else who is directing their emotions at you. The process involves lowering your own arousal (managing) so that you don’t react and escalate the interaction, (This can also result in the other person “powering down” somewhat.), remaining mindful so that you gather information about how the other person perceives you as a threat (mindfulness), and mastering their emotions by assessing how they see what is going on and responding to their perceptions (if they are open to this) by acknowledging or validating their emotion, apologizing (if appropriate), and suggesting a resolution.

I have a whole chapter on dealing with someone who is angry with you in my book Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool.

I have covered the entire 3M process and I welcome your comments.

 

 

The 3M approach to feelings. Part 1

In previous posts, I have talked about the Emotions as Tools Model which

  • takes all the mystery out of the topic of feelings  (Remember that the words emotion and feeling are interchangeable.),
  • reminds you that you can learn how to use your feelings to improve your life and your relationships in the same way that you learn to use your computer or TV remote (gain knowledge about the tool and practice), and
  • ultimately, gives you back control of your life.

I introduced the Emotions as Tools Model in my first book Emotions as Tools: Control Your Life not Your Feelings.  If you haven’t already done so, you can download the first chapter of my book for free with no opt-in by scrolling up to the top of this page in the Welcome entry.

I also addressed using anger as a tool in last week’s post.

In this post, i would like to give you a quick way to remember and implement the Emotions as Tools Model: The 3M approach to feelings.

As you continue to learn more about the message of each emotion, how your body informs you about a feeling by the way you experience each feeling in your body (your physical correlates), and the thoughts which both inform you about how you perceive your surroundings and which elicit each emotion, you can break the emotional process into three steps, each of which begins with the letter M.  The three steps involve Management, Mindfulness and Mastery.

The 3M approach works both for your own feelings and when you are interacting with the emotions of another person directed at you.

The ultimate goal is to master your emotion so that you can strategically apply it to any situation in which you find yourself.

I will talk about the first M in this post and the second and third M next week.

The first M ==> Management

The emotional cycle is always working and begins with the process by which we all unconsciously and continuously scan our surroundings for any threat. This process is hard-wired in our brains and is a primordial survival mechanism that allowed us to survive as a species when we lived in caves.  Once a threat is perceived, the Amygdala (emotional center in the brain) sends a fast track message to the Thalamus to prepare the body to fight, flee, or freeze (the fight or flight response).  At the same time, a slower message goes to the cerebral cortex (the executive part of the brain) which allows us to make a decision about the threat.

We become aware of an emotion in one (or both) of two ways.

One the one hand, we need to learn to identify how our bodies react emotionally.  In my books, I call this one’s physical correlates.  Secondly, we should learn to identify the thoughts which accompany and elicit each emotion.

As soon as you become aware of an emotion, you should begin to manage that emotion. The process of managing one’s emotion involves lowering your arousal level.

There are at least two reasons you want to do this.

The first is so that you can take a physical step back from the “threat”. This is the establishment of physical space.

The second reason is to give you some psychological distance between you and the “threat”. This psychological space gives you the opportunity to respond rather than react to the threat.

The Amygdala “assumes” that all perceived threats are genuine and will kill us. While this was true when we lived in caves or roamed the Savannah, it isn’t necessarily true now.  Indeed, being stuck in rush hour traffic or being given the “one-finger salute” may be exasperating but is not fatal.  While we have evolved as a species, the Amygdala has (at least in this aspect) not evolved. The Amygdala just reacts and prepares our bodies to take action.  Our bodies being prepared for action is experienced as heightened arousal, muscle tension, and other physical correlates.

When you are energized and ready for action, you are more likely to react to the perceived threat.  While this may be okay if the threat is genuine, if there is no threat, you may do something you might later regret. Lowering your arousal reduces the likelihood that you will react.

There are a variety of ways you can lower your arousal.  You can take a deep breath. You can learn relaxation techniques.  You can remind yourself to slow down.  Taking a physical step backwards can act as a reminder to “take a breath”.

While the process of managing an emotion applies to all of the “threat detector” emotions, the field of “anger management” specifically has tended to focus on the process of management as a desired end result. Because I believe that one can go beyond managing one’s anger to mastering one’s anger (the third M), I tend to take issue with many anger management approaches.  I talk about this in my second book Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool.

Once you have lowered your arousal, you can continue the process of emotional mastery by assessing the nature of the threat.  In order to do this you must be “mindful”.  Mindfulness is the second M.

I welcome your comments.

 

Anger Mastery – Using Your Anger As a “Tool” Allows You to Take Control of Your Life

The Tools We Use on a Daily Basis

In your daily life, you use many different tools.  Some are task oriented tools such as a sewing machine, the TV remote, and a screwdriver.

Others are “set point” tools which make your life easier by automatically maintaining whatever “status quo” or set point you choose.

Examples of set point tools include:

  • The thermostat in your home or car that controls the temperature.
  • The spell checker on your word processor that monitors your document as you type.
  • The cruise control on your car that keeps you going on the freeway.
  • Your brain which encourages you to keep doing the same habits in the same way.

Okay, this last one may sound a bit strange but, if you have ever tried to change a habit like trying to lose weight or start an exercise program, you know how difficult it can be.  Old habits seem to take on a life of their own. This is true because habits are actually behaviors that have become automatic because they become hardwired in your brain. Habits save energy and allow us to multitask. Habit trained into first responders equip them to react quickly in crucial situations.

Emotions are hardwired “habits” designed to unconsciously react to any perceived threat and prepare your body to insure your survival.

In most cases, our tools work fine and there is no problem. The house stays warm (or cool) and comfy. Our documents come out great. We merrily move along on the road at a chosen speed and get to our destination.

The tool does what it is programmed to do. It is not able to make adjustments for unique situations. In other words, it does not think about or take into consideration “exceptions” to the norm.

This is where problems can arise. Consider your cruise control.

You set your cruise control to 69 mph (so you can get there faster and not get a ticket). It then monitors your speed and auto- corrects for any deviation.

As long as there is no traffic that is going slower than you, everything is fine. If traffic slows down, however, your car will plow into the one in front of it unless you disconnect the cruise control by stepping on the brake.

Your “tool” is happy to keep you going at 69 mph. It is doing its job.

In order to avoid an accident, however, you will need to assess the situation, decide that there is no “threat”, and override the cruise control.

Anger as a Tool.

Your anger is a tool that is designed to help you survive. Your anger is turned on when you experience a threat that you believe you can handle if you throw enough power at it. When you get angry:

  • You have perceived a threat to your life, your goals, your ego, your values.
  • Your brain has sent chemicals all through your body telling it to prepare for battle.
  • You are ready to size up the threat and take effective action to overpower it or run away from it.

(This is called the fight or flight response. When we were cave people, this response kept us alive every time it was turned on. This is because a threat was always a threat!)

You have a built-in “cruise control” that automatically turns on your anger. Your definition of threat is your set point. Just like the cruise control in your car turns on when your cruising speed is “threatened”, your anger turns on when your “normal” life is threatened.

The problem is that nearly all of the threats we face today are psychological and not survival based. Consequently, what may seem to be a threat may, in fact, only be a misunderstanding.

Unfortunately, your anger does not know the difference between a survival based and a psychological threat and you automatically go into self-protection or go-to-war mode.

If you lash out and say, or do, something you later regret, it is just like plowing into the car in front of you at high speed.

This is where the Emotions as Tools model and anger mastery come in.

Just as you should constantly monitor the traffic when your cruise control is on, you should constantly monitor your surroundings when you become aware that your anger has been turned on. Once you become aware that you are angry, you should manage your anger by lowering your arousal and master your anger by assessing the threat and deciding whether to let your anger move you forward to take action (if the threat is real) or override the anger and shut it down.

The same idea works for other human emotions such as anxiety, sadness, guilt and shame.

The point, here, is that your anger “cruise control” should always be set on automatic (as it was designed to be to insure your survival) but, before you react, you should always evaluate what is going on (when your anger is turned on) and decide what you want to do. This is called choosing a RESPONSE rather than REACTING to the situation and your anger.

Responding rather than reacting could save..

  • Your relationship (if you “explode” on your significant other)
  • Your job (if you “explode” at work)
  • Your freedom (if you physically “explode” on a cop or a citizen who presses charges)

I welcome your comments.

Anger Mastery: Respond, do not react when using your emotions as tools

Think about the last time you got angry.

Maybe, you were driving and another driver cut in front of you.

If you immediately got angry, gave him, or her, the one-finger salute, or used language you would not want your five year old to repeat, it is safe to say that you reacted to the situation.

The emotions as tools model teaches you to use your emotions to gain control over your life. In other words, your emotions are tools that inform you about your world and help you to become more effective in the actions
you choose to take.

The critical word here is “choose”.

When you choose what you want to do, you respond to what is happening.

There is personal power in responding.

When you act without thinking, you are reacting.

Reacting often leads to regret for having done something you later wish you had avoided.

As tools, each emotion communicates a message about how you perceive the situation you are in.

The message of anger, according to the emotions as tools model, is that you have perceived a threat that you believe you can remove, defeat, or eliminate by throwing enough energy at it to overpower it. You viewed the actions of the other driver as a threat and you IMMEDIATELY threw your energy into overpowering the threat. In other words, you reacted.

So, what was the threat you perceived? Was it to your safety, your sense of driving etiquette, your ego?

Even if there was a genuine threat, how much did the action(s) you took help to improve the situation?

A second example..

I was at the airport recently and there were long lines at the counter. I observed a man who was loudly complaining and becoming increasingly more angry every time he looked up at the screen announcing the flight information. When it was his turn, he focused all of his energy on the clerk. She apologized to him for his inconvenience and said that
there was nothing she could do about his cancelled flight.

This was an emotional reaction that reflected the degree of energy behind the anger but was totally ineffective in resolving the “threat” to his travel plans.

A few minutes later, this same clerk was approached by a passenger who effectively utilized her anger and responded to the situation. She acknowledged that the situation was not the clerk’s fault, stated her need to get home as soon as possible, and noted that she would appreciate anything the clerk could do. The clerk responded in kind by making
a few phone calls and securing a flight out of the airport.

This passenger responded to her anger and chose a course of action that was appropriate to the situation.

Responding-Not Reacting

Reacting
* is acting impulsively
* does not involve any reflection upon or thinking about your situation
* is usually ineffective in eliminating the threat
* typically results in your doing something you later regret or need to correct (as in offer an apology)
* may often make the situation worse

Responding
* is acting effectively
* always involves thinking about your situation
* requires weighing your options
* allows you to choose the best action to take
* results in the threat being eliminated or at least weakened

The three important functions anger, as an emotional tool, performs for you:
1. Anger informs you that you face a threat.
2. Anger alerts you to the need to think about what action you can take to eliminate the threat.
3. Anger gives you an opportunity to choose the best response to handle the threat.

When you respond to your anger, you empower yourself and you effectively utilize your emotions.

I welcome your comments.

Master Your Emotions as Strategic Tools: Why bother?

Three examples of not mastering one’s emotions.

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

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

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

Why bother to master your emotions?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mastering an emotion involves three main steps:

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

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

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

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

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

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

I welcome your comments,

The Emotions as Tools Model

If you ask people what feelings, or emotions, are, they probably will have difficulty answering your question.  The reason for this is that, while we all have feelings, we do not receive much information or training about what feelings are, why we have them, or how to strategically use them.

To start this conversation, let me point out the words “feeling” and “emotion” are basically the same and can be used interchangeably.

That being said, the best way to think of your feelings is to view them as tools.  While you may not realize it, you are surrounded by tools. The tweezers or needle you used to remove a splinter are both tools.  Your car is a tool as are the computer you may be using to read this post or your cell phone, or your TV remote.

A tool is something that has a specific function (or multiple functions) and can be used to perform a task. The nice thing about tools is that you can learn how to use them by getting some help, reading a manual, or just using it and learning by trial and error, although this may result in wasting  a lot of time, getting hurt by misusing the tool, or getting frustrated.

While you have many emotions, there are 6 primary emotions that humans have had since we lived in caves and which helped us survive as a species.  The 6 primary emotions are: mad (anger), sad, glad (happy), fear, disgust, and surprise. With the exception of glad and surprise, all the primary emotions are primitive threat detectors and work just like your smoke detector to alert you to a perceived threat and prepare you to deal with that threat.

In my next post, I will discuss how the emotional process works.

Thanks for reading.  If you found this information helpful, please leave a comment below.