In my work I encourage you to choose joy…a lot. Emotional intelligence is not easy, but you can learn to feel and then reshape your emotions without getting stuck. Practicing this, and being able to do it effectively is an ENORMOUS step forward. Emotions can be a pain, but learning to understand this inner voice is critical. Some emotions serve to communicate how we feel about something, and others are fairly useless. Learning to reframe and redirect toxic emotions like fear and anger and sadness after we learn why we are sensing them can be life-changing.
People often find it strange that I do not feel anger toward my ex-husband. In the moments of our heated fights, I felt sadness, I felt hurt, and at times I did feel angry, but I learned somewhere along the way how useless anger really was. Instead, I feel pain for him. I truly and honestly feel pity that he can’t find happiness, and I do have empathy that our boundaries and values weren’t a fit, and I do hope that he finds someone to love in the way he wants. That’s about all I choose to contribute emotionally, though.
Below are a few examples of what I do with emotion, how I identify them, and how I reframe them to serve me better. I encourage you to give it a try!
This sounds a little corny, but it is important to recognize emotions when they crop up. Most of us are not inclined to feel no emotion, and if you are one of those people, simply having no emotion is an emotion in itself. It should be explored the same way.
Let’s assume you don’t know what emotion you are feeling but you just feel off. I’ll admit, my emotional intelligence isn’t extremely innate – I typically start here. The “offness” makes me feel certain physical responses, so I try and determine where the “offness” is coming from. This is at the core of any meditative practice, but you don’t need a yoga block, pillow, or incense to do it. Take a moment to try and feel what’s going on in your body. Maybe your stomach is tight, your jaw is locked, or your catch yourself in a habit like biting your lip, creating tension in your face or forehead, or fidgeting. There is no right or wrong answer, but assign a location of your body to the “offness” you are feeling.
As you are trying to identify, passively go through a battery of emotions in your mind. Think of anger, and times you have been angry, think of fear, think of frustration, think of being overwhelmed. I try to visualize the emotion trying to “find” the spot in my body that I assigned before. Again, it sounds really goofy, but it works. For me, when I have a match, I feel either an increase in physical response, or a relief of the physical response. Almost as if my body feels satisfied in having effectively communicated to my logical brain.
Some emotions are easy, and others you will learn over time by practicing this regularly. If you are crying, you might be sad, or angry, or overwhelmed, or frustrated (these are typically my tear triggers ;)). We are usually good at identifying positive feelings and associating them with physical responses. I feel a bit lightheaded and relaxed when I’m happy or content, for example. These aren’t usually the emotions we are concerned with though, because they aren’t really “alarms” – more so they are good benchmarks or barometers for the negative emotions.
Once you have a grasp on how you are feeling and possibly even what the emotion is, think about why your body is trying to send this message to you. Negative emotions, even anger and fear and jealousy, serve a purpose. There is a reason you feel these things, just as there is a reason you cry, laugh, and get hungry.
I’ll give you a hint too – sometimes even if I do not identify the emotion, I will associate the physical response with a battery of events or possible triggers. I get the same physical response as if I identified the emotion. You can run through this battery in your head, write it down, or speak it out loud. Once you identify the trigger, you can then identify the emotion for the future. You will start to be able to relate the triggers, emotions, and physical responses in no time.
So, figuring out the trigger is step number one – very important. The WHY is, in my opinion, the only part that matters, because that is the key to turning around the emotion, using it to make you feel better, and ultimately turning you into a super well-adjusted classy human who can handle anything.
After you have identified why your body and mind are communicating to you, you can reframe the emotions (especially the outward facing awful ones) to effectively use them to your advantage.
Here are a few examples:
Anger is an outward emotion, but can easily be transformed into pity, hope, and empathetic sadness. For simplicity’s sake, let’s say someone cuts you off in traffic. This one is fairly easy because it involves virtually no introspection. A common response is to get upset, beep your horn, give the bird, follow too close, or some other act of road rage. Next time this happens, identify the anger, realize it serves to warn you that there is a present danger (fight or flight), acknowledge it, and reframe it into pity.
“I feel so sorry that driver chooses to drives so carelessly. He/She is bound to get into an accident one day and there is nothing I can do about it.” Or, perhaps you imagine he or she is rushing because their partner is giving birth, or a passenger is in a critical situation.
In the situation with my ex-husband – we are talking about a person who physically put his hands on me and hurt others. This is someone who chose to verbally and emotionally attempt to deteriorate my well being. I choose to feel pity and real sadness for him, but that is not all.
The pain and anger I feel, I redirect to do thing like help others. It is the reason I started this blog, and it is what motivates me to continue to push forward. When tragedy strikes, it is normal to feel very angry, but anger is directional. Simply feeling anger toward another person does nothing. Reframing it into hope, or motivation, and redirecting the energy back out in a positive way alleviates the negative symptoms almost immediately.
Fear is a bit different from anger in that it is an inward emotion, largely, that we need to deal with. With fear, it helps to understand exactly what we are afraid of, and turn the fear into excitement.
A simple exercise to help with this is to take the “thing” we are afraid of, and replace it with excitement, verbally. For example, if you are feeling fear about presenting at a meeting, verbally say “I am so excited about speaking at this meeting!” It sounds silly, but even if you don’t really mean it, you will feel a difference. Identifying why you are feeling fear is critical of course, because it allows you to truly be excited about certain part of the experience, and prepare yourself for the part you are afraid of. Perhaps you are afraid of being unprepared, or are worried you will pass out up there. You can be excited about the pieces of the experience that will help you grow, and find ways to manage the parts that are causing the fear.
Guilty admission – this one hits me a lot. I am guilty of taking on too much. I am typically good at regulating my external requests for time and attention, but I get easily overwhelmed committing to too much internally. I want to solve ALL the world’s problems, and I tend to have super high standards for success when it comes to helping others. I am very familiar with the feeling of being overwhelmed and how it manifests, so here is what I do:
The physical response for me is usually racing thoughts, and a tightness or queasiness in my stomach, like I’m hanging on at the top of a mountain or tall building and just looked down. This is a helpful metaphor actually, because reframing the emotion becomes “ladder building” to get myself grounded again. If you have ever had a boss or supervisor who took on too much, and allocated all the responsibility to his or her already overworked subordinates, you will understand how used and unappreciated the subordinates would feel. Well, in this case, I am both the manager and the subordinate. I like to reframe an overwhelming feeling into self gratuity and self love.
For me, feeling overwhelmed is my body and brain’s way of reminding me I am human, and cannot fix everything all at once, right now. It’s that subordinate employee breaking down, wanting to live up to the expectations of her superior, and feeling extremely underqualified, unable, and insufficient. I acknowledge the overwhelming feeling, have a little pow-wow with myself internally, and give myself permission to let go of the burdens I’ve forced myself to carry. By focusing on what I’m thankful for in my life, and valuing myself for the good work I do on a daily basis in all areas of my life, I use this as an opportunity to self-care, and re-prioritize my internal assignments.
In each of these examples, the key is let your emotions serve you, but not rule you. This is not an easy task at first, and I welcome any questions you have or guidence you need! I’m not a naturally emotionally intelligent person, so these are all things I had to learn. The more you practice identifying how you feel and why you feel, the better you will be able to manage joy and happiness in your own life, and the less likely you are to act out on emotions (like anger, jealousy, and fear) which inevitably make you feel even worse.
Remember – Your body is speaking the foreign language of emotion. Take the time to learn this language and you will be happier and classier for it!