Who is running the show?
To be honest with you, I only became aware that my emotions were ruling my life in my mid 30’s. I suffered from depression and started to have suicidal ideations. In what I call a flash of light, I wondered if I was mentally ill. To say the least, I was far from the simple life. I reached out to a psychologist.
I started therapy and then got interested in personal growth. I attended personal development seminars and read self-help books. I got a bit more control over my emotions, enough to avoid the worse. I soon became aware that my emotions were running my show. The show was bad to say the least.
For years my emotions had been making me like the captive ball in a pinball machine. Thrown in every directions by flippers I had no control over, hitting bumpers after bumpers to end up in the drain. Now I was in the gobble hole. My game was over. Or, I resisted so much to accept life on life terms that I tilted the machine. Does this sound familiar?
Up and down the emotion chart
From exhilaration to desperation, how to find and remain in the middle ground
I had had great intuition in my mid-20’s like all highly sensitive people and started a fabulous business in a niche market. But as soon as a bit of success showed up, my ego took over. I was unconsciously under a curse; The fear of losing what I had or not getting what I wanted. I got greedy.
After bringing my chain of boutiques to over 2 million dollars in sales, I recklessly drove it to bankruptcy. I made tons of irrational decisions driven by my emotional immaturity and my unconscious fear of success.
Hitting rock bottom: The simple life is where humility lives
The great fact about hitting rock bottom is that there is nowhere but up from there. Well, that is if one gets humble. In time and with a lot of support from others and goodwill on my part, I became a little more humble. The simple life is home to humility.
Learning to be humble (most of the time because I am out of options) is a lifetime effort for me as my ego is pretty strong. With a lot of help, I slowly regained consciousness, waking up from what seems to have been a very long foggy time. I had been disconnected from myself and my creator for the longest time.
I had been on the run. My emotions controlled me and the sum of most of them created unbearable fear. I feared nearly everything from a very young age. My defense mechanism was to hide from anyone or anything that could hurt me, or run for cover. I became so good at it that by the time I ended up in therapy, I had mastered the art of hiding to the point of having no idea who I was.
By the time I ended up in therapy, I had mastered the art of hiding
to the point of having no idea who I was.
I was in so much emotional pain that I wanted to die. I don’t think anyone knew me either.
What you see is what you get
I grew up in a family amongst a lot of drama but feelings were never discussed openly. If you had a different opinion, you were dumb and wrong. Shame was used to control others. As a result, I acquired many bad habits and survival strategies in my childhood that were instrumental to my downfall. As it was modeled to me, I tried to control situations and people using emotional manipulation to get what I wanted, which was to feel safe.
As I grew up, mistakes were never acknowledged. I don’t remember any authority figure ever apologizing for anything. We kids were told to be sorry for our mistakes and shamed, but it was not modeled by the grown-ups. My mom used to say: do as I say, not as I do. So I was pretty ignorant when it came to dealing with emotions in a mature way when I left home at 16.
As a teenager, I could not deal with my emotions and the chaos in our lives (from 5-16 years old I had been to 16 different schools). I now know that I am a highly sensitive person and found many resources since. But in those days I mostly felt like a misfit.
I turned to alcohol and drugs for comfort. And made friends who got me. They too were on the run, they too needed to kill their pain. I do not recommend this to anyone but medicating myself probably saved me from going insane. For a while, I could function. But, as with any pain killer, it stopped working after a while. I ended up hitting the bottom. When numbing myself, running and hiding stopped working, I fell apart.
Why am I so emotional?
One of the first books I read about emotion control while in therapy was Daniel Goleman’s Emotional intelligence. That book helped me a great deal because I became aware that I was not my emotions.
Emotions are like waves in the sea, always coming and going. I practiced naming them, and for a very long time, there were only a few; I was excited or bored, I was ok or afraid, I was high or in an almost panic attack, or I was numbed by food, substances, shopping, work, or whatever worked to kill the pain.
I had to dig down the well of these basic emotions to find more to what I was feeling. I was so illiterate when it came to emotions that I had to use a list of emotions I found on the internet to begin naming what I was feeling. And then I learned that my emotions were triggered by my thoughts about a situation or were wired deeply in me.
Press the right button and I was ready to flee or fight. since I was never a fighter, I was the only one I could beat up. I started to learn about trauma bonding, which is the art of creating defense mechanisms to survive and bonding with them to the point where they unknowingly control you. I became an actress worthy of an academy award for my pretending that I had it all together. More hiding.
The opposite of fear is faith
Fast forward to my mid-thirties, am slowly getting back to my senses and a whole new world is opening. I did many things to learn to not let my emotions control me. I read books, I went to spiritual meetings where people were allowed to express their emotions freely without being interrupted.
I heard others share what I was going through. I realized I was no longer alone, that I was not crazy. I just had never learned to master my emotions. I did not know that I could simply observe them. That no action was required when feeling emotional. Therefore there was no need to numbing myself or acting out of fear anymore.
From fear to faith and courage
Before attending spiritual gatherings and reading self-help books, I had never really heard the word faith. I thought I was courageous but found out I was reckless.
In recovery, I learned that sobriety is not to abstain from alcohol or drugs. the goal was emotional sobriety which I had no idea how to achieve. So I sat and listened. I remember one day I heard a woman shared that the morning before she did not know what to do* and was losing it. She called a friend and it was suggested that she could make her bed and call back. *Find many useful ways to bring back peace in this article.
Then it was suggested she did her dishes. I remember feeling shocked. I was shocked that you could admit that you did not know what to do, or what you were doing. I started to do my bed, then the dishes. I learned about a great strategy, doing the next right thing.
Say what you need to say
One of my defense mechanisms had been to become completely muted and paralyzed facing bullies. For example, in the beginning, I could not get rid of salespeople on the phone or annoying guys in bars and was saying yes to way too many things and my life suffered.
The simple life is home to simple answers; Yes and No suffice
I learned that it was not hurting people’s feelings to simply learning to express good boundaries and say no. I learned I did not have to explain everything, that no was a complete sentence.
As a child, I was made responsible for other people’s feelings. I learned to differentiate between my feelings and theirs. I know now that no one can make me ‘feel’ good or bad. I choose my reactions or lack of, and so can they.
I began to be able to draw a line that separated me from my emotions and other people’s emotions. Before that, I was completely enmeshed with people. I read books like Toxic people and Attractive people by Jilian Glass and learned more. I practiced. I read Melanie Beatty’s books on codependency and kept practicing.
I am now in my 50’s and it is much better but I still have good days and bad days. I still lose my way sometimes but it lasts less long and it is less intense.
If you relate to anything I shared here, hang in there. There are ways to learn how to manage your emotions and the following tips and principles will guide you along the way.
Hack #1: Emotions are thoughts in motion
Stop trying to control your emotions, use them as guides
That’s right. Let yourself feel whatever you are feeling at that moment. Acknowledge the feeling without judgment. That might seem to be contrary to your goal, but emotions have no power over you. They are simply coming and going in direct link to our thoughts.
Ask yourself thought-provoking questions
So whenever you feel something, admit it. Let yourself feel it, then wonder why. Ask yourself: what was I thinking or believing to create such feelings? And believe me, you are the creator of your feelings, no one else.
Hum, I feel angry. Observing and accepting that you are feeling angry will allow you to not ‘act’ angry.
Ask yourself: why am I feeling this angry? What is it that am thinking or believing that creates that emotion? Anger, I was told, is a defense mechanism against injustice or pain. Identify what is causing the emotions and work on making changes.
Give yourself some emotional support
Two fears I have are fear of boredom and fear of being alone. I avoid doing things that would serve me for fear of boredom. You should see how clean my house gets when it’s tax time. I’d rather clean floors to ceilings to avoid the dreaded boredom of looking at my numbers.
So I spiked the situation. A few years ago I created a cute little space in my house where I played classical music while I did the dreaded numbers. I went in that room one hour a day and in a few weeks, the tax papers were ready. So here’s the principle to this hack’s best friend.
Principle #1: Fun kills fear
Do not wander alone in your mind alone, bring fun along.
If you’d go to war, you’d bring an army and have a plan. I was told once that failing to plan was planning to fail. In order to deal with boredom, I have to create fun plans. I felt so good in my little income tax space that I wanted to go in.
I also make lists and cross what is done with a highlighter and give myself stickers. And I team-up. Whenever am scared of doing something that I want to be done, I give myself a realistic deadline. Then share this with a friend.
Often my friends will point out my unrealistic expectations of myself. I want too much in too little time, or with too little resources. Greed shows up in various ways. So I redo the plan.
I have action buddies that help me face the fears, the procrastination, to avoid my go-to drugs: isolating and hiding which brings me more negative emotions like shame.
As well, if you’d plan an outing, a trip, it is sometimes a lot of fun to share the plan with people. So share of yourself.
And find a way to make everything more fun. Do not take your emotions seriously. They have no power and fear is a man-made thing. Fear in itself does not exist. We create it to manipulate each other and ourselves.
Hack #2: Do not make decisions when feeling high or low
Practice the H.A.L.T. mode
The halt mode means Hungry, Angry, Lonely and Tired. These states of being are not conducive to good decisions. I was used to high and lows so anything without drama seemed boring. I realized that peace is not boring. Where there were no dramas I did not feel alive. I used to create dramas out of boredom. I would pick up fights in relationships instead of simply leaving them.
So now I am watching for my highs and lows. They are usually created by my ego acting out, trying to control the show. I need to get myself to a place where I feel safe and peaceful before I make any decisions.
Principle #2 Peace is an emotion
Emotions are thoughts based
It is said that humans share six basic emotions: sadness, anger, fear, joy, love, and peace. I used to think that peace meant boredom. Like every addict, when nothing was happening I felt like I was falling in a deep hole, never to come back. Nothing terrified me more than emptiness. It took me a long time before I could experience peace peacefully.
I now can sit quietly. When in doubt, I can look at a way back to joy, love, beauty, and peace. What would I need to think to feel joy, love and peace. to create beauty? I practice thinking those thoughts instead. I need to consistently stay aware of my thoughts and actions.
I wrote in a song: ‘I often look at how I act, it’s telling me just how I feel’. If my actions are based on sadness, anger or fear, they are not a right mind action. Mind you if a bear is running at you or you are in a valid dangerous situation, then trust your instincts. But otherwise, find your way back to peace.
The same principle goes for acting when on a high. Highs are as bad as lows to make wise choices.
I do that by practicing the 3rd hack and principle.
Hack #3: Think better thoughts and brighten up
Write down what you feel
Each emotion is triggered by a thought. Writing that thought down removes its power. Suddenly it is only some words on a sheet of paper. In their book Immunity to change, authors Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey have us write a lot, using a goal as a starting point to get to know and understand ourselves in a deeper way.
They ask us to write down a goal, then to write down what we are doing or not doing that stops us from achieving that goal. Then they make us write the opposite statement and observe what fearful statement comes up within us, which then leads us to discover an assumption that has been running the show, triggering emotions counter to our goal.
I’ll give you an example of mine with this process.
What’s the goal
My long term goal is to become a professional blogger to help as many people as I can while making a comfortable living. My short term goal is to write 3 articles per week.
What am I doing and not doing that stops me from achieving my goal?
-I do not have a fixed time to write
-I do not have a schedule to deliver my articles by a certain date (the blog was to start when I have 15-20 articles written).
-I do not have a reading committee to give me feedback on my articles.
What if I would do the opposite of that? (Watch the fear creep up)
-I do have a fix time-date to write my articles(OMG I will be trapped is the fearful thought that just came).
-I have a deadline set to when to deliver my articles. (OMG I feel so much pressure, this is stressful, I can’t possibly do all that work in that little time).
-I have a reading committee to give me feedback on my articles. (OMG they will think am stupid and no good).
What is the big assumption behind the fear expressed?
In italic are the fearful thoughts that came in when I express a novel idea. These thoughts are responsible for me not reaching my goal. Let’s take the first one through the whole process:
Omg I will be trapped hides the belief that routine and a schedule equal jail time, a belief I acquired in my school years where I got bored nearly to death.
The opposite new belief to practice would be:
Omg, I will finally get something that I love doing done. A routine and a schedule will give me time for doing what I really love.
The next right step is to go and take little actions to practice this new belief. Basically proving my fears wrong.
So go and act as if. Play pretend. Close your eyes and jump off the pier. Prove your fears wrong.
Principle #3 Progress, not perfection
I call myself an unlimited. I guide and orient people toward their full potential. That can only be achieved with consistency on a daily basis.
Look at what potential you can reach for today. Just observing your progress will give you great hope. Do not aim for perfection. Aim for progress. I remember a quote saying practice makes perfect. So aim to practice and you will get better at it, no matter what it is. And do not fear to make mistakes.
Any sports champions know that in order to win you must fail thousand of times. Those who get the ball in the basket are those who have shot at the basket the most. It is a number’s game.
So keep practicing noticing your emotions, become aware of what triggers them. Do some good detective work and then make a plan to change your reactions.
It will take time. I’m still working on it. I am far from perfect. But I am not hurting people as I used to and am not driving my businesses into bankruptcy anymore.
Not the end…
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