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This article is by Thea Jolly, one of our Certified Coaches and part of the coaching team on our the Lead the Change and BePowerful Programmes.
Last week, things suddenly spiralled out of control. It happened as I was explaining to my son that he couldn’t play on the xBox because of his behaviour the night before. It can be so hard when emotions take over. You’ve probably experienced it yourself at some point – whether at work, when talking to your partner, or as a parent – can you relate?
I could feel it happening but I wasn’t able to stop it.
My emotions suddenly jumped into crazy ninja warrior mode.
They took over the words that come out of my mouth and added that tone of voice that we all recognise: the I-can’t-take-this-anymore, the-world-is-going-to-end, how-can-you-do-this-to-me, overwhelmed and exasperated mother.
I knew that this mental and emotional hijack usually spells doom for any conversation, but I couldn’t force myself to walk away.
Proceedings went downhill rapidly, and after I stormed off (I know!) all I could think was:
Why can’t I control myself and my emotions?
Why can’t I manage to say the right thing?
What could I have done differently?
What should I have done?
How could I have left my love and compassion locked up inside of me when my son and I needed them the most?
All I could feel was deep despair and disgust at myself for acting so emotionally.
When emotions take over, why are we so hard on ourselves?
Feeling strong emotions is just a normal human reaction, after all. Sometimes we just lose our sh*t.
And that’s OK.
How we recover from that is the most important thing.
Yes, we can look after ourselves, get enough sleep, set effective boundaries, learn to manage our thoughts and emotions better, all the things we learn to do at One of many, but even so, there will still be occasions when we lose control and let it all out!
I admit, it’s not pretty, but hardly reason for such self-hatred.
Learning to handle emotions, even strong ones, requires us to develop our emotional resilience.
Emotional resilience is not about bad stuff never happening to you.
It also doesn’t mean you never feel bad, make mistakes or lose your temper.
It’s about riding the ups and downs of life with more optimism, equanimity and compassion.
Instead of beating yourself up for being human, here are three ways to increase your emotional resilience.
3 ways to increase your Emotional Resilience
1. Choose to adopt an optimistic explanatory style.
Many of us get into trouble because we tend to react to every thought and emotion as if it were the only truth; that this situation or emotion is going to last forever and that it will affect every single part of our lives. We think in terms of things being very personal, all-pervasive and permanent.
As psychologist Martin Seligman explains, this “explanatory style” is linked to learned helplessness, the very opposite of optimism. Our explanatory style – how we explain our experience – makes a big difference to how we interpret and cope with events, feel about our life, and therefore how resilient and happy we are.
How do you speak to yourself after making a mistake?
“I wasn’t paying enough attention today. It didn’t help that I have so much on at the moment. I can do better tomorrow. It doesn’t mean that I’m a bad person.”
Or do you say something like:
“That was so stupid! I always mess up! I’ll never learn. Everything in my life is going wrong.”
When we get overwhelmed by emotions we can easily fall into a state of helplessness. We react not from a place of power but as a victim, buffeted about in the wind.
So instead of letting your inner critic in with its personal, pervasive and permanent statements of ‘truth’ choose an optimistic style instead.
- Don’t take things so personally. Instead of blaming yourself for something, acknowledge the part played by other people, your energy levels, luck, or circumstances.
- Don’t allow one event or mistake to contaminate the rest of your life. Just because you burnt the dinner doesn’t mean you are rubbish at everything in your life.
- Don’t get fixated with how it is now. Remember few things are permanent. Yes, you failed your driving test, but that doesn’t mean you’ll never pass it in the future.
2. Practice viewing life with equanimity.
The Mirriam-Webster Dictionary gives the following description of equanimity.
“Equanimity” ….. means “with even mind.” English speakers began using “equanimity” early in the 17th century with the now obsolete sense “fairness or justness of judgment”
I like this description because it explains the core of resilience – that to be resilient we need to have an ‘even mind’. Or in other words, we need to treat everything that happens to us and in our life equally, with fairness and good judgement.
After an emotional episode like I had last week do you ever think, only a few hours later: “Wow? What was all that about? It’s wasn’t even that bad.”
Our emotions don’t last forever. And actually, if we let them, they pass quite quickly. When we allow them to, our bodies and minds come back to their equilibrium naturally.
Learning to distance yourself from your emotions – and treat them with an even mind – in the moment is really important.
To help you do this try my Resilience Script:
1. Notice the feeling and label it: “I’m noticing that I’m feeling …. angry/hurt/rejected etc.
2. Accept, validate or soothe yourself (while taking deep breaths to calm your body): “…and that’s OK. I’m human and this is normal”. “I’m just being triggered by something and my Inner Critic trying to protect me.” “It’s OK, this is just an emotion/thought. It will pass”
3. Choose how you want to think and behave instead: “I’m going to walk away and respond when I’m calm’” or “How can I keep myself calm here?” or “Which Powertype would be useful here?” or “How can I be curious here and allow the emotions to pass?”.
But sometimes, as happened in my experience last week, I noticed I was angry and I couldn’t use the resilience script. I often use it and it works well, but last week it didn’t.
So, what do we do then?
3. Stop Judging Yourself
Just because you feel bad doesn’t mean there is anything ‘wrong’.
Last week I felt like my emotions were all wrong. I told myself that I should have done so many things to stop this happening, or to get out of the feelings faster.
But really, my biggest mistake was to judge myself so harshly, which such high expectations of robot-like consistency. Instead, I could have been more even-minded and compassionate to myself.
How I reacted to what happened was neither right or wrong – it was a normal human reaction.
What happened also had no implications for my worth as a person, wife or mother. Emotions are simply feedback.
We have a sign in our kitchen that says: “Love me when I least deserve it because that is when I need it most.”
Applying this to ourselves is really hard, because we live in a culture which punishes people harshly and shames them when they do things ‘wrong’ and make mistakes.
But in reality when we are struggling with our own imperfections and vulnerability, judging ourselves harshly for these human traits is the worst thing we can do. It is like added fuel to an already raging fire.
Instead we need to recognise what is happening and be our own protector. We need to wrap ourselves up and look after ourselves. Then we need to reach out and speak to others. Using words, music, nourishing things, we can reconnect with our equilibrium and our equanimity.
Sometimes this takes longer than others, and that’s OK.
My son said to me later, when we’d apologised and had a cuddle: “Let’s put that all behind us, Mum.” Wise words from a wise soul. We could all take a leaf out of his book.
Thea Jolly is one of our Certified Women’s Coaches, and is an in-house coach on our Lead the Change and Be Powerful Programmes.
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