We often let our emotions guide our daily lives — and our entire lives — if we’re not mindful. But wouldn’t it be better to let feelings serve us instead of swaying us?
When we succumb to the effects of perception, we can lose our ability to determine fact. Can you tell when you’re in the midst of “emotional hijacking?” Emotional Intelligence author Daniel Goleman, PhD, coined this phrase, which describes a loss of control caused by overwhelming emotions.
Perhaps your pulse quickens or your fists and jaw clench and your stomach’s aflutter. Maybe you can’t seem to filter the things you say. Your mind overflows with thoughts of what triggered these responses: Maybe you’ve gotten into a heated argument or experienced a devastating loss. Even something as seemingly mundane as having to wait in line at the supermarket behind someone buying more than the allowed number of items can trigger a reaction.
Some changes we’re faced with are simple, but others are seismic. Consider what threatens your ability to regulate emotions. What has helped you ride the waves? What has had you nearly drowning?
5 Steps to Keep Emotions in Check
One helpful five-part technique for navigating stormy emotions has a memorable rhyme scheme:
- Deal: We don’t always get to choose our circumstances. You’re called on to deal with the aftermath of situations such as growing up in an abusive or otherwise dysfunctional family. It helps to remember that you’ve survived everything that’s happened so far. Is there anything that says you won’t make it through what’s happening now?
- Conceal: Protective mechanisms kick in to cover up trauma we’re not ready to cope with. Think of it as makeup that covers blemishes: We know what’s underneath, even if other people can’t always tell. Sometimes we’re afraid to remove these layers because we wonder if others will run screaming if they see who we truly are.
- Peel: Imagine removing the skin of an orange or banana to uncover the fruit. Take a deep breath, inhaling the fragrance. Life can be that sweet all the time. The skin’s meant only to be a temporary covering, and the fruit can’t be fully appreciated if it remains. Our lives are limited if we keep our beauty, power, and even our pain hidden. It takes tremendous courage to uncover our fears.
- Reveal: Think of a time you felt excited to open a gift. “Revealing the real” can create the same sense of anticipation. Is there something you want to share that you’ve been withholding out of fear? Remember this 12-step adage: “We are as sick as our secrets.”
- Heal: However long it takes, healing comes from a process of refining and redefining our experiences. But healing isn’t the same as curing. A person can be free of the bondage of addiction and still understand that it’s part of their experience. Just as someone with an injury or illness might maintain lingering reminders of their suffering, our life events are part of us but they don’t define us.
As you move through these stages, imagine yourself donning your board shorts, hanging ten and riding some epic waves, understanding that you’ll occasionally wipe out, but ultimately will have a rad performance.
By Edie Weinstein, LSW
Follow Edie on Twitter at @EdieWeinstein1