“Your emotions are the slaves to your thoughts, and you are the slave to your emotions.” – Elizabeth Gilbert
Do you ever feel like your emotions run your life?
Do you allow external events to dictate how you feel on the inside?
You can wake up in the morning feeling perfectly happy and then something happens to knock you off-kilter and your mood rapidly changes?
Guilty as charged.
But in my defence, it’s hard not to be affected by the things that happen in our day-to-day lives—we wouldn’t be human if they didn’t. A stressful day at work will affect how you feel; a fight with your spouse will affect how you feel; a critical word will affect how you feel.
It’s when we allow our emotions to overwhelm us and we make decisions from those places that the problems begin.
I’m an INFJ. If that means nothing to you, it’s an acronym for one of the 16 personality types used in the Myers-Briggs personality type indicator, all developed from the work of Psychiatrist Carl Jung. If you don’t know your type, it’s definitely worth checking out.
INFJs are introverted, intuitive, feeling, and judging people, which apparently makes us deep, complex and big dreamers. We like to know the meaning and purpose behind e.v.e.r.y.thing.
We also tend to be highly emotional people who don’t hide our feelings so well. I think with my heart, which can get me into a whole lot of trouble. But I’m learning that letting my emotions run ahead of me and lead the way is often not smart. Sometimes it is, but usually not. Often not.
If you struggle like I do, here are 10 steps to help you manage your emotions:=
1. If it feels good do it
Whoever said this? I think as a society we’ve been taught to follow our emotions. We’ve been taught that if something feels good we should just go ahead and do it. Well it feels good to eat a pound of ice-cream and to shop all day long, but my waistline and my bank account might not agree.
Sometimes the choice that feels good is just the easy option when we don’t want to face the difficult path.
2. Emotion is not intuition
It’s easy to confuse the two but emotions and intuition are different. Emotions are responses to thoughts, and our thoughts are derived from how we interact with and perceive the world.
Intuition is more of a gnawing sense about something in your life—a sense that doesn’t change over time and is ever present. Intuition is a connection to the unconscious part of our brains and allows us to know something without being able to reason this knowledge in our conscious mind.
Emotions are reactive and often irrational; intuition is more of a quiet understanding, without the need for conscious reasoning.
3. Validate your emotions
Emotions are not bad—in fact much of the time they are good and they are healthy. I sincerely love being an emotional person; it makes me feel alive and connected.
But if emotions are responses to thoughts, and our thoughts are based on how we perceive the world, and how we perceive the world is based on a multitude of factors such as upbringing, cultural barriers, and life experiences, how can our emotions always be trusted?
Ignoring your emotions is never a good thing. It’s important to feel them and examine where they come from. It’s only when we know the root of an emotion that we can do anything about managing it in a healthy way.
4. Journal your emotions
One of the biggest steps in managing emotion for me has been journaling. Writing down how you feel about your relationships, work, and the everyday routine of your life is hugely helpful in getting to know yourself and your emotional triggers.
To begin, ask yourself some simple questions based around common emotions, such as “What makes me angry? What makes me sad? What lifts me up? Which emotion do I most commonly identify with?
Or, you can try the writing challenge at the end of this post.
5. Examine the underlying thought
When you have a strong emotional reaction to something it’s important to recognize the thought that preceded it. Of course this means taking a moment to stop, breathe and think about whether that thought was rational, or based on a preconceived idea, misconception or judgment. It’s not easy to do in the heat of the moment, which is why I’m learning the importance of taking a time out when I’m feeling highly reactive and emotional.
Ask yourself, can I trust these emotions?
6. Know your triggers
If an emotion is common for you—fear, anger, jealousy—then it’s really useful to figure out what triggers it. For me it’s anger. I can be pretty fiery at times but I’ve figured out that it happens in two circumstances: when I feel disrespected, and when I feel ignored.
So, if I ask my kids to do something five times and they don’t respond, both triggers are aggravated and I see red. Since I figured that out, I now at least try to take a moment to stop and breathe before raising my voice.
Your surroundings may also be emotional triggers for you. If you work in a high-stress environment this may create a lot of negative emotion amongst the staff. It’s easy to be sucked into similar thinking patterns when the vibe around others is a certain way.
Do any triggers immediately come to mind for you, based on emotions you commonly feel?
7. Take responsibility for your own emotions
How often have you voiced your opinion or reacted a certain way to someone based on the way they “made you feel?”
Here’s the truth: no one can “make” you feel a certain way—only you can. It’s your thought process that creates your feelings. And your thought process may not have been based on truth.
Before you reel someone out or judge them for how they made you feel, consider their perspective too.
8. Assess the outcome
It’s hard to take a step back and consider how your emotional reactions may affect others when in the midst of feeling those emotions, particularly the more reactive ones such as anger. This is when taking some time away from a situation and sitting with your thoughts and emotions will be really helpful.
Consider what you would have said and done if you had acted on your emotions. Then consider what you would like to do once you are in a calmer state of mind. If the two are the same, you’re probably doing the right thing. In all likelihood though, the less emotional you will react differently.
9. Find your mantra
It’s helpful when our emotions are in full force to have a mantra, or even single word, that helps us to remain in control of our emotions.
Once you know your triggers and those ensuing emotions you wrestle with often, think of a word or phrase that you can repeat to yourself to help tame the emotion.
In my case with anger, it’s soft. I want to become the soft, gentle person I know I am underneath the anger. Repeating the word, combined with removing myself from the situation, helps me to remain in control.
10. Ask for divine intervention
Whether you are religious, spiritual, or just believe in the sixth sense, asking for help from God or the universe is incredibly helpful. Faith alone is enough to carry me through when I feel emotions that may persist, such as sadness or despair.
Do you see yourself as a highly emotional person? Ask yourself this question: when have I allowed my emotions to manage a situation this week?
If you can’t think of an instance, consider any event in your life when you have acted on emotion. Would you act differently if the situation arose again?
And if you are interested in knowing your Myers-Briggs personality type, take the test and then let me know your type in the comments.