Men, in particular, tend to be socialized to bottle up their feelings, to put them aside and get on with the activities of daily working and living. Many women do this, too, although perhaps suppressing different feelings in different ways.
This suppression strategy is a mistake, because it fails to take advantage of the direction, power, and intelligence that emotions can provide.
The simple fact is that – for most of us – emotions form a major portion of “who we are,” which we ignore at our peril. By learning to tune in to these emotions and benefit from the insights they can offer, we begin to use more of our resources and capabilities, above and beyond just our intellect and thoughts.
To get more benefit from your emotions, try these ideas in your work and your life:
Notice and Accept Your Emotions
All of us have active emotional lives: a constant roller coaster of feeling happy or sad, angry or peaceful, selfish or grateful, powerful or weak, supported or abandoned, and so much more. While most women tend to have quicker and more direct connection with their emotions than most men, all of us can benefit from paying more attention to our emotions in our daily work and life.
To do this, the first step is to consciously notice what you are feeling – if not moment to moment, then at least during key episodes when your emotions rise to a higher-than-normal level. For example, you may feel frustrated at not getting your way, ignored by someone important, or thrilled at some recent triumph. Perhaps you’re stressed by pressures on the job or by difficulties at home.
The second step is to grant yourself the right to fully experience that feeling: just to sit with it awhile. Certain emotions are associated with extra ambition, additional creativity, and greater optimism. Other emotions trigger the energy to deeply analyze a situation, review past events, and more closely evaluate our relationships to people, places, or things.
Suppressing, discounting, or explaining away an honest emotion is clinically unhealthy, and generally counterproductive. Accepting your feelings is the best route toward gaining all the benefits they may contain.
The truth is this: all your feelings – even the “negative” ones – can be beneficial, provided you recognize you’re having them and allow them to emerge in full. (This doesn’t mean you should always act them out, of course. But there’s great benefit to inwardly knowing your emotional state.)
Label Your Feelings
Once you’ve noticed you’re having a feeling, it’s important to identify it as accurately as you can. “Stress” is a commonplace feeling, for example, but stress can stem from a wide variety of sources and can exhibit many different characteristics. That’s why it’s helpful to unpack your feelings of stress (or any other emotion) and become aware of what you’re possibly feeling.
In the case of stress, you might feel:
- At the limit of your capabilities, or
- Fearful of an unwanted event or outcome,
Different feelings have different sources and characteristics, of course. Whatever these may be, becoming aware of the details seems to help people better handle the ebb and flow of their emotions.
Various experts have put forward many different taxonomies of emotions, like this one. Find one that makes sense to you, and use it to help unpack and identify each of your feelings, as they occur.
Now that you know what you’re feeling, where it comes from, and how it’s manifesting itself, you can look for the value in that emotion.
Start by distancing yourself from the feeling, not by bottling it up, but by thinking about it in some depth:
- Why are you feeling this way?
- What external situation may have triggered this feeling?
- What internal mechanisms may have produced this feeling?
- What other feelings could have emerged, instead of this one?
You can also consider the chain of action and reaction that produced your emotion. Where does this chain reaction come from? How did you learn it? When? What does this pattern of reactions to certain categories of events suggest about you, and about how you interact with other people and the world around you?
Perhaps most importantly: What other internal mechanisms might have emerged? How else could you have reacted?
Evaluate Your Emotional Response
All this awareness, labeling, and introspection puts you in position to learn from your emotions.
- Is your emotional reaction appropriate to the situation?
- If not, is it something you’d like to change?
- If so, what would you like to change it to?
- How else might this (or some other emotion) have expressed itself in behavior?
Of course, not all emotional reactions can be or should be changed. Some feelings are just hard-wired into us as people. Some make great sense, based on who we are and how we have developed over the years. A few are too deeply ingrained to be readily adjusted.
The self-knowledge we develop through these processes can help us outgrow ineffective emotional reactions that limit our opportunities or damage our reputations.
What’s more, knowing ourselves better and more deeply can yield extremely powerful and important insights. We can use these to upgrade our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors as we encounter new, more challenging opportunities.
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