I must have missed the week at school when you learn about managing emotions and what it means to be emotionally intelligent – because I grew up being very confused about my emotions.
At a young age, from what I could glean by what I observed around me, I came to understand a few things:
- Managing emotions was expected of me (even if I wasn’t sure how)
- There were certain emotions I was allowed to express, and others I was meant to hide – depending on my gender, age, sexual orientation, etc.
- Being overly emotional meant that I was irrational and perhaps even crazy
As you might imagine, this was very confusing for me. You may have had a similar experience yourself. For a long time, even into adulthood, I assumed that there must be something wrong with me, that I must be more emotional than others because I couldn’t seem to follow the rules I’d learned growing up.
But then I learned that it wasn’t me who had a problem with emotions, it was the world around me that had issues. And there’s even a word for it: stigma.
I started to learn all I could about my feelings, and what I could do to manage the ones that gave me the most difficulty. One of the many skills I’ve learned for managing emotions is to first examine how it might be “tricking” me. I don’t mean “trick” in the sense that the emotion itself is deliberately trying to deceive me; rather, I mean to say that the emotion can misdirect me, sort of like the way a magician does during a card trick.
In that sense, I’ve been tricked by the emotion.
Managing Emotions: 9 of the Trickiest Ones
Managing Emotions: Jealousy
If jealousy had a head, it would rear and it would be ugly. Feelings of jealousy can bleed into many different types of relationships – romantic relationships being the most likely candidate. Jealousy tries to trick us into believing that – through our “preventative” actions – we can obtain control, usually over another person.
When jealous feelings push their way into our thoughts, it’s important to stop and consider what it is truly about. How much of your jealousy is based on real problems in a relationship, and how much is based on personal insecurities you might harbour?
To beat jealousy, the best thing you can do is stare it straight in the face; speak about your feelings of jealousy by literally speaking about jealousy, and from there you can begin to find the root of the problem, rather than digging yourself into a hole on the other side of the yard.
Managing Emotions: Uncertainty
Uncertainty isn’t exactly an emotion, it’s more a state of being. However, being in an uncertain situation carries with it a distinct sense of emotional discomfort that each of us knows all to well. The tricky part about uncertainty is that sometimes you aren’t fully aware that it’s affecting you, how it’s affecting you, or how much it’s affecting you.
To help myself cope with uncertain times, the biggest thing I can do to alleviate the discomfort is to go easy on myself. Uncertainty tends to flood everything, which means that you might be more sensitive, you might have a harder time sleeping and making decisions, your appetite could be affected, or pretty much anything under the sun.
The time to save the world isn’t always when you’re caught up in uncertainty. Sometimes, just biding your time until the sun comes out and being mindful that you’re not feeling like your usual self is the best thing you can do.
Managing Emotions: Worry
This one’s tough. I’m actually not the best at overcoming worrying, to be honest. I find it requires a lot of energy to “fight” with worry, and sometimes I don’t have enough. Worry tricks us into worrying more because it makes us think that we can somehow resolve the situation by worrying the shit out of it.
One remedy that sometimes works is to ask myself, “Mike, how will worrying about such and such help to make such and such more bearable?” The answer is always, “It won’t help,” and more often than not, “In fact, it will make it worse.” This helps with some worrying, but not others.
When all else fails, healthy distraction can help – something, anything, that helps you to take a rest from the stress worrying places on your system. Combine several smaller relaxation techniques together to help drain the life out of the worry. It might not make it vanish without a trace, but at the least it will alleviate it.
Managing Emotions: Heartache
Ugh, the worst.
The tricky thing about getting over heartache is that it’s usually less about what you do, and more about what you avoid doing. Avoid placing big pressure on yourself, avoid making big life decisions, avoid trying to rebound from the old relationship into a new one. Be extremely mindful that, during this time, you are very vulnerable and this will affect your entire perception of yourself and the world around you.
When it seems that heartache will never pass, consider what it is you’re holding onto. Of course, none of us wants to feel heartache – and yet we do. When you’re caught in heartache, stop to consider what leaving that heartache behind will force you to accept: What truth or reality is the heartache protecting you from facing up to?
It’s not an easy to question to ask, but when you’re ready, you will.
Managing Emotions: Ambivalence
From my personal experience, ambivalence is one of the most tricky feelings that shows up in so many different areas in life. Ambivalence occurs when we have two conflicting feelings about a single thing, as in the U2 song where Bono confesses that he “can’t live with or without you.”
Ambivalence tricks us because it knows that we are naturally programmed to want to resolve conflict – especially internal conflict. In that sense, feelings of ambivalence carry with them the mistaken belief that we need to choose one feeling or the other.
The thing that helps me to manage ambivalence is to, first and foremost, accept that having two conflicting feelings about one thing is a completely normal and natural way to feel – and that I don’t necessarily need to choose one feeling over the other; they can both exist simultaneously. Once you accept that, you will realize just how much your difficulty with ambivalence is not the conflicting emotions themselves, but rather that you feel conflicted about feeling conflicted.
Managing Emotions: Embarrassment
I once researched medical procedures that would help me with my propensity to blush – because I turn red on the drop of a hat. Literally tell me to blush, and I will. The tricky thing with blushing, and other situations that embarrass us, is that – while they are hopefully relatively brief events in time – they can haunt our memories for days, weeks, even years.
Have you ever been lying in bed, about to fall asleep, and then suddenly remember that awkward thing you did like six years ago, only to be slapped wide awake by the cold, calculating hand of embarrassment?
For embarrassment in the moment or embarrassment about the past, I sometimes combat it with a poignant question: “Who the fuck cares?” So what if I accidentally posted a nude selfie of myself on Facebook – Who the fuck cares? Everyone is naked underneath. So what if I went to a friend’s and plugged their toilet and had to ask them where they keep their plunger – Who the fuck cares? Everyone eats food, and then about 5 hours later, everyone shits that food out.
So when embarrassment slaps you across the face, I say slap that fucker right back, twice as hard. Bam!
Managing Emotions: Boredom
I’m not necessarily referring to how boring it is to wait for the 501 streetcar, I’m thinking more of capital b Boredom, the kind that makes your life feel like you’re literally waiting for a streetcar ALL DAY – especially a streetcar that may never even arrive at all.
The tricky thing with boredom is that it can sneak into our lives undetected, primarily because we don’t take boredom seriously – it’s something that makes little kids antsy, right? Plop them in front of a TV, problem solved.
On the contrary, boredom can be a terribly debilitating feeling to be caught in. It can lead to confusion about the direction of your life, impulsive and self-damaging behaviours, and even worse, apathy, depression, and anxiety.
The first step when dealing with boredom is to identify it as such. By assigning a name to the feeling, you have effectively signalled to yourself that you are moving past the complaining-about-boredom phase into the so-what-am-I-going-to-do-about-it phase. After that, it’s up to you: What changes do you need to make in your life to pull yourself out of boredom?
Managing Emotions: Love
But love is a beautiful feeling, isn’t it? Well yes, of course it is, but there are still some tricky elements that can misdirect you. One important thing I’ve learned about love is that the word means different things to different people. Some people feel love relatively quickly, while others take a bit of time. Some people feel love in their gut, while others experience it in their head. There isn’t one right way to experience love; each of us has to learn what love means to us.
The biggest trick about love is the misguided belief that it is a consistent feeling – one that you’re struck with, after which you never stop feeling. On the contrary, the feeling of love has its ebbs and flows – sometimes you’re aware of it, other times you might not be.
Love is something you work at every day, something that is constantly evolving and being reinvented. That’s what love is.
Managing Emotions: Fear
Life is all about facing fears – one after the other.
The tricky thing about fear is deciding which ones to heed and which ones to push past. When I step back and take a look at everything I’m afraid of – big or small – one thing ties them all together: change. So much of fear is actually a response to the possibility of change. When big changes are coming, or if they’re brewing inside me, I feel afraid because I don’t know what’s in store for me.
The important thing for coping with fear – and in fact this applies to any of the tricky emotions you get caught in – is finding your support system. I’m talking about the people in your life, the ones you can go to for a second opinion who will help you decipher a confusing situation, or figure out what steps to take next.
Any emotion – regardless of how beautiful or painful it is – can cloud our judgment, confuse us, or lead us astray – especially when we try to pretend the emotion isn’t there, or try to hide it away from others.
You are always going to have emotions, and every time you do it simple means that you’re body and mind are trying to communicate something to you. The trick is to find a way to interpret that emotion so that it makes you stronger and gives you the upperhand. Emotions don’t mean to be tricky, but because we live in a world that doesn’t unfold in a straight line, finding a way to use your emotions to your advantage will get you where you’re going faster, safer, and with greater satisfaction.