Managing Emotions in the Heat of the Moment
The holidays give us plenty of chances to work with difficult emotions. In the heat of the moment, we may believe we have few options of what to do. If we can catch ourselves, we might realize we are stuck because we are trying to answer the wrong questions.
Someone said something to me a while back that threw me for a loop. I found myself feeling hurt and angry and confused as to what I should do. I recognized this as a moment in which the best thing to do was nothing. It was a time to “sit with it,” to pause and reflect and let my reactivity subside.
In such times, the part of our brain that controls critical and abstract thinking, decision-making and imagination becomes disconnected. The part of the brain that is in charge of survival takes over as if our life was being threatened. So we may say and do things that we later regret. If we can recognize that we are becoming reactive, rather than responsive, we can stop and wait for our cognitive functions to come back online.
Yet even though I did this, I still didn’t know how to respond. Despite the fact that I hadn’t lashed out in the moment, the event continued to bother me. I thought I had to do something to clear the air between us. I wanted to say something, but I didn’t want to start a fight or cause further hurt.
With some outside help, I realized that I wasn’t seeing the situation clearly. Because I had taken it personally, my interpretations, assumptions and judgements led me astray. Until I accepted the facts I would remain stuck.
As I worked on accepting what had actually happened, I opened up new possibilities of how to work with it. And as I often discover, the work would be with myself, not the other person. The problem was with how I was viewing and interpreting the statement and the relationship. The other person was just being who and how they are, and I am not in charge of that. I am in charge of how I want to be, in and out of the relationship.
I know now that I have many options, including doing nothing, and I am ok with that. When I asked the wrong questions (“What do I say to X about what X said?” for example) they led me down a dead end street. When I accepted that people will say and do what they will, and that I don’t need to take it personally, I found a multitude of choices of how to proceed. For example, I can do nothing, or if it comes up again, I can acknowledge the opinion, and get curious about how they got to it. Even if my opinion is different, I can offer understanding and compassion. I can even inject some humor.
Rather than let my emotions or my thoughts rule my actions, I can experience them, letting them come and go as they will. They are only thoughts and emotions, not necessarily the truth.
I can offer love by seeing others just how they are, without judgement, and realizing that there is more that connects us than what seems to separate us. We are, after all, in this together.