Written by Rachel Green, Director, The Emotional Intelligence Institute.
If I control my emotions will I be resilient?
People seem to think that being resilient is about controlling their emotions. It's not.
When people "control" their emotions they often mean they avoid, suppress or repress them. This doesn't mean that the emotions have gone away. It may mean that they're sitting inside the person and building a volcano which at some stage may erupt.
But, let me put emotional resilience in a context of emotional intelligence. One level of emotional intelligence, on the Genos emotional intelligence model, is the ability to manage your emotions. This is not the same as controlling your emotions.
There are many different aspects of managing your emotions and in the next sections I'll go through five of these, so you can check out how well you are doing. All of them are important in developing resilience and being resilient. We also run regular emotional resilience tele-classes if you'd like to learn more.
Five ways of managing emotions - how good are you?
- Stopping unhelpful emotions from arising.
- Calming emotions that are not helpful.
- Transforming emotions, so you can switch from one emotion to another.
- Parking emotions so you can process them later.
- Generating positive emotions - deliberately, without expense.
None of these are the same as control, avoid, suppress or ignore. Can you do all of these with your emotions?
Let't look at each one in turn.
1. Stop unhelpful emotions from arising.
By stopping emotions I do not mean having an emotion and pushing it down and holding on to it tightly. That's not healthy for resilience. I mean reducing the number of times certain emotions arise in you, e.g. you get frustrated or stressed less often.
For instance, in the past when someone pulled in front of you while you were driving your car you might have got very angry and sworn at them, but now this emotion no longer arises and you calmly allow them in and stay safe. The anger isn't there at all; the reaction is no longer one of anger. The anger in this situation has stopped. It has been replaced by calm.
I have found mindfulness and meditation very useful in helping me to stop such emotions from appearing so often. We talk a lot more about this in our resilience tele-classes too.
2. Calm emotions that are not helpful.
If you have become angry, upset, disappointed, overwhelmed or anxious, how quickly can you self-soothe and self-calm by processing and moving through these emotions so that you come out on the other side of them in a healthy way? An opposite example is the people who are still angry and resentful about something days, weeks or even years later. Or the person who goes to bed still fuming, ruminating on what was said and wakes at 3am plotting revenge.
I have found a technique called Tapping or Simple Energy Techniques to be useful in processing and self-calming such emotions.
The more you can manage your own emotions in these ways, the more likely you are to be resilient.
3. Transform emotions, so you can switch from one emotion to another.
The concept is simple, but it may not be so easy to do without high levels of emotional intelligence and good techniques at your disposal. As an example, let's say you are walking to work feeling irritable, yet you are meeting important clients at work and need to feel warm and engaged! Can you switch from one emotion to another?
I use happy memory snapshots to help me to do this.
After all, if I am presenting a workshop for you on presentation skills you wouldn't want me to feel irritable would you? No! Thus, as I am walking to a workshop I replay happy memories in my mind and evoke the same feelings, and find I can change my emotions.
4. Park emotions until later.
Emotions contain important data; they are not simply there to be controlled or got rid of. Some, so called "negative" emotions, can motivate people to change, take action and meet challenges successfully. If something has happened at home in the morning which you need to deal with when you get home, you may decide to put that emotion to one side, and pick it up later when you go home. You are simply waiting until the best time to acknowledge, understand, express it and move through it.
Sadness might be one emotion for which this can be helpful. You are not avoiding the sadness or denying it is there; it's more a kind of suspension!
I have found keeping a journal - or simply imagining putting my emotions in a bag outside the door at work and picking up the bag when I leave - to be very helpful in parking my emotions.
5. Generate positive emotions.
How well can you deliberately foster and generate positive emotions, and can you do this on a daily basis? Our brains may be strongly wired for threat so we may notice the "negative" emotions more than the positive ones.
Practising gratitude and keeping a gratitude journal helps me to generate positive emotions throughout my day - and it costs nothing.
The more you can do all these five aspects of managing your own emotions the more likely you are to be resilient. If you want to learn more about how to be resilient attend our next interactive tele-class on emotional resilience.