Let’s pretend for a moment that you are part of a team working on a project that is taking a long time to finish. Everyone is stressed out and tired. All of a sudden, someone insinuates that you are to blame for the delay. This, naturally, irks you and you start feeling defensive, angry and even more stressed out. Are you going to express your anger and confront the person blaming you, or can you hold back and stay silent until such time that you are cool-headed enough to talk to the person calmly?
There are people who find it difficult to regulate their emotions and express them in healthy ways. It could be because they don’t know how to do it, or maybe because they have false beliefs about emotional expression. In the example above, perhaps you would reason that it is only right to defend yourself against misplaced or incorrect accusations.
First of all, it is important to understand that emotions appear for a purpose. They could serve to warn us of danger, push us to change things that need to be changed, connect us with others, help us ask for support, inspire us to do the right action, and so on. In the given example, perhaps the anger means that you need to learn to assert yourself and express your truth, but in a peaceful manner.
If it’s hard for you to hold back and regulate your emotions, consider using mindfulness techniques so you can express them more effectively. Be aware of what is happening in your body and what’s running through your mind as you experience the emotion. With anger, you could feel your face getting warmer, your heart rate increasing, and your stomach tensing. Label or name your feeling, and then try to be mindful of your reaction. What is your response? How do you express this? What does your face show?
Take a moment to breathe, then ask yourself what this anger is telling you. When you take the time to listen to yourself, you can mindfully decide how to reply in the most effective and loving way. For example, you could tell your co-worker that what she or he said was hurtful and that you’d want to know and understand what made them say such a thing.
This process can be applied to any kind of emotion: fear, love, guilt, etc. And if we can learn this important skill and turn it into a habit, we are less likely to get caught in unhealthy and destructive patterns such as yelling, name-calling, and verbal and physical violence. All of these don’t only ruin our relationships and make situations worse, they can also damage our own mental and physical health.