Managing our emotions revolves around four components:
• 1 Expressing ourself
• 2 Taking care of ourself
• 3 Building up our tolerance for frustration
• 4 Maintaining a positive outlook
Most of us have heard the expression that communication is 10 percent information and 90 percent emotion. This means that good communication is more than just sending a message. It’s like a game of catch. It involves making sure that the message we send someone else is the message they’ve received, and that the message we receive, is the message the other person has sent. Easier said than done!
Communication is effective and constructive when our actions match words. So when we talk with someone, we must pay attention to how we are feeling, to the words we are using, and to what our body language may be saying. Often feelings are implied and conveyed by the subtext of tone. These undercurrents can send strong messages that overshadow the explicit words being spoken
Because communication is a two-way street, expressing ourself effectively also means listening to the other person in the conversation. For example, if our partner is saying the same thing over and over, they may think their emotions haven’t been heard. That’s a common issue because it’s so easy for a listener to jump over someone’s feelings and start giving advice, explaining facts, or trying to minimize a problem, instead of really hearing what the other person is saying. When we neglect to hear someone else’s feelings, we are saying, in effect, “Your feelings are not important. You have no right to feel that way.”
This works the other way, too—if we are not heard, then others can’t understand our needs. How can someone solve a problem that they don’t understand? Surprisingly, there’s often no need to solve the problem, whatever it is, once the people discussing it are sure that their feelings have been heard.
TAKING CARE OF OURSELF
Our happiness is just as important as anyone else’s, so we need to ensure we can set some limits on others’ demands. Our whole day doesn’t have to revolve round care-taking or people-pleasing tasks. This is easier said than done because people who want us to do things for them may accuse us of being selfish if we say no, and we may feel guilty or irresponsible.
Many of us are not used to putting ourself first in our own lives, but it is entirely appropriate to make ourselves a priority under these combat conditions. We are not being selfish. Selfish begins and end with us. Selfishness means we take care of ourself and let everyone else be damned. Self-preservation means we take care of ourself so we can be there for everyone else. To be a good person, we have to care for our own needs first.
Self preservation is like when we go on an airplane. Selfish means putting our air mask on while everyone else chokes. Selfless is putting everybody else’s air mask on while we choke. Self preservation is putting on our air mask first, so we can the help those around us.
But difficulty setting limits with others can prevent us from making time for ourself. How can we care for others if we don’t care for ourself first? Besides, why not be a role model for self-care? Otherwise, all we are doing is enabling them by teaching others to depend on us when we are always there to solve their problems. In turn, they never learn to do things themselves. It may be hard to set boundaries and then watch people struggle, but that’s how people grow.
BUILDING UP OUR TOLERANCE FOR FRUSTRATION
Expectations of instant gratification versus the capacity to tolerate frustration have become embedded in modern life. Historically, humans were raised in conditions where some level of hardship was the norm. Impulse control used to be an essential part of middle class life and the things we longed for did not appear instantly, they had to be earned. As a result, there was much more value and appreciation for what we had, rather than focusing on what we lacked. There was a sense of pride in mastery and achievement in having worked one’s way to a goal, in having had experiences with adversity and growth from struggle.
In the past, people welcomed challenges, learning to ‘make-do’, to adapt, to wait, or to work for lengthy periods to achieve a goal. Of course nobody would suggest that today people should increase hardship and create obstacles to earn everything they want or need. There has to be some happy medium.
People need to have success with frustration tolerance and learn impulse control to be responsible. Wellbeing does not come from easy indulgence, but from the sense of being in control, with confidence in their personal effort and being the master of one’s fate. Maturity is about finding out that we can’t always have what we want, that we can deal with that, and still be healthy and happy. The learning that results from delaying gratification contributes to the growth of resilience.
Resilient people have the capacity to withstand setbacks, to rise to a challenge, to find new ways of solving problems, to feel a sense of self-confidence in managing the social and material world, and to know that hardship can be overcome.
MAINTAINING A POSITIVE OUTLOOK
When we maintain a positive outlook, we become more able to manage our interpretation of events. Out outlook on life—its specific events and the other people involved in them—has much more to do with how we feel than it does with actual events and people in our life.
If we see the world as a terrible place where the cards are stacked against us, then we create a formula for anger, sadness, or worry. We have a choice about what we want to focus on. If we wake up in the morning and it’s raining, we can interpret that fact as a personal affront from nature and bemoan the gray, depressing day to come. Or, we can look out at the rain and feel content to be warm and dry in our comfortable home.
Sometimes struggles are exactly what we need in our life. If nature allowed us to go through our life without any obstacles, it would cripple us. We would not be as strong as what we could have been.
We can begin to manage struggle by giving ourself credit for making successful judgments in the past. We can build on our past successes. Our mind may be quick to criticize our mistakes, but very slow to validate our success. If we cannot acknowledge our own achievements, we often look to others for approval. This means we give control over what is a success, control over our self worth and confidence to other people. When we look to others for approval, they control our confidence. We cannot build on you success and develop confidence. Instead, you can choose to say, “I did that. I got it done and I made it happen.” That is not conceit, it is not “smug self satisfaction.” It is confidence. It is validating our efforts to face struggle and get through it the best we can.
We can remind ourself that imperfect judgment, means making a mistake, which is not the end of the world. We have made many good decisions and have made mistakes before. We are more than the sum of our success and mistakes. Our performance will vary from day to day, hour to hour and we can separate our performance from who we are as humans.
We are not worthless even if we make mistakes. Doing badly never makes us a bad person — only imperfect. We have a right to be wrong. We can separate the rating of our behavior from the rating of ourself. We have put up with disappointments all our life; we can tolerate this one too. Not getting our way is disappointing and inconvenient, which we deal with on a daily basis. In order to achieve pleasant results, we often have to do unpleasant things. Yes, it is a pain to do this now, but it will be much harder if we do it later.
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