Dealing with Overwhelming Emotions

We all have moments when our emotions run wild.  For example, when we get really bad news, or have a major conflict with a coworker or even something as relatively minor as losing that document we spent 3 hours working on and we were sure we saved it (dammit). At that moment, (something hits us and our emotions go haywire). We also know what it’s like to make an impulsive decision driven by those strong feelings, only to have to clean up a mess later.

Unfortunately, we can’t really avoid experiencing deep anger, extreme frustration, crushing sadness, or screaming fear. These emotions come with life and it’s how we are designed. We may not be able to control having such emotions.  The good news, however is that we do have 100% control how we react to them.

While I was kayaking off the coast of Maine, I came across a tall flag pole with a worn flag on the top. The pole had a strong base and wires securing it to the rocky coast. It reminded me of story from the book “When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times,” by the Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron. In her book, Chodron talks about the flagpoles that are on the sea cliffs above the abbey where she lives.  On occasion, incredibly high winds shred the flags. She uses the flags and the flagpoles as a metaphor, explaining: “the image of the flagpole and the flag is a great one for working with thoughts and emotions, because the flagpole is steady and holds, and then the winds are whipping the flags all over the place, tearing them to shreds – that’s usually our predicament. We are the flags, and the wind is just whipping us around.”

She goes on to say that we need to learn to be more like the flagpole and less like the flag. Flags get worn out, but even in hurricane-velocity winds the flagpoles stay up on the cliffs.

To be more like the flagpole, practice the following:

1. When feel your emotions starting to whip up, stop to notice them and gauge their intensity.
2. Work on disentangling your strong and stable self from the strong emotion.
3. Stand firm and let the emotions blow past you, noticing how they affect your body.
4. Finally, become aware of the calm as it eventually returns.

When you commit to this practice, you will discover two things will begin to happen. First, you will become more grounded and will seldom say or do something that is emotionally driven. Second, you will find that you are capable of returning to a steady state quicker.

Oh yeah, and third, you will look taller.

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