How do I react emotionally?

Appropriate response

Every situation  creates an emotional response but sometimes the response is not appropriate to the situation: we can either exaggerate it or minimize it. The more extreme our reaction, the more we are distorting reality. When we don’t know how to manage a feeling, we either control it or get it out of control. The more we control our emotion, the more it gets out of control at the wrong time with the wrong person. A good example of this is a couple married for a long time, where the same dynamic has been repeated over and over again. Let’s say he is rather careless and forgetful, leaving things anywhere in the house and then losing them. She has been picking up his things for all these years and is totally fed up, so every time they have this “situation” she gets out of control and starts shouting at him. Her anger is so intense that she responds with aggression. She has exaggerated and therefore distorted reality.

So the first question to ask ourselves is: what is happening to me that I respond in such an extreme way? How am I distorting reality? We need to pause and look at it in a deeper way.

This is part of the work that is done in counseling. It’s very helpful to have somebody to reflect back to us our dark areas. For example, the woman in the story realized in therapy that she couldn’t stand her husband’s untidiness because she had repressed her own. She hadn’t been allowed to be untidy as a child, she had been punished severely and she had buried all that pain she felt in a dark corner of her mind. Once she brought all this up to her consciousness, she started concentrating on herself and not on trying to change her husband anymore so she could react in a more balanced way.

Aristotle said “Anybody can become angry – that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way – that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy”. This is what emotional management is about.

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