As human beings, we are complicated, flawed, multi-dimensional creatures with deep layers of motives, conflicts, and goals. Our emotions arise from these multi-factorial roots. As humans, we cannot let go of our emotions. We cannot squash down our feelings like a heap of trash. But as intelligent, multi-faceted, and complex individuals, we can take control of our feelings. By doing so, we can simplify the chaotic energy that arises from negative emotions.
I am a very emotional person. While I tend to run on the sunny side of the emotional spectrum, I do experience negative feelings. But after going through several life transformations, including giving up my job to be a stay at home mom and writer in Costa Rica, I have learned how to control my negative emotions and use them as an opportunity for self-reflection. Simplifying my emotions has been especially helpful as I navigate the complexities of the cultural adjustment process.
Jealousy, hatred, resentment, self-pity, helplessness, anger, bitterness, and doubt are not going to help you achieve your life goals. These emotions are a time and energy sink.
I firmly believe that just like you can take charge of your body, career, finances, and family life, you can also take charge of your emotions so you do not waste precious time and energy on negativity. To do so, you must be accountable to yourself. Here are 5 practical ways you can do this.
Exercise your insight muscles.
In order to gain insight, you must first ask yourself questions to which you may not want the answers.
“Why am I jealous of my friend?”
“Why am I angry at my husband?”
“Why do I hate Jenny McCarthy?” (I don’t really, well, not that much…..)
To gain insight, you must dig deep within yourself to find the answers. You may find that you are jealous of your friend because she is fitter than you, which will then lead you to further introspection about your own struggles with body image and fitness status. You may find that you are angry with your husband because he does not help you with household chores or taking care of the kids, which will then lead to to further introspection about how well you have communicated your own needs and expectations to him. Answering these questions truthfully and honestly will be painful. After all, the process will point all accountability on you, not anyone else. Your friend is not making you feel jealous. Your husband is not making you angry. Jenny McCarthy isn’t making you hate her. Only you can “make” yourself feel an emotion. Finding the root cause of the emotion will help you then take the necessary steps to change the situation that is causing those negative emotions. If you are jealous of your friend because she is fitter, perhaps it is time to take control of your body by adopting a healthier lifestyle. If you are angry with your husband because he will not help you, perhaps it is time to sit down for a serious chat about division of labor. Resentment, crying, and yelling is not going to fix any situation.
I am a strong believer that generosity is the best sign of confidence and power. It is not a sign of weakness. In my former life, I went out of my way to help junior colleagues and peers achieve success. I literally felt high from helping them advance their careers. I know that helping others for the sake of “feeling good” sounds selfish, but I do not see it that way. I see it as a symbiotic relationship, which are very common in nature. Now that I am out of the work force, I practice generosity in other ways. This does not mean that you have to say yes to every favor or donate to every charity that approaches you. You can select 2-3 family charities or organizations that you donate to or volunteer for. Offer your time, skill set, or money to causes (or people) that are in line with your life goals values. If you fill your heart with the positive energy that comes from practicing generosity, you will have less room for the negative ones. Generosity will also help you forgive those who have harmed you. When you choose to forgive and not dwell on past hurts, you will be lifting a burden from your heart.
Admit you do not control the world.
As a pathologic overachiever, this was a difficult step for me to take. I wanted to fix my job, fix my parent’s finances, fix one of my sister’s life, and fix every one of my resident’s careers. And I wanted to do all of this while fixing every single problem in my own life, which is far from perfect. When I finally admitted that I cannot fix the world, my emotional range became much simpler. This does not mean that I no longer care about what is happening with those around me, it just means that I will accept and love them no matter what choices they make. I don’t have to fix my colleagues, friends, and family. They are not broken. My job is to love and support them. I offer advice only if they ask for my opinion. And sometimes all I offer is an ear to listen and a shoulder to cry on.
Engage in reflective journaling.
Writing is therapeutic. That is no secret. Reflective journaling will help you determine what is most valuable in your life, focus your goals, and analyze the root cause of your negative emotions. Reflective journaling is a cathartic exercise, and much cheaper than therapy. Reflective journaling does not mean you need to do a “Dear Diary” entry each day. For example, I do not write down in narrative when I engage in reflective journaling, but instead I write checklists, no doubt as a remnant of my background as a physician. I write down what I want to accomplish for the day or year. I write down ideas for novels, movie treatments/scrips, or blog posts. I write down plans for just about anything. This helps me feel focused and organized. Try reflective journaling for two weeks to discover its value in helping you take control of the negative emotions your life.
Communicate! Communicate! Communicate!
“I feel _____ when you _______ because _______. I would like ________.” This quote is posted in my son’s first grade classroom. I love it because this statement because it clearly expresses feelings and expectations to someone who has caused injury to the speaker. It allows us to forge a path to forgiveness. It gives the person who caused injury an opportunity to rectify the situation.
Though I listed communication as the last piece of the emotional control puzzle, I actually think it is the most important one. Communication is the mortar that holds all the bricks of emotional health together. In the medical world, the majority of errors are due to communication failures. I firmly believe this also applies to any work and home environment. When I am angry at my husband, it is often because we failed to communicate properly and we were completely on different trains of thought about a particular issue. By communicating our feelings, we usually resolve the problem, whether it’s about money, discipline strategies, or laundry. This does not mean that we will automatically agree after expressing our feelings, but we will understand each other’s motives better and be able to negotiate a solution. Communicating with others will help you forgive and practice generosity. The old saying, “You don’t know someone until you have walked a mile in their shoes” is actually advising us to communicate with others so we obtain insight into their motivations, goals, and conflicts.
Communicating is painful. As shown in the quote above, honest communication means bearing our feelings and expressing our expectations to those we love or interact with on a daily basis. When we communicate our feelings and expectations, we take the risk that the other person will not respond in a positive way. The fall-out can be even more painful as you then have to decide if that is a person who should continue in your life or not. All relationships require attention and work, so perhaps you need to focus on the ones that will not be emotionally toxic.
What are ways you have simplified your emotions? Let me know in the comments below.
- Am I Not Allowed to Express Anything Other Than Happiness? (yoursmileispriceless.wordpress.com)
- 7 Steps to Inner Simplicity (goodlifezen.com)
- What is the definition of emotional intelligence and how can you develop yours? (youuniversityonline.com)
- Are You Emotionally Generous? (mylittleblackpen.wordpress.com)