Two options: fight or flight, act out or shut down, yell or retreat
Many of us feel like we only have two ways to deal with difficult emotions like hurt, rejection, anger and sadness. What if there is another way? One that does not leave us trapped in a situation where we have to choose between suppressing our emotions or acting out and causing more pain?
Did you know that science shows that there are measurable negative effects on our bodies and minds when we suppress our emotions? It turns out that it is damaging to “rub it on a brick,” or have a “stiff upper lip.” When we act out we can see the negative effects by way of broken relationships and strained work environments. Most people steer clear of the hot-head at the office who blows up at the slightest provocation or find it difficult to be married to someone who behaves like a rhino or a hedgehog. So we come to the conclusion that it is better not to act out, but rather push and shove those difficult emotions right down deep. Keep the peace at all costs. Better yet we think we can just slide on by and (hopefully) eventually forget about it. Unfortunately, this is a very ineffective way of living and will create unwanted symptoms.
What are these symptoms?
Some studies show that suppressing emotions threatens our health and wellbeing both physically and psychologically. Our bodies are like sponges in that they hold our experiences and our emotions. When we push down something like anger or hurt it is then contained in our body and creates a whole range of effects down the road. These symptoms include things like anxiety, depression, stress-related illness right through to substance abuse and suicide. Our bodies are not designed to live in a state of constant stress and it will try to tell us when something is wrong.
Suppression of emotions doesn’t make the emotion go away—it locks those powerful and painful feelings inside which ends up causing more pain. Our emotions are a wonderful gift from God—He designed us to feel, think and choose/act. Like so many things in nature, our emotions ebb and flow. Jesus Himself experienced many emotions, as well as Father God. Emotions are not bad—how we respond to them can be bad for us and the people in our lives.
So what is the answer?
Could it be something as simple as feeling the feelings in real-time? Could it be simply learning a few skills that help us to regulate our emotions to learn to respond well to situations?
The research shows that is it that simple, even if it isn’t easy to learn. Emotional Intelligence (EQ) means being able to have a set of tools ready to use when you feel upset, hurt or angry that will help you to navigate and deescalate that wave of emotion. EQ is a term we have heard a lot about in recent years, and as it turns out it is a great predictor for mental health. According to Margaret Cullen in her article for mindful.org: “Our EQ refers to our ability to be aware of, regulate and express our emotions and to understand and respond skillfully to the emotions of others.”
Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, in his article for the Harvard Business Review Can You Really Improve Your Emotional Intelligence, explains the evidence showing how it is possible to improve your EQ includes things like receiving feedback, getting coaching and being open to learning new interpersonal skills. There are excellent podcasts that can teach us how to deal with big emotions that come from hurt and pain in our lives.
Regulating our emotions takes care and practice. But the great news is you don’t need to be born with a naturally developed EQ, it can be learned just like any other skill by anyone. If you aren’t sure where your EQ is and would like to improve it, then click here to view 5 quizzes to test your EQ.