How do you respond when negative emotions show up in your life? Do you wind up adding even more negativity to the already-not-so-great feelings? If this sounds familiar, then you may need to turn down the volume on your Self-Talk and learn how to listen instead to your Soul-Talkwhen negative feelings show up.
Most of us simply let the negative emotions run their course until we “get over it.” Unfortunately, getting over it typically means simply stuffing those feelings into the background as though hiding from them or denying them will somehow change the situation. You know that nothing changes and you have proof as well: If hiding or stuffing worked, then the negative emotion would be gone, unlikely to resurface again later. But you know better — the same negative emotions can have the effect of arising over and over again, often around the same or similar situations, and often with the same person or persons.
So, what’s the alternative then when your negative emotions take center stage? The simple answer is to use them to get back on course. Let’s take anger as an example.
Do you know anyone with whom you become angry from time to time? Maybe a lot of the time? If so, then you may also enter into a form of righteousness, blaming the other person with a deep sense of having been wronged. The more wronged you feel, the more angry you are likely to become. The more angry you become, the more you are actually straying from your path.
How to Find Value in Your Negative Emotions
Using our GPS for the Soul metaphor, you can use the anger that you feel as an indicator that you are off course in some way. For that matter, you can use just about any negative emotion to help you get back on course.
If you drive a car, or have been a passenger in one, then you may well have experienced the kind of bumpy disruption to an otherwise relatively smooth ride that takes place if the car starts to stray from its lane. Some highways even provide “rumble” strips on the outer edges of the lanes to provide both a rough and noisy indicator that you are straying from the road.
What do you do when that noise or bumpy ride shows up? Do you blame the road? Do you get upset with the highway engineer? Do you ignore the feedback and keep on driving off the road? I’m pretty sure you are smarter than that. However, when the anger rumble strip shows up disrupting your “perfectly” normal life, you may enter into your “dummy consciousness” and wind up blaming the apparent source of your anger — in this case, the other person.
The other person is no more the source of your anger than the rumble strip is the source of driving off the road. Both are there to simply alert you to the fact that you aren’t paying sufficient attention to where you are going. Both are there as a way to help you get back on course.
Think about the last time you became angry with another person. Think about what they did compared to how you would have preferred that they behaved toward you. I’ll bet that if you dig just a little tiny bit under the surface, you will discover that some part of you felt offended or hurt by how you interpreted their actions, or lack thereof.
Just underneath that offense of hurt you felt, I’ll bet you will discover that there is something that you care deeply about, something that has probably been there for some time and yet is something that you have not clearly articulated to the other person. The anger surfaced as a response indicating how much you care, but rather than communicate the caring, you wound up in anger instead.
The anger is the rumble strip on the side of the road letting you know that you could choose to move back into a more direct expression of how much you care. If you persisted in the anger, then you functionally ignored the signpost and instead chose to drive off the road.
Recently, I was working with a client, and one of the senior people in the room abruptly interrupted what we were doing to tell me that the issue didn’t matter and to move on. I had been working with this client, although not this particular person, for a couple of months and I absolutely knew that we were on a major issue for the organization. For any number of reasons ranging from being tired to being surprised by the energy behind his outburst, I found myself getting really riled up inside and I drove right over that rumble strip and straight into the ditch.
It took a while before I could settle myself down inside enough to recognize that I had failed to clearly articulate the value of the issue and how much I was committed to helping them through it. So, instead of staying on point with getting to the value, I drove into the ditch of doesn’t-this-guy-get-it righteous indignation. Well, of course he didn’t get it, but that wasn’t the point. What mattered, and still does matter, is that I care, I care deeply, and instead of communicating caring, I communicated my upset.
The roadway of life is always so much smoother when I choose to get back on my preferred course. For me, the preferred course is one of caring. He may or may not get the message, how much I care, or how much it matters, but I will. What matters more than anything is that I stay true to my Soul-Talk, to the part of me that simply cares.
At least there’s still an opportunity to course correct. There always is. Always. What about you? You can choose to continue driving off the road, or you can course correct. Which path would you rather follow?
I’d love to hear your take on this subject. What have you found to be most helpful? Please do leave a comment here or drop me an email at Russell (at) russellbishop.com.
Russell Bishop is an educational psychologist, author, executive coach and management consultant based in Santa Barbara, Calif. You can learn more about my work by visiting my website atwww.RussellBishop.com. You can contact me by e-mail at Russell (at) russellbishop.com.
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