Early into the college semester when I was teaching Human Growth and Development I explored emotions with the class. Without fail the discussion of expressing emotions came up. I’d ask the students if their parents ever told them how they should express joy. Of course, the response was always “no.” Nobody could recall their parents specifically telling them how they should handle their joy. Joy can typically be seen through smiling, laughing, kindly embracing others, and feel good conversations. So naturally, why would a parent intervene with the expression of joy. However, as soon as I asked about anger many of the student’s recall their parents telling them, “stop crying,” or “go to your room if you’re going to act like that.” My follow up question to my students was, “why do those emotions need to be regulated?”
When someone experiences flooding, i.e. the common “I’m seeing red” statement, they are losing control of regulating their system. They can experience an increase in blood pressure, their temperature rises, and thinking calmly has likely declined. I’m sure we can all think of a time when we saw someone express anger. TV and music all discuss and show anger. Due to our cultural expressions of anger, it can become frightening for those around the angry person. It can also become scary for the person who’s experiencing the anger.
There are other ways to express anger that won’t instill fear and that accurately get someones point across.
First, recognize that the human experience includes having a whole array of emotions. Not one emotions is “bad.” Yet, HOW someone expresses it is another story. Is it okay to physically, emotionally, sexually, and/or psychology abuse another living being while experiencing an emotion? No. (Note: When I say abuse I mean one person harming others and others don’t want to be harm. An example is kicking the family dog because you’re feeling angry.)
Second, pay attention to your body. Your body gives you signals that you’re moving toward anger. Where do you feel anger in your body? What’s anger feel like for you? For me, I experience ringing in my ears, my breathing becomes short, and it feels like my body has shrink wrap around it. If I’m not paying attention to my body and I go into “seeing red” moments, my voice raises, my logic goes out the window, and I start to believe everyone around me is incredibly stupid otherwise I wouldn’t be so mad. I have separated myself from my loved ones, not just physically but emotionally as well. I’m alone.
Third, when you’re paying attention to your body and it’s signaling that anger is on the rise. USE SKILLS AND INTERVENE. These include; mindful breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, going to your happy place, scaling how serious the situation is 0= no need for a reaction because everything is calm, cool, and collected to 10= if I don’t have a reaction right this second my life is in danger. If you find that the situation is 4 on the scale of seriousness, ask yourself what behaviors would be seen from someone at a 4. Would they have their voice raised? Would they interrupt their spouse? Would they be flipping off the person in the car next to them? Another skill is using opening communication and asking for what you need. It’s okay to say, “I’m really pissed off right now! I need 20 minutes to calm down and I’ll come back when I’ve slowed down.” or “I’m starting to see red. I need you to stop …. ”
Learning to implement emotional regulation can take time and be very clumsy in the beginning. It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try.
So, why do some emotions need to be regulated? As a Marriage and Family Therapist, I can say with confidence that how you behave effects others. There are people in your life that value you as a person, that want to be connected with you, and want to see you become the best you can be. Don’t let your “seeing red” moments push you into isolation. We all need each other.
Humble your heart and empty out your ego.
Kenosis Counseling, LLC.
July 14 2020