Understanding Emotional Management
One of the biggest myths in our culture is that we can learn to control our emotions. The truth is that our emotions are involuntary and although not controllable, they are manageable. Rasmussen suggested in his book, “The Quest to Feel Good”, that emotions serve three purposes: Personal feedback, interpersonal communication, and behavioral mobilization.
• Personal Feedback
Emotions serve like alarm clocks going off to let us know that a need has either been met or has not been met. For example - If we don’t meet our need for companionship we might feel lonely; if we meet our need for food we might feel content, etc.
Each of our emotions is like an alarm trying to help us in some way. If we ignore these alarms or “press snooze,” they might stay away for a while, but then return with a multitude of other emotions. When we experience too many emotions at one time, we describe it as feeling “overwhelmed.”
If we learn to manage our emotions, we can prevent feeling overwhelmed and feel better by learning to meet our needs in a healthy way.
• Interpersonal Communication
Expressing our emotions in a healthy way is important, but it takes insight. There is a spectrum: emotions, which are involuntary; thoughts, some of which are involuntary and some of which involve things like critical thinking; and behaviors, which we have almost complete control over. Many times, we find ourselves feeling an emotion, experiencing a thought, and then acting on that initial thought. This is where insight helps in managing emotions. If we have the insight or awareness to recognize an emotion, we can add in the critical thinking and act in a healthier way to express that emotion, communicate with others, and thoughtfully decide how to respond.
• Behavioral Mobilization
Once we move into behavior, a choice has been made. Insight is the difference between a thoughtful choice and an impulsive one. Regardless of whether the behavior is favorable or not, the fact is that emotions drive behaviors. This is where the work of managing emotions comes in – we feel an emotion, identify a need, and are thinking about how to get that need met. The following scenario illustrates behavioral mobilization:
Two cavemen are walking out to hunt, they see a rustling in the bushes, and then a tiger jumps out and attacks one of them. The other experiencing a need for safety, indicated by the emotion of fear, thinks to himself, “RUN!” before sprinting back into the cave.
The caveman who was attacked also needs safety, as indicated by the emotion of fear, and thinks, “FIGHT!” before killing the tiger with his spear. Each caveman behaved differently given the same need and same emotion, but managing that emotion gave them the ability to act in the way most likely to meet their needs in their situation. The feeling of fear triggered a fight or flight response.
While managing our emotions can be challenging, the scenario above also reminds us it’s so easy a caveman could do it. It is important to recognize each emotion as valid because its purpose is to help us. It is important to think about how that emotion is trying to help us before acting. Most of all, it is important to take responsibility for what behavior that emotion moves us to do because we are responsible for whether that action, or reaction, is productive or destructive.
For assistance understanding and managing emotions, contact Methodist Healthcare EAP at 901-683-5658 or visit www.methodisteapcanhelp.org.
Jared Davis, LPC-MHSP, NCC
Jared Davis is a Licensed Professional Counselor with a Mental Health Services Provider designation. He received both his Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and his Master’s degree in Counseling with a concentration in Couples/Marriage and Family Counseling in addition to his Individual Counseling training from East Tennessee State University.
Jared has experience counseling children, teens, adults, and geriatric clients in inpatient and outpatient facilities. He has worked with clients with a wide scope of mental health issues, personality disorders, and substance abuse issues. He works with clients to help them increase their self-awareness and broaden their perspectives as he walks through the therapeutic process with them. Jared has moved a lot due to being a “military brat,” but is glad to call Memphis home now. He enjoys spending time with his family, learning new languages, and traveling.