One thing is clear—life happens! Every day greets us with challenges: a tough assignment at work, a crabby spouse, a friend who pushes our buttons or just everyday demands of work and family! It takes emotional fitness to weather life’s storms with level-headedness and equanimity. It requires skill to stay calm under pressure especially when emotions spike.
How often do you brush your feelings aside because you’re just too busy to deal with them? Are they annoying inconveniences? Do you find yourself ignoring a mounting impatience or frustration until you blow? How would you grade yourself when it comes to calming strong emotions and responding to difficult people and situations?
Emotional poise begins by giving ourselves permission to feel. It’s that simple. When we listen to what our emotions are trying to tell us, we can then bring ourselves back to a calm center. Learning to surf emotions masterfully begins by accepting our emotions.
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What is Emotional Poise?
So what does emotional poise entail? Let me name just a few of the abilities needed to navigate emotions gracefully and successfully.
We have the ability to:
- identify specific feelings and why we feel them
- regulate feelings and control our behavior in responsible ways
- self-calm and align our responses with our values and goals
- express emotions respectfully and without hurting others
- set boundaries for ourselves and others
- stay calm under pressure
- relieve stress and bounce back from a disappointment
- empathy for ourselves and others
As you can see from the list above, learning to utilize our emotions effectively and balance them with our rational mind has great value.
Messages We Receive about Emotions
Most of what we’ve learned about emotions and how to express our feelings originated through experiences as children and the messages we received growing up. For this reason, the emotional terrain within each person is very complex!
Take a peek at a few phases that children typically hear:
“Don’t act so silly!”
Possible message: “Don’t have too much fun.”
Possible message: “Strong emotions aren’t acceptable.”
“Be nice to your sister!”
Possible message: “Being nice to others is more important than what I feel and need.”
“Don’t you dare talk to me that way!”
Possible message: “Anger shouldn’t be voiced.”
These above comments are just a few of the remarks that parents say to help teach their child respect or kindness or self-control. All parents do their best, and although their intentions mean well, parental responses can have a lasting impact on us. It’s not so much what is said but what we (or as children) make each statement mean. How have we interpreted the many remarks that have impacted us? Some will stick and others will not. However, negative messages about emotions can create false beliefs that distort our view of the world and cause us to disregard our feelings.
So how do you re-pattern those old messages and build emotional intelligence and poise? The first step is to give yourself permission to feel, instead of cloaking, denying, blocking, minimizing, repressing, or blaming someone else for what you feel.
The second step is to get curious without judging yourself or your emotion(s) and investigate what invoked the feeling. And lastly, take action based on what your feelings are telling you. Sound simple? It is and yet it’s also difficult, especially with the bad habits we may have acquired over many years. However, when we stay present to emotions are regularly and listen to their wisdom, we are less likely to lose it when someone does something that bothers us. And far more likely to take effective action to increase the quality of our lives!
So let’s unpack each of these steps separately.
Three Easy Steps Back to Emotional Poise!
1. Give yourself permission to feel. Suppose you are feeling resentment toward your spouse who is camped out on the couch watching television when there are a zillion things on your to-do list that are stressing you. By first accepting this emotion, you begin to realize that there is something you need.
Perhaps you need more support and help. Maybe the home chores are imbalanced since you are now working a full-time job instead only part-time. Maybe you’re just craving a hug or an acknowledgment for your efforts. For each person, the answer will be different. However, if you don’t listen to your emotion and the energy builds, many times we lash out and then regret it. A chain reaction sparks yet another stress: conflict with our spouse. Now we still don’t have what we need and on top of it, we have more tension!
Listen to your emotions; they hold kernels of truth for you!
2. Get curious without judging yourself or your emotion. Emotions are energy moving through us. They are the way we process our experiences. Every emotion has an important purpose in helping us live authentic and happy lives. If we shame or ignore an emotion, we often postpone the very action that can make us feel better! When emotions build, it’s much harder to take effective action. If we can get curious early on, we then can take action before intensity builds, and the likelihood of success dramatically increases.
3. Take action to care for yourself. We are all human, and there are times when patience runs thin. However, when we practice listening and acting quickly on the rumblings of our emotions, we can better take responsibility for our needs and desires while also respecting others. The better we take care of ourselves, the better we feel and the less we act out. When we regularly take action on what our feelings are telling us, a new level of inner calm is cultivated.
We are not victims of our emotions. Our emotions are a barometer to tell us how to care for ourselves. Negative emotions signal us that pressure is building and that we need to take action to reestablish balance. Then under pressure we can stay calm.
So take a minute right now and check in with yourself. Do you feel stress in your body? Are there emotions that you’ve been avoiding? Is there a gnawing feeling in your gut that you’re ignoring?
The road back to joy and peace is by taking actions that empower us to be our best. Your emotions will guide you if you let them! Give yourself permission to feel and take action to care for yourself! Greater peace awaits you.
Here's a handy step-by-step skill care to better understand your emotions: