Emotions are God-given and are a blessing in that we can experience life- the joys and the sorrows. They can keep us in-tune with what’s going on around us and empathetic toward others. Righteous anger can propel us on a mission to bring justice to a cause. However, I think we have all experienced at one time or another (some of us more than once that out of control emotions can get the best of us. Out of control emotions can blind us to truth, cloud our thinking or do some damage in our relationships.
In order to manage our emotions we can incorporate an action plan. We can train our brains to do things differently. The key is slowing down. Whatever it may be: anger, shame, embarrassment, anxiety, etc., each of us can think about applying the following actions to better manage runaway emotions:
1. See it and know yourself. In other words, learn to name the emotion you are experiencing, why it surfaced and know your normal “default” or response pattern with this emotion. Do you normally react by lashing out, feeling guilty, stuffing your feelings, demeaning yourself or others, blaming, etc?
2. Delay it. Apply the brakes to your emotion by keeping the prefrontal cortex which is the “CEO or thinking” part of our brain joined with the limbic system or emotional part of the brain. When we are experiencing an emotional charge, our emotions can take over and override executive functions like rational thinking and decision making (discerning between good and bad, better and best). So the trick here is to do something that keeps the thinking brain engaged with the emotional brain. Research has shown that if we take a six second delay we can reroute our reaction for a more positive response because we are keeping the two parts of the brain connected. In other words, we can choose to respond rather than react. For example, if we can distract our brains by taking six deep breaths, counting to six in a foreign language (not our primary language as that is too natural for our brains), speak Scripture to ourselves or pray for six seconds, “Lord help me to love well. Come Holy Spirit,” we are slowing down the normal reaction process. We are applying Proverbs 16:32, “Better a patient man than a warrior, a man who controls his temper than one who takes a city.”
3. Control it. Now that the thinking part of the brain is still engaged, we can imagine the results and employ some good decision making in our response. Evaluate the choices you have in responding, asking yourself some questions…. “In knowing who I want to be, what response would enable me to keep my vision? Is my response going to enable me to love well? What is my anger doing to those around me? How is my emotion making others feel right now? Do I/we need to create a healthy and safe distance right now and plan a time to come back and process it together? Do I need to surrender my rights to be right in this conversation for this time?” As we ask and answer these questions to ourselves, we can respond in a more controlled way.
4. Own it. In other words, apologize and take responsibility for owning what’s yours, learn from it and implement new patterns displaying growth and development. Practice empathy, come alongside another and put on their “lenses” – how they are seeing the situation and why they would feel the way they do. Many people, including you and me, can honestly say they don’t wake up and decide they are going to act like jerks that day. Just like there is more to our perspective and why we feel the way we do, there is more to theirs as well. Let’s meet people where they are and seek to understand them. Along with practicing empathy, manage your thoughts and think on truth (Phil. 4:8), forgive, love and move forward.
God continues to teach us and grow us to be like Him. So in this process, not overnight fix , of managing runaway emotions we have to have empathy with ourselves also when we don’t handle them well. We’re not after perfection, we’re after progress. And the way to truly and beautifully be transformed is through the power and grace of the Holy Spirit. He is faithful and will continue to work in us. Be blessed as you continue to learn and grow!