Managing Emotions?

It is common to hear professionals in the therapy realm talk about the need to manage one’s emotions. Other terms for this include “emotional mastery”, “emotional control”, and “emotional freedom”.¬† The premise in each case is to treat our emotions as

  • something that are distinct from “us”,
  • regularly get out of control causing us problems,
  • cannot be allowed to be fully expressed, and
  • generally need to be subjected to some control by our superior intellect.

We humans think this way because we seriously believe that our prefrontal cortex, the “executive” part of our brains, should triumph over the more “primitive” parts of us. Curiously enough, this sort of thinking could only exist for those who have a prefrontal cortex… After all, the role of this part of our brain is to provide the ability to plan, reason, concentrate, and adjust behaviour. This is akin to asking a fox what is the best way to guard the hen house: of course our reasoning motor is going to argue for the supremacy of reason over emotion.

The funny thing is that this same logic seems to disappear when we have fallen in love or experience intense fear or any other time our emotions arise strongly. The notion of controlling or managing/mastering (politer terms for controlling) our emotions is that our thinking motor (aka head brain) does not like the power of our emotions to push or pull us in various directions. So, when things have calmed down, it plots to over-through the emotions with ploys, tricks and connivances. This is a great idea, the thinking brain thinks, and each and every time, it is defeated – as soon as another strong emotion surfaces, it gets put on the back burner while the emotion takes over.

No wonder the psycho-therapeutic world is replete with all kinds of practices designed to help the brain try to lord it over the emotions, which mainly originate from the heart and body. These practices are attempts of the brain to regain full-time control of “us”. These practices come in many guises, but are easy to spot – if they propose a way to manage or control emotions, you know what you are looking at.

Allowing instead of fighting

Here’s a novel concept – allow your feelings/emotions to flow through you, without trying to control them. This probably sounds scary, as there may have been situations in the past when you got “overly” emotional and did or said something you later regretted. The key here is the “overly” part. Calling something “overly” implies that it is excessive, which is of course a judgment.

The funny thing is that a twisted bit of logic is at work here, one that we could expect to invent when we are perhaps 5 years old, but that our head brain should have realized was no longer realistic a long time ago. The faulty logic is assuming that having had one intense emotional incident with some sort of negative outcome means that all future emotional incidents will be equally disruptive to our lives and therefore we should suppress those emotions as soon as they appear. This logic underlies a lot of the emotional management/mastery approach and it actually makes things worse than better.

Starting from the premise that all intense emotional incidents are bound to cause us some sort of pain or embarrassment, we end up only allowing our emotions to be partially experienced and then we do our best to avoid feeling them. We stifle the experience and instead of the feeling flowing through us as most other creatures do, it gets stuck inside. Our system is not really designed to store up all these feelings indefinitely¬† – this is not a question of storage capacity, but one of health. Both our emotional and our physical health are affected by stifling emotions – we get stressed out, we get heart attacks and our immune system is diminished. A web search for “health impact of negative feelings” turned up nearly one million hits, which is an indicator of the importance of this.

And, the fact that we have stored up all these partially expressed emotions from various incidents means that the next time we encounter another similar situation, all those feelings are going to want to come to the surface. This is the main reason for us “overly” reacting to situations – we not only have the current emotion that is natural and relevant, but we automatically add to the mix all the previous instances of that particular emotion. These stored feelings come flooding up from storage and swamp our nervous system. If you manage to pay attention to yourself the next time you have a very intense emotional reaction, you’ll probably notice memories of past situations with the same emotional content. These are the stored emotions stuck inside us, wanting to be released and allowed to flow out.

Instead of stifling the expression of a feeling, it is far healthier to allow it to flow through us. There is a caveat, however. If you have not been actively “draining the batteries” of the emotional energy stored inside you, then you are most likely to get overwhelmed by the flood when a situation arises. The fix to this is very simple – undertake an active releasing program to free those stored feelings from captivity. AER is designed to facilitate this releasing. All you need to do is notice as you go through your day what feelings come up for you quite strongly and release them, one at a time. Emptying the stored emotional energy leaves you lighter and more agile in future situations.Once you have released a stored emotion, your response to a new incident will be proportional to the situation instead of an over-reaction.

As you do embark on this voyage of releasing, your need to control your emotions will diminish as you enter into a healthy relationship with your emotions. After all, you don’t need to manage or control something that is a balanced natural expression of your reality in that moment. To reach this state of personal grace, you do need to release the stored up emotional energy before it really weakens your immune system and causes you any more uncomfortable situations.

Copyright 2009 Robert S. Vibert, all rights reserved