Let’s start with the bad news. We had an incident in our home—all 215 square feet of it—at 6 am this morning. I can hear your incredulous gasp in my head: “6 am? Oh, my!” Well, I agree that 6 am is far too early to deal with an incident, but the upside is that it’s provided good material for this post on emotions. So there’s that. And, on top of that, I learned (or re-learned for the millionth time) that it’s really not wise to disregard or ignore your feelings. Ignoring your feelings will lead to an incident sooner or later, and this, dear readers, can be messy. Repeat after me: “Don’t ignore your feelings!” Now, back to the incident…
I was enjoying my usual early morning quiet time with God when I heard Jeff go into the bathroom. (Even though he was only a few feet away, I had left the bathroom door open to create a makeshift barrier between our bed and where I was sitting, so I didn’t see him go in.) I assumed he would get back into bed, as usual, to have his own quiet time with the Lord. Much to my dismay, I felt our trailer start to shake and heard cupboards being opened and shut (rather loudly, in my opinion.) All this movement could only mean one thing: Jeff wasn’t going back to bed, and my time alone was over. I immediately felt annoyed (which is a softer way of saying angry.) Feelings of guilt immediately followed the annoyance: What kind of person gets annoyed by having their quiet time interrupted? ARGH! What’s wrong with me? However, before the guilt could really take root, I was back to feeling annoyed. Why can’t I at least have some peace and quiet to start my day? For the next few minutes, I bumped up and down on an emotional rollercoaster ride of anger and guilt until Jeff abruptly appeared in front of me to say good morning and give me a kiss. My reactive response was hurtful and mean: “You’re ruining my peace.” I’m cringing at the thought. There was no “good morning” or any other kindness shown on my part 😬. Let’s just let that sink in. One minute Jeff is feeling pleased that he’s up early, ready to take on the day, and the next minute he is retreating to the back of the trailer, not knowing what hit him. I wonder if you have ever reacted in a way that you instantly regretted?
Although it’s clear that I am a work in progress when it comes to recognizing and expressing my emotions in the moment, I am actually pretty good about reflecting afterward what went wrong—especially if I ask God to show me. If you are still with me, let me share what I learned from this particular incident and how it might help you.
- Be curious about your feelings rather than judgmental towards them. When I allowed guilt and shame into the mix of emotions I was feeling, it got ugly. Feelings aren’t good or bad; they just are. When I tried to push down my annoyance at having my alone time disrupted, I responded in an aggressive and hurtful way. It would have been better to tell Jeff that I was noticing disappointment and annoyance coming up in me because I wanted to be alone. Ideally, he would have acknowledged my feelings by saying something like, “I hear you.” The very act of having someone else acknowledge your feelings (without trying to talk you out of them or getting defensive) builds connection. He then could have asked, “Is there anything you need from me?” I never gave him an opportunity to do that.
- Practice identifying what you are feeling. If you are like most people, you weren’t taught how to identify and express your emotions🙋🏻♀️. Identifying and expressing emotion is not something that you naturally pick up unless your parents were very emotionally attuned to themselves and to you. So if you’re like me and you notice emotions coming up (big or small), take a moment to name and voice what you’re feeling in the moment.
- If you are raising children right now, your kids need you to help them with this. Saying things like, “You’re okay” when they’re visibly upset is not really helpful to them because they don’t actually feel okay. Nor is telling them that big kids don’t cry. Children express emotions all day long—and yes, it can be exhausting to keep up—but that is a primary way that they communicate because they often don’t have the words to express themselves. Children need their parents to attune to and help them identify what they are feeling so they learn how to understand themselves and others. P.S. Although you may be tempted to give your child a treat when they are upset to soothe them, this doesn’t make the fear or pain go away. Try acknowledging how they feel instead. Candy doesn’t make them feel better—it only provides a temporary distraction from what’s going on inside.
- Don’t make other people responsible for your feelings because…wait for it…they aren’t. Jeff didn’t make me feel annoyed because he got up early. That was all me, and I am also not a bad person for feeling that way. Remember, feelings just are. If we can stay curious about what is coming up inside and learn to express what is going on, we are in a much better position to process and release the emotion at a lower level of intensity.
- Be honest with God and ask for help. I was so busy feeling guilty that I felt annoyed this morning, I kept God out of my struggle. Deep down, I felt like a bad person when this negative emotion came up, so I tried to deal with it on my own by using reason. The thought that “this is Jeff’s home, too,” did not make me feel any better about losing my alone time. Thoughts can’t fix emotions, especially if you have been triggered. (More on that next week.) For example, have you ever noticed that telling a crying child that they can go back to the park tomorrow doesn’t make them feel any better about leaving today? We need to get good about acknowledging our pain or hurt and asking God to help us process it. (A friend or spouse can also help.)
- When your body is flooded with emotion, use physical tools to help you get/stay in control. Have you ever noticed that, at times, your response to a situation causes you to want to fight, freeze or flee? This cortisol-induced response can make you feel like you’re not in control: you may find yourself responding with irrational anger, or perhaps you may shut down altogether. In moments like this, your body is having a physiological response to the cortisol flood, and it could use some help to process what’s happening. Try getting out for a walk or do some other form of physical exercise to help yourself regulate. Deep breathing is also a great tool to help. Click here to learn how to use “box breathing” to lower the cortisol flood in your body. I recommend you practice deep breathing when you aren’t feeling stressed so it’s easier to implement when you are triggered. Lastly, try putting your hand on your chest to help ground yourself in that moment.
Before closing, I have one last encouragement for you (and me.) Be kind to yourself. As someone who has hurt others with my sub-par emotional regulation (see incident above), I understand how discouraging this can be. I hate that I have hurt the people who I love 😩. However, beating myself up about it doesn’t help me to heal or grow. My emotional triggers are often rooted in deep pockets of pain that go wayyyy back. It is only when I am curious and kind toward myself that I can grow in loving kindness toward others. This is why your emotional health matters.