There’s an epidemic of people who lack the tools and the capacity to be around, to hold and to handle strong emotions.
I think that is a big problem, because honestly as a leader it is part of your job to normalise emotions and to support yourself and others to express them in healthy ways.
In our society, we are set up from childhood to believe that anger, fear, sadness, resentment, jealousy, distrust etc are bad. That we shouldn’t experience these emotions, and if we do, there’s something wrong with us.
Maybe you’ve been told to suck it up, to don’t cry, to not be so dramatic. That you’re fine! Or maybe you’ve been pressured to be empathic to others all the time, and thus to ignore your own feelings and reactions when they weren’t positive and lovely and nice.
Be nice to your sister! Share your toys! Don’t be jealous.
Emotions and feelings are part of the human experience
and there is no way, however rational you may be, that you’re not experiencing them. But maybe you don’t recognise them because you don’t have the right words, or maybe you’re used to pressing them down instead of consciously acknowledge them.
This is primarily about “holding space” for emotions, both in yourself as in others.
Holding space means that you are ok with what is happening, that it doesn’t scare you or trigger you. That you can just allow it to play out.
Emotions have value
Emotions show us what is important to us and where we are not yet completely healed.
We don’t get angry when we don’t care. We don’t feel sad about something that someone said about us, when we really, really know it’s BS and we feel completely confident about it. Emotions reflect intentions, and so being aware of your emotions helps make you aware of your intentions.
Where the emotion and the conscious intention seem to be mismatched, that’s cause for investigation: e.g. if your ambitious plans for work makes you feel tired and sad instead of satisfied, following the emotions will lead you to the unconscious intentions.
Want to know more? This month’s Leadership Lesson in the Sovereign Leader Inner Circle is on emotions.
So whenever we feel emotions, we could treat them as a welcome sign about how we can further grow and progress. I don’t think by the way, that our aim should be to be without emotions. Because as I said, it shows us what we care about.
A clear example for this, are the ‘not-self-themes’ in Human Design (follow this link for a miniworkshop on Human Design). They show us where we are out of alignment.
When a Projector feels bitter, for example, they need to consider where they’ve been giving help without an invitation. When a Generator feels frustrated, they need to go over their projects to see which ones they actually shouldn’t be doing.
How we usually deal with emotions and why that doesn’t work
In my experience, emotions are hardly ever welcomed. Maybe happiness and love. but to the rest.
Our response to strong emotions is often to quickly jump into ‘making it better’, both in ourselves as in others.
I see this with clients all the time, for example in stressful work situations: they immediately jump to the question “What do I need to do to be able to handle this?”. Meaning: not feel it. But for example in situations where there is a reorganisation happening, making it ‘go away’ isn’t an option.
Also think about how you may behave when a friend or your child is showing emotions: immediately the focus becomes: ‘what can I do to make this feeling go away?”
But often that’s just not possible (think for example of boring subjects at school, or a fight with friends)
And then many people push the emotions down (often by ‘shaming’ them away – ‘Don’t be such a baby!’, ‘Why are you/am I always so emotional?’)
The problem with that is, that emotions are energy and you cannot make energy go away.
You can transform it, but it will not dissolve.
So the pushed down emotions get stored inside you.
They pester in some corner of your shadow side.
And when you least expect it, they will pop up again.
To be angry at your wife for not taking out the trash (instead of at your boss who gave you more work to do after you’ve told her you had too much on your plate)
Or they will just pester and pester and rot and then turn into some nasty illness…
I often compare emotions with beach balls – when you push them under water they will not stay under but pop up unexpectedly and uncontrollably.
How to handle emotions
Ok, so what should you do with strong emotions?
Let’s start with the easiest: emotions in other adults
Essentially, handling emotions effectively is all about acknowledging, accepting and allowing.
Acknowledge and name the emotion.
Accept that it’s there.
Allow it to play itself out.
In my book, The Mindful Guide to Conflict Resolution, I call this the Balcony approach. You imagine stepping out of the room, onto the balcony to observe the situation from a bit of distance.
After the emotion has been played out (this will take just a few minutes), you can ask questions like: ‘How can I support you?’, ‘What is it that you need?’.
As an approach for handling emotions in yourself, the steps are basically the same: create space to feel your emotions. Practice naming them and feeling them in your body.
A powerful way to work through your emotions is the Emotional Freedom Technique, or Tapping.
Handling emotions in your kids
I think this category is especially challenging, because not only do you have to deal with the emotions that your child is experiencing, but also there will be your own emotions about the tantrum to take into account. Most parents will at least experience some worry on behalf of their kids, there will be doubts or anxiety about your role as a parent ànd you may feel nervous about the reactions and opinions from other people who see your child’s outburst.
The storyline of what the tantrum is saying about you as a parent is a particularly hard one. If your child is screaming in the playground, you may experience intense feelings about that at the same time (what will the other parents think? Why didn’t I take control of the situation 2 minutes ago before it got out of hand etc.)
But you don’t want to be like a pilot who becomes nervous when there is turbulence. Instead you as the parent have the responsibility to normalize having emotions, and to show confidence in being able to handle the experience.
Something I learned from the amazing Dr. Becky Kennedy (from Good Inside) is to speak your trust, ‘like ‘I believe you’ ; or ‘It must really have been a bad day, for you to speak/behave like this’, instead of jumping to solutions.
Again here it’s important to expand your own capacity for the emotion to play itself out without you freaking out. This creates safety for your kid, and let’s them know that you are ok while they have their emotion. After the emotion has passed, you can sit down to talk about why things were so tough on your child.
Five things I want you to know about emotions
1 – You don’t have to be scared of emotions. It’s the inexperience in expressing the emotion that can lead to harm.
2 – Unexpressed emotions don’t go away, they grow bigger in the dark.
3 – Emotions, when expressed, move through your system within just a few minutes.
4 – It’s your job as a leader/teacher/parent to normalise emotions and to support yourself and others to express them in healthy ways.
5 – When you’ve been around big emotions, do some energy cleansing (walking in nature, salt water baths, meditation etc) to release them from your system.
Finally, as I said, emotions can lead us the way into understanding ourselves and others better. It’s really interesting to catch yourself in reaction to big emotions. What’s the voice you hear inside your head?, what do you feel in your body? Because these internal responses this will help you understand your own unconscious beliefs around emotions and give you indication on how to further heal yourself.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rosalie Puiman is the founder of The Sovereign Leader and the author of The Mindful Guide to Conflict Resolution. She works with executives and founding teams to bring forth effective, impactful and purpose-driven success.