Learn to overcome your emotions
A year ago, most of the world hadn’t heard of Lupita Nyong’o - but
she won the 2014 Oscar for best supporting actress for her role in Steve
McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave. Incredibly, this was her first film.
Nyong’o came close to tears several times in her emotional acceptance
speech, during which she said, “It doesn’t escape me for one moment that
so much joy in my life is due to so much pain in someone else’s.”
The comment was in reference to Patsey, the slave she portrayed in
the film, which was based on a real-life memoir. Speaking to director
Steve McQueen, she noted that the dead are watching, and that she
believed “they are grateful” that he brought their history back to life.
When volatile emotions get out of control and turn
destructive, they can lead to problems at work, in home and
in your personal relationships
While watching her speech over the internet, I remembered a story
told to me by a newly-married young man about a month ago. His wife had
bought a bunch of fresh baby carrots, the small slender ones with the
green tops, from the local grocer and the husband volunteered to clean
the carrots. While he was preparing them, he sensed an increasing level
of anger and frustration coming into him.
Within 10 minutes he found himself complaining that the “stupid
little carrots” were not worth all the trouble and effort of cleaning.
His wife couldn’t understand why he was getting angry for this minor
task of cleaning some carrots.
He was about to explode, but for a moment he created a tiny space to
himself to check out why he was feeling really mad. All of a sudden he
remembered where and when he had experienced that feeling before. He
vividly remembered having to prepare crates of baby carrots at the
certain hotel in Mid East when he was working as an assistant chef. He
had to be meticulous about keeping a 1cm green shoot on each carrot with
not a speck of earth on them, especially where the shoot joined the
It was actually quite tricky, especially when you had to work very
quickly; one slip of the knife and you would cut off the green shoot
entirely and then get yelled at and have to suffer your intelligence and
family background being insulted. It was all just part of the rough and
tumble of working in a One-Star restaurant in the early 90s. It was
suddenly very funny to see how he was getting into such a flap about
cleaning some carrots on a beautiful Saturday evening. He mentioned it
to his wife and both of them burst out laughing. The story ended well
because he stopped in his tracks and looked behind.
Such events happen to us almost every other day. Emotions are the
most pressing and sometimes painful force in our lives. We are driven
day by day by our emotions. Our feelings can alter between dangerous
extremes. Veer too far to the left and you’re bordering on rage.
Steer too much to the right and you’re in a state of exaggerated
elation. As human beings, we go through all kinds of emotions, just like
there are all kinds of weather. These emotions are, more than anything
else, just a part of being a living human being. So, what should we do?
The simple answer is - we have to accept our emotional lives. It is thus
a far better strategy than avoidance.
Emotional acceptance refers to the willingness and ability to accept
and experience either positive or negative emotion, to acknowledge and
absorb it. Acceptance offers several advantages. First, by accepting our
emotions, we are accepting the truth of our situation. This acceptance
means that we don’t have to spend our energy pushing the emotion away.
Instead, once the emotion is acknowledged, we can then turn to pursue
the behaviour that are aligned with our goals and values.
Second, when we accept the emotion, we are giving ourselves a chance
to learn about it, become familiar with it, become skilled in its
management, and integrate it into our lives. Avoidance doesn’t teach us
that, because we can’t learn to do something by not doing it.
Third, acceptance is implicitly similar to saying, “This is not that
bad.” Which is the truth - negative emotions may not be fun, but they
won’t kill you; experiencing them as they are - annoying but not
dangerous - is eventually much less of a drag than the ongoing (failing)
attempt to avoid them.
Fourth, when we accept a negative emotion, it tends to lose its
destructive power. This is surprising and counter intuitive to many
people, but if we think about it for a while, we will see the logic of
Swimmers who are caught in an undertow and feel themselves being
dragged out to sea often panic and begin to swim against the current
with all their might. Often, they fatigue, cramp and drown. To survive,
such a swimmer should do the opposite - let go. Let the current take him
out to sea.
Within a few hundred yards the current will weaken and the swimmer
can swim around and back to shore. The same with a powerful emotion:
pushing against it is futile and possibly dangerous; but when we accept
the emotion, it will run its course while allowing us to run ours.
In a guided meditation you can experience your tense
emotions in a safe and nurturing way. You can accept and
allow those feelings to be there. By honouring them they
melt away leaving you calm and at peace with yourself
Fifth, we must change what we can. We have to take what you’ve
learned from our first encounter and put it into practice. Cut down on
our stress triggers, and we’ll find ourselves feeling negative emotions
less frequently. This could include cutting down on job stress, learning
the practices of assertive communication (so we don’t feel trampled by
Finally, we must find outlets. Making changes in our lives can cut
down on negative emotions, but it won’t eliminate our stress triggers
entirely. As we make changes to bring about less frustration, we will
also need to find healthful outlets for dealing with these emotions.
Regular exercise can provide an emotional lift as well as an outlet
for negative emotions. Finding opportunities for having fun and getting
more laughter in our lives can also change our perspectives and relieve
stress. If we find a few of these outlets, we’ll feel less overwhelmed
when negative emotions do arise.
If you are spiritual oriented, you may also try doing mindfulness
exercises to help you become aware of your present experience without
passing judgement on it. One way to train yourself to adopt this state
is to focus on your breathing while meditating and simply acknowledge
any fleeting thoughts or feelings.
This practice may make it easier to accept unpleasant thoughts.
Earlier last year a research found that among 125 individuals with a
history of trauma who were also in treatment for substance dependence,
those who were naturally more mindful both coped better with their
trauma and craved their drug less.
Likewise, in 2012 another research found that a therapy that included
mindfulness training helped individuals overcome anxiety disorders. It
worked not by minimising the number of negative feelings but by training
patients to accept those feelings.
It is impossible to avoid negative emotions altogether because to
live is to experience setbacks and conflicts. Learning how to cope with
those emotions is the key.
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