Although emotions are extremely hard to control for most people, it can be done if our emotional landscape is properly understood. Emotions are not haphazard or chaotic, there is a symmetry and order to emotions. The complexity of emotions is that emotions are not experienced the same way by any two people. Our DNA, our childhood and our experiences all are determining factors in our emotional makeup. When I was in addiction relapse prevention training for my State Bar association, I learned that while there are many different emotions which we experience, they all follow a certain order: from the most painful to the most pleasant. Not all emotions trigger pain or pleasure in the same way. For example, some people may experience fear as invigorating and motivating, while others may experience it as paralyzing and toxic.
The first step in gaining control of emotions is to prioritize them from top to bottom (or bottom to top). This is done by making a list of the emotions which you experience. This could be several dozen or hundreds. As you analyze your emotional body more and more thoroughly you will begin to discover that there are many subtle shades of emotions. Here is a very short partial list of the emotions I have identified for myself:
Amenable, Amorous, Amused, Angry, Anguished, Animated, Annoyed, Anxious, Apathetic, Aroused, Arrogant, Astounded, Betrayed, Bewildered, Bewitched Bitter, Blessed, Blissful, Blue, Bored, Bothered, Brave, Calm, Careless, Caring, Chagrined, Chaotic, Charmed, Charming, Chastened Cheerful, Comfortable, Compassionate, Competitive, Complacent, Composed, Conceited, Concerned, Confident, Conflicted, Confused, Content, Controlling, Courageous, Cowardly, Creative, Critical, Cruel, Curious, Defensive, Defiant, Dejected, Delighted, Deluded, Demure, Dependent, Desperate, Depressed, Desirable, Despairing, Despondent, Destitute, Destructive, Detached, Devoted, Devoured, Dignified, Disconnected, Discontented, Discouraged, Disgust, Dispassionate, Displeased, Disrespected, Distracted, Distressed, Disturbed, Fragile, Frantic….Well, you get the idea. [You can get a list of hundreds of emotions in my book “How Big is Your But?” which you can download from my website www.jamesgrayrobinson.com]
If this seems too much for you, start small with the bigger emotions: Anger, Anxiety, Bitterness, Bliss, Contentment, Gratitude, Grief, Guilt, Happiness, Irritation, Joy, Love, Satisfaction, Shame, Rage. What you have to do is put them in the order which seems logical to you. You don’t need to listen to anyone else, this is your list and your emotional path. On one end of the list put the emotion that makes you feel the most pleasure, and on the other put the one which makes you feel the most pain. You will always go up and down this list at any given moment depending on what you are experiencing and what you are thinking. If you are feeling a painful emotion, don’t try to leapfrog all the way up to the top all at once. All you have to do is go to the next emotion up your emotional scale. And then the next, and then the next. Sometimes it is simply impossible to go from grief to joy in one step. However, if you can go to the next emotion on the list, you will be joyful before you know it.
The concepts of mindfulness and self-awareness are pretty popular these days, and many people don’t understand why their mindfulness isn’t going so well. That is because they don’t realize that they can change the emotion they are experiencing mainly because they are caught up in the emotion and not aware they are in it. Sometimes the easiest solution when the shit hits the fan is to turn off the fan. When we are feeling painful memories and emotions, get out your list of emotions and you will have a road map on how to go to the emotion that you would rather be experiencing. I use this technique all of the time. When I start feeling squirrelly or uncomfortable, it is a lot easier to catch the emotional progression then, than if I was in full blown rage or panic. If you can be aware of what you are feeling, you can change it. Say you are experiencing the worst feeling you can and let’s say it is panic. For sake of argument, you have put rage above panic, anger above rage, and fear above anger. When you are panicked, you can’t just say to yourself “I will feel panic to joy”. However, what you can do very easily is go from panic to rage to anger to fear. When you are ready to do so. It isn’t as hard to go from panic to rage or anger to fear as it is from panic to joy. Take small steps and you will be out of the woods in no time.
One of the things that we do to make this process more difficult is to bite off more than we can chew. When we try to progress through too many emotions in too short a time, we only end up suppressing the emotions we are trying to transcend. That is worse than trying to deny our feelings and emotions. When we are aware that we are feeling an emotion and make a conscious decision to make a slight shift to a less painful one, we can process through our emotions with less resistance and less fuss. It is also helpful to be mindful of this fact that when we are attempting to comfort a friend or loved one who is going through a painful emotion that we don’t attempt to persuade them to make too large of a jump to transcend their emotional ladder either. If you want to help them, encourage them to make small steps as well. That way you can help them transcend their emotional ladder without making too large a leap. Happy climbing.
Reprinted From The Elephant Journal