Ever have one of those weeks when there is palpable, anger-inciting tension between you and a family member? Or you have had a crushing misunderstanding with one of your dearest friends? Or there is an incident at work that has had you mumbling obscenities under your breath and double-checking your pension benefits?
As a result of some emotionally incendiary experience in which you feel wronged, not valued, misunderstood or crossed, you can often find yourself on one wild ride of emotions.
Your feelings can spike to new highs. You can feel turbocharged with fury. You feel the blood coursing through your veins and throbbing at your temple. You are vibrating with anger, injustice and hurt at the maddening insensitivity, sheer stupidity or blatant passivity that has been bestowed on you. How could they?
And, before you know it, you are off again on the careening roller coaster of painful feelings — up and down, swinging widely to the left, twisting up, crisscrossing to the right and zigzagging to a final, lurching stop. You start talking about it again and off you go, up, up and away in a fiery fury. How could they?
You spin round and round and round, until eventually you are spent. There is no more; simply the crumbling, white-ash embers of a fire gone dead. You are exhausted, drained and totally depleted by the emotional highs and lows of your charged days. You have no energy; you feel like a truck has used your body for parallel parking practice. You are a pulverized mass of once-quivering emotions. You have an emotional hangover.
There is no hair of the dog for the morning after. There is no specialized rehab. Copious amounts of water to hydrate your burned-out system are of little avail.
What’s a suffering fool to do?
As with any good recovery effort, you need to acknowledge that you have a problem. Yep, this is your problem. “But they did it to me,” you howl. And so they did, but, you, and only you, are responsible for your reactions.
Remember the Boy Scouts and their motto, “Be Prepared”? That is good advice for preventing more of these emotional upsets. Whether you stirred the pot or someone else came after you with a figurative cleaver, there is value in understanding the dynamics of challenging confrontations. Without awareness, the emotional set-to simply dissolves into yet-another debilitating incident of high drama.
Let’s consider a few possibilities to circumnavigate the next big tumult:
Are you too emotionally attached to the outcome of the interaction? Do you have to win? Do you need to be right?
You know the expression: Would you rather be right, or would you rather be happy? I can say, and I believe, that being right is overrated, but, boy, howdy, when I feel I am right, that’s Right with a capital R, and it is very hard to let go and consider another viewpoint. It takes some emotional maturity to get off that high horse and to find common ground.
Is the emotional event the result of a power struggle or a need for control?
There is a saying among sales reps: The one who cares the least has the most power. In other words, when you are emotionally detached, you are better able to see the big picture, be open to alternatives and respond with reason.
Did you create decent boundaries and clear parameters so that you protected yourself?
One hallmark of high self-esteem is the ability to be assertive. It is not always easy, but it is clearly important. Further, one of the skills of effective communication is the ability to state your needs clearly. Are you able to ask for what you need and say no without feeling guilty?
Are you aware of what buttons are being pushed?
There is that old therapy joke about the patient telling the psychiatrist that his mother was pushing all of his buttons. The psychiatrist responds, of course, by pointing out that mom installed those buttons.
Seriously, though, be it family, friends or astute observers of the human psyche, most of us can detect the soft, squishy places in one another. We are all more alike than we acknowledge. We want to feel respected and acknowledged, heard and valued. However, when buttons are being pushed – and they are usually pushed to get a reaction — we can feel rejected, shamed, guilty, unworthy and all manner of not good enough.
When we are aware of our respective hot buttons, we can be better prepared; we can respond instead of react.
Are you willing to walk away, say no and choose not to engage in the tension?
There is always choice. Choice serves as the grace note to every interaction. You can choose to struggle, not fight, see it another way, speak your truth, state your case, agree to disagree and so forth. There is a certain elegance in being able to disengage from drama and choose not to play the game.
Like most experiences in life, emotional hangovers can serve as good teachers. You can learn how to protect yourself for future interactions. You can train yourself to move away from the victim place by following the three A’s.
1) You can change your action.
2) You can change your attitude.
3) Or you can learn to accept.
Automatically you have empowered yourself. Isn’t that far better than having an emotional hangover?
“When you blame others, you give up your power to change.”