Reason and Reasonability: Embracing emotions as a superpower.
October 31, 2023
October 31, 2023
Do you remember the last time you were angry? Maybe it was yesterday, last week, or even in the last hour. How did it feel? Did your hands start to sweat? Did your face get flushed? Did your body temperature climb? Do you remember what you saw, or did you just see red?
Anger, frustration, joy, sadness, shame…emotions are an unavoidable part of the human experience. Some of them are pleasant and welcome, whereas others we try to avoid like the plague because they are so uncomfortable.
The experience of emotions can be overwhelming as if they are taking us over. In fact, there is a biological component to that. Emotions operate from a part of the brain that precludes thoughts – which means they come on fast.
So how do we regain control of the show (and by show, we mean our lives)? Fortunately, the human brain is as powerful as it is complex, and when emotions are experienced, it kicks into high gear by looking for a meaning to associate with the emotion. As a result, this makes the emotion feel more manageable and gives us a sense of action. In the example of anger, the flushed face and sweaty hands may mean I need to defend myself and make right what is wrong NOW.
Sometimes, this process can work out. For example, you could be sitting in a meeting at work and someone makes an inappropriate comment in front of your BIPOC colleague. In a surge of righteous anger, you firmly state that those sorts of comments are not okay and stand up for your colleague. In this case, the energy of our emotions is channelled into a skillful action that takes a stand against bigotry.
The thing is, actions that erupt from emotional motivations aren’t always wise, generous, and productive. Instead, sometimes they send us straight into a disaster zone. For example, on another day at work, you find that the paper tray in the printer is empty – again. In a surge of anger, you lash out at the nearest colleague, calling them names and claiming the lack of paper was their fault (it wasn’t). This outburst may have been in line with how you made sense of your anger (make right what is wrong NOW), but it definitely will not improve the readiness of the printer.
We’d like to think of ourselves as reasonable human beings, but sometimes our biology gets the better of us. In making meaning to help us navigate an emotional experience, that meaning isn’t always accurate and can get us in some hot water.
Since emotions aren’t really going to disappear anytime soon, what can we do with them?
Just like with a defensive response, we can work with our biology to better manage emotions and their outcomes. Emotions can’t be stopped, but they can be made useful. In fact, when we welcome our emotions, they can start to become a superpower.
At first, this can feel like a far leap, but it becomes doable when we get clear on what we can attribute to emotions. When we’re standing in the ashes and smouldering fire of our anger’s aftermath, for instance, it is tempting to blame our emotions for creating a judgmental response. However, it is actually the domino effect of things that happen after emotions are stirred up that causes us to be judgmental; the judgment comes from our reaction to emotion rather than the emotion itself.
These very same emotions, when used and reacted to appropriately in a healthy manner, can actually be a superpower when it comes to figuring out what we can do to foster better conflict resolution.
So how can we not let emotions get the better of us!?
A great place to start is noticing how emotions feel in the body. Is it sweaty palms, a tight stomach, heavy arms, or all of the above? Let the physical sensation of the emotion land you in the present moment to slow you down. Then, try to replace the initial rush to judgment with curiosity. Seek to understand the context, motivations, and circumstances that may contribute to others’ behaviours. Are my emotions based on assumptions? Am I making the situation worse with an attribution problem? Can I step back and see the wider situation? We aim to slow down, we lead with curiosity, and we see what comes of it.
With practice over time, we will find that this approach generates greater understanding and compassion for both ourselves and others. In all likelihood, our desire to make right what is wrong does indeed get fulfilled – but in a healthier, less painful way.
So ultimately, are emotions a weakness or a superpower? It’s a question that is better answered with an and than an or. Emotions are both a weakness and a superpower – the difference lies in how we handle their emergence. When we understand emotions as information and use that to guide our next move, we become empowered to take actions that inspire growth.
Adjusting reactivity to emotion takes practice – which is why we want to make things easier for you with our FREE Conflict 101 on-demand webinar. Explore case studies and exercises designed for you to reflect on examples from your own life so that you can learn the skills of conflict resolution and let emotions become your superpower!
What are you waiting for? Sign up here today.