Dealing with Emotions


Anger

Of the many roles I play in life, one of the most important is that I’m the father of two young boys. Being a parent is hard, harder than I ever imagined. And one of the hardest parts (in my opinion) is trying to teach my children to manage and regulate their emotions.

It’s easy to say that emotions are normal when we are dealing with positive emotions. Joy, laughter, curiosity, excitement, anticipation etc. But you can’t have positive emotions without also accepting the negative ones – things like anger, fear, guilt, despair, grief, shame and apathy.

We aren’t all one thing. We can’t always be happy, and we can’t always be positive. We need to accept all parts of ourselves, and be able to express them.

Recently I came across the following quote about anger:

AngerAristotle

I think this quote is perfect. Everyone gets angry sometimes. Anger is a normal and natural response to some sort of external stimuli. But having your level of anger be appropriate for the situation at hand? That’s a lot harder. And directing your anger at the right person, to the right degree, for the right reason? Much, much harder.

Emotions and Mental Health

A while back I came across this video, and it’s probably one of the most powerful 3 minutes you can spend (seriously, if you haven’t seen it check it out). It’s described as an exploration of masculinity, but to me it’s really about emotion, trying to learn and conform to what is considered “acceptable” emotion; and the problems people encounter when they try to suppress emotions and feeling that aren’t seen as acceptable.

Emotions are natural responses to external stimuli. When we try to suppress them, we are trying to deny part of what makes us who we are. And when we suppress them over an extended period of time, we do considerable harm to ourselves. The result of trying to suppress emotion is found in pain, misdirected anger, fear and loneliness. Over time this can even lead to depression.

So no, we should never try to repress emotions. Crying, anger, sadness – these are all normal, and acceptable. Going back to the Aristotle quote, the key is to be able to have an appropriate level of response.

The video above is focused on boys and men and notions of masculinity, so it applies to me as a father of two boys. But the suppression of emotions or treating emotions as “bad thing” is a wider problem. One that affects everyone – man or woman, young or old.

Emotions and Relationships

Which brings me back to my normal topic – relationships. Relationships are supposed to be a place of safety – both physically and emotionally, and emotions are also a big part of what brings us together initially. One of the key aspects of a relationship is how the other person makes us “feel”, and how we feel about ourselves around them.

I believe that when relationships struggle and/or fail often it is not due to a lack of love, but rather because of an inability to regulate emotions.

Our physical and emotional health are linked. Most people are more irritable when they are feeling stressed, or even if they are just tired or hungry. And I suspect we all know that when we are irritable we are prone to take out our emotions on others.

When this happens, our response is no longer in line with the event.

We are all human, so at least at some level we get it, and are normally willing to accept it from our partners. But it becomes an issue when it is a pattern of behavior. When the other person is frequently irritable, easily angered, and directs the anger at other people, or at inappropriate levels for the issue at hand.

We need to recognize when this is happening, recognize when it has become a problem, and take steps to prevent it.

Some people will claim “This is just how I am”, but that is absolutely the wrong approach. Yes people are different. Some are more sensitive than others, and yes we change over time.

But when your ability to regulate emotions is affecting your life and spilling out into your relationship, it’s a problem.

Often people have excuses. Yes, I lashed out – but I was having a bad day. But the baby was crying, but I was hungry, but…

There is always a reason, and taken individually they are usually valid. It’s not about specific incidents though, it’s about patterns of behavior.

Even the best of people have times when their tempers are short, and they take that out on someone they shouldn’t. The question is, how frequently does it happen (better not be often), and after it does what is the response. Does someone own the action and show remorse? Or do they just try and pretend it never happened?

Patterns of negative emotions or patterns of anger where we take out our frustrations at the wrong person or to the wrong degree over a period of time has a name.

Emotional Abuse.

Emotional Abuse

Everyone has moments where they say things they “didn’t mean to”. Guess what, when you lash out at someone, whether you meant to or not doesn’t change what has happened. It’s one thing when these are rare moments that are out of character for someone, and they are genuinely apologetic or embarrassed afterwards. Then perhaps you can chalk it up as a poor response to external stress. But when outbursts become more common, all the apologies in the world don’t matter. It is the behavior that matters, not the words.

brokenPlate

To put this in perspective, in physically abusive situations the abuser will often claim they “didn’t mean” to hit their partner. And maybe they didn’t. Commonly they will say (or think) it happened because “you made me do it”. They believe that they wouldn’t have hit the other person if their partner hadn’t done something to make them angry enough to do it. In truth, there probably was some incident – but the response was completely unacceptable and out of line with the actual issue.

Emotional abuse is based on the same premise. But the scars that it leaves aren’t as easily seen.

Letting Emotion In

I don’t profess any expertise here, but I suspect in cases of physical and emotional abuse, the abuser is like the boys from the video. They are people who have never learned to accept their emotions, and as a result they have never learned to regulate them.

Maybe they were told “not to cry” because crying is for sissies. Maybe they were punished for showing emotions, or they felt that emotions made them weak.

As father of two young children, I will admit to moments of frustration when my children are having tantrums, or crying over “silly things”. I try to teach them that all emotions are fine, and acceptable.

I don’t want them thinking that it’s wrong to cry, or that they have to “be strong” all the time. I want them to express life the way that is right for them. To love, laugh, and cry. To accept that anger is natural, but to not let it poison them and their relationships. And to not be ashamed of who they are.

I have no idea how I’m doing, and I probably won’t know for many years to come. But that’s my goal, and it’s something I will always strive towards.

Misdirected Anger

As I said above, we all have moments that we inadvertently (hopefully) take our anger and frustration out on those we love. If you are someone who struggles with anger, and find that this has become a pattern I have one question for you.

Why?

Why would someone stay with me if I was always irritable or angry? And more importantly, if I frequently direct anger towards them with inappropriate levels or at inappropriate times?

In relationships, conflict happens. It’s natural, and can actually be very healthy. After all, if there is no conflict how are you learning? How are you growing as a couple? Encountering and overcoming obstacles together is probably one of the greatest ways to bond as a couple.

So don’t try to suppress conflict. Accept it, and allow it in. And allow all the emotions that comes with it to come in as well. But try to do this in a healthy way.
Although anger is natural and should not be held in, it needs to be directed at the right person, and at the right level. In accepting our emotions we still need to be respectful of those around us. And learning to do this consistently is something that can take a lifetime.

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12 thoughts on “Dealing with Emotions

  1. Have you ever written anything specifically related to Borderline Personality Disorder and how it affects relationships? While reading this, I feel like it resonates well with how my emotions put so much strain in my relationship, but then I also don’t want to blame my BPD for it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Diana, I haven’t written anything specifically on BPD. I am somewhat familiar with it, and have read a few books on it. But I don’t feel knowledgeable enough to write specifically on it.

      That said, from what I know a lot of what I have in this post would definitely relate to BPD. Actually I see a lot of overlap between BPD and a few other disorders. Primarily bipolar depression but also with anxiety. In all cases, regulating emotions seems to be very, very difficult – or inconsistent with significant swings.

      One thing that really stands out from what I read about BPD was the stats on relationship success. Due to the strain the volatility puts on relationships, there was something like an 80-85% divorce rate for people with BPD. However it is supposed to be treatable, and with treatment things can improve. The only things I know are things I’ve read though.

      I’m a big believer in trying to educate myself on things, as I think the more I understand the better off I am for dealing with things. A book I read on BPD was called “I hate you – don’t leave me”. If you can get your hands on it it may be worth a read.

      All the best

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m not sure how I’m learning if there is no conflict. I only know that my husband doesn’t understand why I keep repeating the same mistakes over and over again. So of course that creates tension and conflict. I also have a tendency to not listen. I have an issue with people telling me what to do specifically. Maybe that has to do with me not being able to make the decision. I’m losing control. The control is in my husband’s hands and I hate that. Yet that is how it goes.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Evelyn,

      I think maybe part of the problem is a desire to control on either side.

      I don’t think control really has a place in a relationship. I know I can be a dreamer, but in my perfect imaginary world both people are able to live the way they feel is right, and the way they feel is right is based on kindness and respectfulness towards each other.

      No one should ever be in control, or trying to control the other person.

      When people are living their lives the way that they want and that way is causing conflict, then maybe one or both are living in ways that are lacking in empathy. Or maybe the couple just doesn’t work well together as a couple.

      A while back I had a few posts on responsibility and accountability, and you may find them interesting.

      No one likes it when they “have” to do things, but sometimes in life we do have to do things we don’t want to. Depending on the situation, that should be alright.

      It depends on why you are doing it though. If you are doing something out of shame or guilt, it will cause resentment and conflict. But if you are doing the exact same action because you believe it is the right thing to do, then it’s alright.

      The action may be the same, but the mindset on how you approach it can make a world of difference for how you feel about things. I guess that’s where the concept of buy-in comes in.

      Maybe I’m trying to say that we should never feel we “have” to do something, or feel like we have others telling us what to do. But sometimes we do need to do things we don’t want. And if we can understand why, and believe in those reasons then they become acceptable.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sorry I’ve been unable to respond back to you. I have been thinking about your comment and realize yes I do want control of my own mind. I’ve pretty much followed whatever people wanted because I believed I could never have the confidence and strength to be a leader to speak up. That’s why I’ve always held back, always very afraid that my words will upset people. Sometimes though I feel I am doing things out of guilt, and that causes me to cycle. Lately, my husband has treated me better but I no longer desire to work it out because I think as you mentioned before there has to be root cause of why you want to be together to make it work out. In our case, I think it’s children, at least for me.

        Like

      • Guilt and shame seem to go hand in hand with anger and resentment.

        I’ve been working on a post on guilt and shame, and as a preview guilt is about feelings that you have when you do something that’s wrong. It’s positive, and is kind of a self defense mechanism. Shame is where there is a belief that because you have done something wrong, *you* are therefore wrong or bad. Shame is terrible thing, and has no place. As parents I think we often do harm to our children by using shame as a form of behavior modification, and doing so runs the risk of children growing up to not believe in themselves.

        If you are experiencing guilt, is it truly because you are doing things that are wrong? Or is it because you have come to believe that the things you are doing are wrong – even if they are not?

        When I hear your story, it sounds as though you were taught to do what you were told, to not question things, and to not speak out. Now you seem to be starting to do those exact things (questioning and wanting to find your own voice and your own place in the world). That in and of itself should be a good thing, and something to be celebrated.

        All that really matters is if you can look at yourself, your choices and your actions. If you don’t believe you are doing anything wrong then who cares what others think. Others may influence us and our choices, but at the end of the day you can’t live for others, you have to live for yourself and your own values.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Personally I knew my brain had to be rewired after I has my nervous breakdown. I couldn’t continue on living as I was and be sane. Changes needed to be made and I’ve come so far than in the ten years I’ve been living or in the 12 years I’ve been married. Yes I’ve come to realize I disagree with the culture and beliefs knowing it’s a traditional custom I do it just to appease my in laws. I cannot disagree to not do it. That’s just how it has always been done thousands and thousands of years ago…that’s what made me initially reluctant to even change. I figure what is point I can never divorce because of culture I can never change because I am a “woman.” And many many others.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Culture is a wonderful thing, but it can also be a source of great conflict – especially when cultures collide.

        I’ve seen a number of cases where people have immigrated from a specific culture, they they bring with them those beliefs. Then they have children, and their children are kind of caught between two worlds.

        I haven’t experienced it firsthand, but would imagine that it’s very difficult for everyone involved when parents have certain cultural expectations, and someones culture IS important to them but at the same time they find it constraining.

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      • I know my children and I are caught between the two worlds and its been difficult. However, do you explain to your children that certain activities can be done in one culture for celebration and is forbidden in another? That’s something I have struggled with because I do not know everything single thing that should not be “done.” But I’ve learned and what I experienced is that it is better to hide. Why place yourself into conflict that you had no way of understanding in the first place?

        Liked by 1 person

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