While helping a senior level executive think through some bristly team dynamics recently, she told me that “the problem” was that some team members were simply “too emotional.”
She related an incident in which a direct report became teary in her office, and she responded by generously encouraging this person to “Go home, have a glass of wine, and come back tomorrow when you are more pulled together.”
So many of us have been trained to habitually respond to feelings in one of two primary ways:
- Numb out & Check out: Drink. Eat. Gamble. Dissociate. Deny them.
- Act out & Amp up: Get louder, yell, wail, and act them out with force and intensity.
Neither of these work. We can do better than this.
When we delay experiencing our feelings, they simply get bottled up and stored away – only to emerge later with an intensity and force that can frighten us.
The more we numb out, the more they build in intensity. The more intense they get, the more convinced we become that they are a problem. The cycle becomes a trap.
I find it helpful to remember that feelings are just internal cues that tell us about the state of our needs.
- When we need food, we feel hungry.
- When we need rest, we feel tired.
- When we need connection, we feel lonely.
If we don’t know what we are feeling, we are missing the very data that helps us refine our strategies to more effectively meet our needs.