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What do we do with difficult emotions?

Earlier this week I felt tired. Exhausted in my inner being, and my body reflected that weariness. The cause of this fatigue was more emotional than physical – the sum of a couple of triggers at both the personal and collective levels. I was experiencing a number of difficult emotions.

One trigger came out of the current political climate in Australia where, having just had a federal election, the man who is now our prime minister I don’t trust – based on personal experience of him and his party’s policies in the past.

The second trigger came in my role as executor of my mother’s estate. This has been a fairly painless role thus far, but some conversation with my siblings (and we all get along well and resolve our differences amicably) touched deep-seated fear and emotion that surprised me.

Life difficulties cannot be avoided

Difficulties in life cannot be avoided and come at us when we least expect them. Some we can plan for (by having health insurance for instance), but most take us by surprise. And all difficult experiences change us, regardless of whether we are aware of it or not. When hitches and snags arise some of us like to hurry past them as quickly as possible and then ignore or bury any accompanying emotions. Others of us take the tough times in our stride and look to find the gold in the dross.

But it doesn’t matter which approach we take to worries and complications in life, these events and circumstances change us, incrementally. And deep wounds can be left unacknowledged. Until something triggers an emotional response and we find ourselves in tears, freaking out, angry or frustrated – and not sure why we are feeling what we are.

So, what’s a healthy thing to do when those difficult emotions jump up and bite us?

Before I answer that, let me ask another question: what do we do with pleasant emotions like happiness, love and contentment?

How do we handle pleasant emotions?

We usually don’t have any problem knowing what to do with these feelings – we embrace them, we share them with others, we even revel in them. If we’ve got a new baby in the family, we shower them with love and post all over social media so others can share our joy. If we’ve got that job we wanted, or the promotion we’d been aiming for, we celebrate with friends and family, going out for dinner and taking lots of selfies. The common response to easy-to-deal-with emotions is to hope that they continue for as long as possible.  And we invite others to join us in what we’re experiencing.

What do we do with difficult emotions?

So, what’s a healthy thing to do when those difficult emotions jump up and bite us? The same thing – share them with others. Not to make other people sad but so that we can appreciate more fully that all our emotions are valid, need to be honoured and given space. And I’ve found that as I do this, as I allow myself to feel the hard things, then they dissipate more quickly than if I’d tried to push them away. I then more readily return to a state of equilibrium.

That said, this is not necessarily an easy thing to do.

In the first situation I alluded to, as I shared my feelings with a trusted friend, I sought validation of what I was feeling – because I thought maybe I was over-reacting. I found it hard to accept that I felt what I did. In the second, I rang my sister to share my response. Like my friend, she was supportive and heard me out. And again, I had negative self-talk around what I was feeling. Was I being emotionally manipulative?

Interesting isn’t it, that even as an emotionally aware human being, I still doubt the validity of the more difficult emotions, whereas I would never doubt my reasons for feeling happy or loving someone.

How do you handle difficult emotions?

I don’t have all the answers (I hope you weren’t expecting something earth-shattering here!) But what I do know is that I can value everything I feel. I know that all my emotions are valid and useful. And I continue to learn about myself as I allow the tougher feelings to have their space. All emotions tell us something more about ourselves.  Emotions are keys to deeper, as-yet-unexplored, parts of who we are.

I hope you’re on that journey of self-exploration and self-leadership. And if you ever feel the need for a coach along the road, I’m here. Fill in your details below and I’ll be in touch. Or check out my coaching programs here.

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Don’t honk your horn – I’m just changing lanes.

I posted on LinkedIn about choosing to run in our own lane. Some people responded that they did this well. Others, like myself, felt it was less easy. And I started to wonder why some of us found comparison with others to be normal and the shift to focusing on running in our lane more difficult.I wondered how much the desire to conform added to this issue. And whether changing lanes could be an option.

The expected lane

As a child, it was instilled in me that I conform to certain tenets of behaviour. It was important to fit it, to be like everyone else. Conformity was prized. Following accepted norms was the “right thing to do”. And doing something outside the norm was frowned on. After all, “what would the neighbours think?” In childhood and youth my focus was on being the quintessential “good girl” (or qgg as one friend quipped). I took that focus into adulthood, but transferred it to being the good wife, one consequence of which was that I stayed in a dysfunctional and emotionally-abusive marriage for far too long. It was only after I left the marriage that my journey to “my own lane” began.

When conformity is prized then comparison and competition are natural consequences. If a prescribed outcome is the goal, then doing it better, achieving it faster and maintaining it longer than others is a measure of success. Competition with others is built into this way of doing life.

And if you fall behind that standard, by comparison with others, then there must be something intrinsically wrong with you. You’ve failed to “keep up with the Joneses”! Because you must always stay ahead, knowing what “ahead” looks like can only be determined by comparing yourself favourably, or unfavourably, with others.

Comparison and competition. Twin sisters in the conformity game. But changing lanes is an option.

The chosen lane

Learning to identify my “lane” has been a journey, and it began with my divorce. In that one huge step I deliberately moved outside the norms I’d been raised with. I was changing lanes into unfamiliar territory.  I had to unlearn many of the tenets and principles of my past as a new way of doing life emerged.

And making this shift doesn’t mean that I haven’t known myself – it’s more that I haven’t seen what I intrinsically bring as being of value. I haven’t valued the lane I was gifted with at birth. But I’m learning to. It takes practise and readjustment. I’m learning to resist the default pathways or what is perceived as the “right” way of doing things.

I’m learning to trust my intuitive genius and to act on it. And I’m noticing that when I give into the old norms (such as implicitly trusting the judgement of those in leadership even when I know in my soul that to do so is not right for me) I often emerge the loser. I am much more successful when I follow my path, my way of doing things because doing so is authentic and works with who I intrinsically am.

What’s your lane?

If you’re someone who struggles with conformity, comparison or competition, I’d love to know if these are concepts you learnt in childhood. And if you don’t struggle in this, what the messages you were given as a child that enabled you love more freely in your own lane. I look forward to some great comments and conversations as we connect the dots about our lives.

Thinking boundaries

I wasn’t aware of my thinking boundaries. I was just over on FB when a connection posed a question about God and Lucifer.

I’m qualified to respond, given my background and degree and I challenged both the question and the questioner. Back and forth the comments went, as they do on FB. I was reasoned and considered in my responses. But the other person wasn’t happy and, eventually, I said, “I’m done”. Nothing more could be gained by pursuing the discussion.

As I went to bed and mulled over the interchange I started to think, “What if I’d…?” That started my thinking down a well-worn path of assuming responsibility for the course of the discussion. I didn’t quite blame myself for the way the discussion panned out, but I was heading in that direction when I stopped myself.

I gave myself a mental shake.

I’d responded clearly, considerately and authentically. The other person’s dislike of my responses was not my fault or responsibility. Their emotional reaction was their responsibility. I wasn’t rude or unkind. I was true to myself and how I see the world. How the other person responded was their responsibility.

Questions about thinking

Why do we do that to ourselves?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Is taking responsibility for other people’s responses or reactions to us and our way of doing life a healthy thing to do?                                                                                  Why do we think that if we’d changed the way we’ve done something, or said something different, then they wouldn’t have been upset with us?

The reality is that we can only control our own responses and reactions. We can only control our own thought processes and emotions. We cannot control, and therefore we are not responsible for, the responses of other people to ourselves. Understanding this is part of the subtle art of self-leadership.

As we understand more fully that we are only responsible for our own thought processes and responses then we can stand more firmly in the truth of who we are as unique human beings. This authenticity and integrity allow us then to set clearer and firmer boundaries, first and foremost in our own thinking and, consequently, in our behaviour and attitudes to others. It is important that we set boundaries in our thinking before we can set boundaries around behaviour.

Boundaries in thinking

We put boundaries in our thought processes in place:

1. so that we don’t default to unhealthy patterns of thinking                                                                                                                                                                                            2. to limit the influence other people’s attitudes and opinions have over how we think                                                                                                                                            3. to set us on more authentic thought paths that are in line with our values.

Let’s do away, bit by bit, with the notion that we are at fault and that we must fix things.Sometimes the best, most healthy, thing we can do is walk away – for ourselves, for others, and for the situation.

Connect your thinking

To understand more about having courageous conversations with yourself, fill in the form below. We will talk about how you can set healthy boundaries in your own thinking.

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Trust your unique authenticity

To trust your unique authenticity can be challenging at times.

You know how it goes – post an article, make some comments and you put yourself out there. You’ve had lots of great feedback. You know you’re resonating with others.

Then some person you don’t actually know, a random online connection, criticises you for what you said, or how you said it. And immediately you feel the need to go into defense mode, to justify yourself, to make this random person you don’t actually know see things from your perspective.

Don’t you hate that just one person’s opinion has the capacity to derail you and flatten your mood.  Sound familiar? I’m sure it does. It happens to anyone who is running a business or developing influence online.

Feeling judged for authenticity

I wrote an article a week or so ago about handling personal attacks and suggested that responding rather than reacting is the way forward. It got amazing coverage and I engaged with lots of new people. Some joined my email list on self-leadership. And then one person unsubscribed after the first email and, when I asked if this was intentional, they responded that they didn’t like that I’d included links to my coaching and events rather than just sharing knowledge. I responded that I didn’t feel the two had to be mutually exclusive, to which they removed our connection.

I felt judged.

Being authentic

I find it easier to stand firm and respond with things I believe in than I do when judgements are made of me around how I operate in the online space. But what it comes back to is confidence in what I’m doing and how I’m doing it. It boils down to being confident in who I am, because it is out of who I am that I do and say things. The fact that I’m writing about this means that I’m still growing in confidence around my authenticity.  But with each new experience, as I operate authentically out of who I am, my confidence grows, and so the attacks and criticisms have less and less impact.

I’m learning that even with the best of intentions, others will not always like what I do. Others will have opinions around the way I operate and will let me know. But it is up to me to choose how I respond to that criticism. Responding is the better way as it allows me to think about what I want to communicate. And as I respond, I learn to trust my unique authenticity.

Feeling confident in authenticity

But just because I choose to respond rather than react doesn’t mean that I will have the outcome I desire. That person who criticised me may still not like what I do. They may react. I have no control over that, and their reaction can still be confronting or challenging. Then I must come back again to my own authenticity. Finally, I must return to my centre, to the person I know I am and allow the other person space to be who they are, acknowledging that we may never see things the same way – and letting it go.

Authenticity and confidence go hand in hand. And confidence in our unique authenticity grows as we trust who we are and how we respond to situations and events, online and in the real world.

To talk more about growing in confidence as you trust your unique authenticity, leave your details below. Let’s see if we fit.

 

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You can choose to lead yourself well

Choosing self-leadership is a bit like rearranging the furniture.

How often do you rearrange the furniture in your home or office? When we do, the space often seems lighter or more open because we see the space differently.

As a teacher, I rearranged the classroom every term. I needed to see the children I taught in different groups, to see them in different ways.

Rearranging the furniture in our lives works the same way.

Reframe for self-leadership

We all have life events, life stories, that impact the decisions we make and the way we look at our careers. Some life events influence more than others and so play a greater role in our lives.

One of my most significant life stories was my 28-year marriage, a marriage I ended because I could no longer stay. It took me a few years to realise that my ex-husband’s passive-aggressive way of relating was really a form of emotional abuse.

However, I felt I had failed because I’d left the marriage. I’d tried so hard. I’d invested huge amounts of mental and emotional energy on “getting things right” because, If I could do that, then the marriage would work. Right?

The success of any relationship – business, career or personal – depends on the input of both people. It wouldn’t have mattered how hard I worked, or how long I worked, the marriage was not going to succeed because I was the only one working on it. Cognitively, know the truth of this, but from time to time I still feel like I failed at the one thing that was most important to me.

I remember so clearly the day a psychologist congratulated me on having had a 28-year marriage. Where I could only see failure, she saw huge success in maintaining a relationship for that length of time. She helped me rearrange the emotional and mental furniture around my marriage.

Rearrange how we see life

When we rearrange the furniture in our lives, when we look at our life events and determine to change the stories that we tell ourselves about our worthiness, our ability to succeed, our desirability as a partner, or any other thing that is important to us, we are not immune from wanting to change the furniture  back to the way it was before.

Just like I occasionally feel that I will never succeed at anything because my marriage didn’t succeed the way I wanted it to, we can fall back into the default ways of thinking and looking at life…IF WE CHOOSE TO!

Realising that I get to choose how I look at my life stories, understanding that every day I get the opportunity to rearrange the furniture however I choose, is hugely freeing.

As a leader, I am first and foremost responsible for myself and to myself. I can choose to self-sabotage by allowing the default ways of thinking to influence how I see my life in 2019. I can also choose to shift that furniture around and look at my life stories in new ways.

Self-leadership is a choice

I can choose to see the success of holding together a marriage for 28 years. And I can choose to see the safe warm family I created for my sons which two have gone on to emulate and exceed in their own families. I can choose to have pride in what I did in saving myself from an abusive relationship. Or I can choose to see my life and business ventures as doomed to fail because my marriage did not work out as I hoped it would.

The art of self-leadership is being able to connect the dots between life events and what is happening today, right now. It is being able to see the patterns of behaving and thinking that may be unhelpful and then choosing a different path. Self-leadership comes down to choosing, often daily, the stories out of which we live.

If you are a woman who leads, who wants to explore ways you can lead yourself, and others you’re your peak potential, I’d be honoured to facilitate that. Email me at bron@backstory.com.au.

Self-leadership is a choice we all can make.

 

How do leaders handle difficult emotions?

Have you ever felt rage, or any other difficult emotion, so deeply and intensely that it threatened your ability to operate normally? If this happened in the workplace, how did you manage that?

Rage is a difficult emotion

The rage I felt was cold and deep. It sat on my chest with such weight that I felt that if I didn’t get out of the water I’d forget how to swim. My rage, an emotion I have rarely felt (I’ve been angry, but this was very different) was one of many emotions I experienced in the last month of my mum’s life. It manifested itself after Mum agreed to go in aged care.

I was elated that, after a year of negotiating this next step with my very switched on and independent mother, she had finally agreed that she could no longer look after herself and would make the move to aged care. In that year, Mum had been hospitalised four times, two because of significant breaks from falling over. In that year, my siblings, their partners and myself had tag-teamed being with Mum in her house, because we knew that she was no longer safe to be on her own.

My rage came from feeling that we’d all wasted a year delaying the inevitable. That in that year, Mum would have found a new lease on life, perhaps not fallen as much and we would have been saved months of worry that lay beneath every decision we made.

Now, I know there may be people who will decry my feeling such a thing in the face of Mum’s impending passing. But emotions have no moral value. They are neither good nor bad. They just are.

But what we do with them is key.

How can we handle difficult emotions?

Usually we have three choices with emotions, be they easy to handle or unpleasant.

  1. We can resist them and push them down – only to have them rear up when we least expect them to.
  2. We can give vent to them in an unrestrained and unfiltered way with accompanying consequences (even unrestrained joy can be difficult for those around us to handle).
  3. Or we can acknowledge what we feel and then decide how we want to respond.

With my rage, I got out of the water because I knew I had to focus on what I was feeling. I went and sat in my car and explored not only what I was feeling but dug into the why, and then returned to Mum’s place and chose not to act out of that emotion. I understood why she resisted the move for so long and it was important for me to hold both my own emotions and my understanding of my mother in balance – and then choose how to deal with the situation.

So how do we apply this as women who lead?

What can a leader do with difficult emotions in the workplace?

In any situation where we lead others we will be triggered by their actions, attitudes and emotions. That is unavoidable. And, unfortunately, women and their opinions are unfairly dismissed as being too emotional and thus less valid. But the strength of women is that ability to tap into their emotions. Emotions are indicators of things happening at an unconscious level that, when identified, can bring deeper awareness to a situation.

When a situation arises as a leader that triggers a deep emotional response:

  1. Allow the emotion its space to just be – give time to recognising exactly what you are feeling.
  2. Try to identify what the trigger was and why this event has elicited this particular emotion. However, don’t judge yourself or the emotion.
  3. Decide how to respond both to the emotion and the situation that triggered it. What you do with the emotion is key to your growth and effectiveness as a leader.

Emotions can be wonderful tools for self-awareness and self-leadership. Acknowledge the presence of emotions. Allow them space, let them pass of their own accord and in their own time. Use emotions to lead others, and yourself, well.

How are you handling your difficult emotions?

You can develop skills for handling emotions in the workplace. To find out how, schedule an initial session by filling in the form below.

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