Emotions are a strong feeling deriving from one’s circumstances, mood, or relationships with others. They can result from external and internal events. Throughout our lives we experience emotions every day. They can be triggered by small events such as a “good morning” from your partner. Suddenly a positive feeling arises, sometimes a tingle in the stomach area. Emotions can also have a negative turn. After failing the last exam you might feel guilty. Even worse, negative emotions lead to heavy cramps in your body. In short, we all deal with emotions, pleasant or unpleasant, and in different levels of intensity.
The problem with emotions is that we easily tend to identify ourselves with the emotions that we feel. For example, in the morning I sometimes feel down. This comes with no surprise, as especially during winter, I feel dehydrated and hungry. Now the question remains, is it just an emotion that emerges or does this feeling define me as being sad? A story of a Chinese horseman might clarify this question.
The Chinese Horseman
There once was a Chinese horseman, who crossed a man standing at the roadside. The man on the side of the road asked: “Where are you going to?” Whereupon the horsemen responds “I don’t know, ask the horse”. This story is a metaphor for our emotional world. The horse stands for our emotions. We generally feel forced and directed by our emotions. We lose control over the horse and allow it to move us wherever it wants to go. At some point, we become more familiar with the horse. We learn about its habits, preferences, and slowly start building trust. Sooner or later we can navigate the horse, so it goes in the direction that we want. Finally, we can decide whether it rides into the sunset. In other words, we start owning or regulating our emotions.
Owning our emotions does not mean to suppress or deny our (negative) feelings. Hurt, pain, frustration, sadness, and anger are all natural and healthy parts of the human experience. We also can’t hinder emotions to arise and hopefully don’t want to! What we can influence is our reaction to it – also called emotional self-regulation. This requires awareness, acknowledgment, and the ability to let go of our emotions. In other words, we take responsibility. We step into our power and cooperate with emerging emotions. In the aforementioned story, the horseman would be sill unaware that he is sitting on a horse. By regulating his emotions, he now leads the horse to the direction that he wants to go to. Being in control of your emotions is a very strong quality. Imagine you are ending up in a fight with your partner or a discussion with your boss. Instead of going into a rage mode, you observe the growing emotions (most likely fear, anger, frustration). Instead of screaming at your loved one, after taking a few breaths, you might want to say: “I am freaking angry at this point, but I truly love you and don’t want you or me become the victim of my anger.” In a vivid discussion with your boss, you are not explaining yourself again but rather want to say: “I have the feeling that we have two different opinions, how can we proceed now?” In essence, recognize that you are not your emotion. Your emotion is part of you, but it is not all of you. You are more than your emotion.
I came across a very powerful quote (unfortunately without author) which perfectly reflects my surfing trip in Portugal (where I wrote this blog post) and connects to the topic of emotional regulation:
“Feelings are much like waves, we can’t stop them from coming but we can choose which one to surf.”
Don’t be a victim of your emotions but use them wisely. If you choose the direction in which your emotions can follow, you become the creator of your life circumstances in the long run.
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Namasté & rock’n roll