Are you triggered by the smallest things? Have anger, confusion, pressure, defensiveness, or despair become your constant companions at home or at work? If you answered yes, then you might be becoming emotionally reactive.
Having emotions is a natural part of being human. It’s not wrong to feel them. Even negative emotions can be helpful for us. Feelings such as anger can be a gauge that something is not right and needs our attention. They can be a sign that it’s time to take action and make a change.
The question is not “How do I stop feeling?” but “What do I do with what I’m feeling?” We need to learn how to master our emotions instead of letting them master us.
Signs that you’re letting your emotions get the best of you
- People generally try to stay away from you. They seem uncomfortable and stressed when you’re around.
- You explode at the slightest provocation. A small mishap makes you cry or burst out in anger.
- You feel powerless and out of control
- You blame your circumstances or the people around you for what you’re going through. Everything and everyone is at fault except yourself.
- You instantly become defensive when someone criticizes you
Processing your emotional reactions
Your emotions will always find a way to get out. Instead of avoiding them, try processing what happened after an outburst.
Identify your triggers
Pay attention to situations that trigger strong emotional responses. Try to remember a situation, memory, or thought that made you feel intense loneliness, fear, anger or any other negative response. This could be a fight with a close family member, a realization, a word that was spoken, or a traumatic experience. Write them down.
Observe and identify what you feel
Write down the corresponding emotions to your triggers. Identify what exactly it is you’re feeling. Pay attention to your mind and body. What do you feel? Is it shame, fear, disappointment, confusion, or anger? Try your best to put it into words.
Record your responses
Once you’ve observed your emotions, it’s time to think about your response. Did you:
Act out by slamming the door, cursing, etc.
Make a judgment about the person or yourself
Make a judgment about yourself
Make a hasty decision (like choosing never to speak to someone again)
Look for patterns
Repeat the practice of observing your emotions and recording your responses every time you become reactive. Pretty soon, you’ll be able to see patterns emerging. For example, a perceived judgment that a person is rejecting you or doesn’t care about you, can trigger anger or shame, which then lead to unhealthy judgments we make about ourselves or others like “He’s so arrogant” or “I’m so stupid", neither of which are healthy.
Coping with your triggers
Once you’ve processed your emotional reactions, what do you do about them?Here are a few tips.
Avoid people and situations that trigger you
Steer clear of people or situations that cause you to act out. Some are easier to avoid. For example, if a song reminds you of a hurtful relationship, then remove it from your playlist.
But some things can be harder to stay away from, like a co-worker or a family member. Put boundaries or limitations in interacting with these people until you learn how to manage your emotions better.
Take a rest
Stop zeroing in on frustrating people and situations all the time. Take a rest, get lost in an enjoyable activity, go home and get some sleep, be with people who nurture you, relax!
Stop thinking like a victim
Sometimes, the reason why we’re impatient with certain types of people or situations is because we always feel like we’ve been victimized. While it’s true that they may have done something wrong to us, how we react to them is our choice and responsibility.
Change your script
Instead of constantly blaming others, try saying, “When you said those words, I felt overlooked and unappreciated. Could you explain to me what you meant? I would like to understand it better.”
Consider the situation
Before you react, take a breath and a step back. Consider what’s actually happening before responding to the situation. Does the situation/person really warrant such a strong emotional reaction from you or did it/they just unwittingly press on an old wound?
Remember that everyone’s different
Sometimes we become impatient with people or situations because we forget that people are not the same. What is easy for you may be hard for someone else. Experience, level of maturity, skill level, background, and environment all play a part in how we perceive situations.
It’s hard to forgive people who have deeply wronged us. But when you forgive, you’re essentially saying, “I release you from the right to annoy me, anger me, frustrate me.” Forgiveness makes it possible for you to face your offender without feeling defensive all the time. It might not change another person but it will change you.
Debate with your thoughts
If certain situations lead to negative thoughts, try debating with yourself. For instance, if you’re frustrated and think, “This person does this to anger me ALL the time. He’s just here to make my life difficult!” You ask yourself, “Is it really ALL the time? Is this person 100 percent bad? Is his existence really just to make things hard for me?” Debating with yourself can expose unreasonable thoughts that lead to emotional outbursts.
If your emotions are getting more unstable and harder to handle, then it may be time to get some professional help. A therapist can help you process your emotions better so you can change your responses.
Being emotionally reactive can be draining. But with some work, you can become more patient with others and yourself.