When in doubt, don't do anything or say anything in response to a "warning" type of "negative" emotion. Timeout!

Emotions are signals, so the first thing we need to do is to recognize that we are feeling something and that we need to process this feeling vs. just reacting to it.

As young men, you will have many emotions -- and they are, if you were like me at all, very often not too positive as a guide. If I had just followed my raw emotions when I was younger, who knows what damage I might have done -- to myself, committing various crimes, with sexual involvement, etc. I kind of hate to admit this, but I'm being forthcoming in hopes that it might help you if you face some of the same issues with your feelings. I was angry, tempted to pursue sex, and highly disappointed at times. There were, of course, also positive feelings of joy, caring for others, mercifulness, desire to do the right thing, and love -- but these weren't the "problem". 

Following my more negative emotions as they unfolded (or exploded) would have been disastrous but, at the same time, they are part of our natural creation of "who we are" -- aren't they? I also hate to admit that, more often than was wise, I simply let those emotions drive (I would say "guide" -- but it was more like "unguided") my decisions, words and actions. Sometimes "they" almost drove me off a cliff or point of no return. 

There is also the very positive side of the "good" emotions, however, so don't don't go away thinking that they are all negative. Feelings of love, joy, hope, gratitude, and caring are very positive aspects of life. This article addresses these positive emotions as well because, of course, we would all like to experience much more of them!

So, what do we do? That's what this article is about:

  • Where do emotions come from?
  • What do we do or say when we are feeling one way or another? 

If you are having trouble with these issues, you are in good company. When in a Zoom meeting with some very intelligent adults recently, I became aware that many people don't seem to understand the nature of emotions very well -- or at least don't seem to have my particular helpful "model" as a guide. You are not alone!

Being "action oriented", I am going to start with the last of the two questions first:

What do we do or say when we are feeling one way or another? 

Again, Emotions are signals, so the first thing we need to do is to recognize that we are feeling something and that we need to process this feeling vs. just reacting to it.

You may, all of a sudden, feel very disappointed, unloved, angry, joyful, proud, sexually aroused, etc. You need to become conscious of the fact that you are having these feelings -- and decide to engage your brain to process these feelings before reacting or saying anything. Some emotions are very helpful reactions to immediate dangerous situations, so you might not be able to afford a great delay to analyze. Most, however, can wait at least a few minutes for you to let your mind have a shot at figuring out what's going on. Some emotions warrant a 24 hour "time out" or "back away" period -- or even longer. This applies to things that come out of your mouth as well as actions.

Don't, for example, jump into having sex with someone when you feel stimulated and have the opportunity. Don't, for example, jump into t fight when someone insults you. Don't take a dare because someone calls you chicken. Don't jump into your car and speed off recklessly when you have been rejected or didn't win a game. Don't verbally snap back at your parent, girlfriend, adversary, or anyone else when they push one of your "hot buttons" (more on these later). Get it?

You should also examine feelings of great pride, victory, sexual satisfaction, revenge, importance, domination -- emotions like those. While some natural reactions to these emotions may not lead to immediate great harm, they may hurt you or others as well. They will tell you, and others, something very important about yourself and your values.

On the positive side, you might want to take a few minutes to "soak in" why you are feeling so content, happy, satisfied, loved, valued, or joyful at the moment. After all, wouldn't you like more of this? Rather than leaving it to chance, you might be able to understand the situation and do more of whatever got you to this "state".

So, the second thing is we need to do is call a timeout (even if it is only 10 seconds) or "break" (like in a boxing match) before we act.

If you can just learn the value of a good "timeout" before you speak or do something rash, there will be so much more happiness in your world. Just pause. Maybe you don't even use your timeout wisely -- it will still help.

We see this in athletics all the time when the game is getting out of hand or the coach (that would be you for your own life) sees something that could be a danger or opportunity if the players (also you) were aware of it. Why won't we call a timeout in our lives? When I first started coaching basketball, I was a very poor timeout caller. I had coached soccer a lot, and we didn't really have the option of calling timeouts. What a huge benefit a timeout can be if we will just call one so we can think! Reset! Get our bearings! Take some of the steam out of the other team's momentum!

Third, think, "Why am I feeling this way? What is the reality of the event or circumstance? What fundamental values or beliefs are in play here?" 

Emotions are signals -- but what are they trying to tell us?

You need to be very honest with yourself here. If "I don't know, I just feel this way." is your only answer, you need to dig deeper. You can often get away with this response when your parents ask you why you did something or your girlfriend asks you how you are feeling today. Getting away with not understanding your emotions isn't our purpose here, though, is it?

Some "events" in your life are really imaginings, something in the past, or anticipation of something that may not even come to pass. Some events are truly significant and others are very minor. Do you blow things out of proportion? Do you have a chip on your shoulder about things? Is is easy for someone to "push you button" because you think everything is life-or-death or a threat to your "manhood"? Maybe something isn't really such a big deal after all.

Some of your values and beliefs (including how you evaluate events) are easy to discern. Others have hidden below the conscious level for our entire lives.

If you are experiencing a positive emotion, like joy, you will probably be 100% OK just basking in the moment and soaking in the joy. Don't worry about being too happy -- unless it is at the expense of someone else, of course.  You may want to dig into this somewhat, however, as a guide to activities you should pursue in the future to repeat the feeling on a regular basis.

So, as an example, why does an insult generate such anger in you or me? Probably because we hold a belief that another (often random) person's opinion of us somehow reflects our self-worth -- maybe even more than our own or God's opinion of ourselves?  That popularity is more important than our character or achievements? Maybe because we believe that others' opinions of us (everyone in the whole world -- not just 95%) need to be positive -- somewhat like a dog that feels compelled to win every single person over as their friend (not that there isn't a positive aspect of this behavior). Maybe we simply believe that no one "should" ever cross us under any circumstances. Your "ex" calls you a name, even if your current girlfriend thinks the world of you, and you are angered, crushed, despondent, acting crazy? Why?

Note the values and beliefs involved.

Fourth, determine if these values are rational and, in proper perspective, are being given (by you) the proper weight.

This is also a very tough step. Again, being honest with ourselves is key. We need to be willing to reason (not rationalize).

We can ask for help from wise and solid (not foolish and flaky) counselors, books and prayer.

We are going to have to rank and prioritize values/beliefs -- both conscious and previously hidden/buried in our subconscious.

We have, over the course of our lives, talked ourselves into our values being valid. They are, after all, our beliefs. They are "who we are". They form and/or drive our character, soul, personality, attitude -- and emotions. Many of these values have been very consciously and carefully chosen. Some aren't actually a reflection of our best mature thinking and reasoning, however. Many need to be updated from when we were younger and highly impressionable. If we ever explicitly wrote them down, some would seem great and others might sound a little unrealistic (like, for example, 'anything negative about me from some random person is an all-out assault on my very being and worth fighting to the death'). Some, were adopted from the family/parent/sibling or culture we grew up in -- and we don't even realize that we hold the beliefs that have us "feeling this way" about a situation.

So, hopefully you can make some progress on value awareness, evaluation, and prioritizing during your "timeout" -- or the sum total of all of your timeouts in the past. Is fighting someone because they have insulted you more important than your life worth it? Which is your highest priority -- evaluation by society/others and pride or your health/life? What's more important, a tempting sexual experience with someone you hardly know or your long term goals to have a mate, family, no surprise pregnancy to deal with, and no STDs? 

Fifth, create smart alternatives.

Use your brain and resources to come up with smart alternatives. Not Artificial Intelligence -- just intelligence. Pretend that it's AI if that will help you. 

If your "gut" (the emotion of anxiety signaling you that there is still an issue) is telling you that there is a problem, call another timeout and keep working until you are no longer as anxious about your solution.

Sixth, go with the best action (or none) and say the most appropriate thing (or say nothing).

Again, when in doubt, don't do anything or say anything in response to a "warning" type of "negative" emotion.

If all is right with the world, you should be in good shape to experience and respond. If it is a positive emotion backed by solid values, you will want to learn from this experience and work to repeat it in the future. If something brings you pure joy or happiness based on solid values, "note to self" and work to repeat similar situations.

Good luck -- and forgive yourself if you have done the best you could and it still didn't work out.

Where do emotions come from?

Given the millions of dollars and countless hours invested in psychotherapy, my answers here may seem far too simple -- but I wouldn't be passing it along if I didn't think it is largely correct. Besides, you are probably just trying to live a better life, not become a psychiatrist or guru.

Simply put, your emotions are "hardwired" physiological (mind) and physical (bodily) reactions to circumstances and thoughts -- and your subconscious evaluation of them as either positive or negative relative to your fundamental well-being, beliefs, values and goals. They are an instantaneous signal of whether something is good or bad for your deep-seated "you" (physical, beliefs, values, goals).

We need to look at two dimensions and how they relate to each other in order to understand our emotions.

The first dimension that needs to be heavily considered is the weight you might be applying to the event itself. Note that the "circumstances" can be real, anticipated, past, and/or imagined as described above. Do you have a value system that places as much weight on imagined, anticipated, and past events as you do the real? Do you weigh all similar real events on the same scale of importance?  Perspective and not "making a mountain out of a molehill" are critical to handling your emotions intelligently. 

The second dimension is whether the event is positive or negative vs. your values.

Although the list is much more extensive, a few examples of emotions you may experience might be:

  • Fear: Your senses or imagination are telling your brain that you are in danger.
  • Anger: In danger or threatened and need to do something about it.
  • Hate: Anger on steroids.
  • Disgusted: Bad behavior (others or self) that goes beyond just an error but not as bad as hate.
  • Anxiety or worry: Something isn't right and could become a threat.
  • Confusion: Need more data and don't have it.
  • Ashamed or embarrassed: Mismatch between how we want to be perceived and our reputation. Accused of or did something negative.
  • Pride: Match between how we want to be perceived and our reputation. Credited with or did something positive.
  • Disappointed or sad: Planned or hoped for didn't work out.
  • Hopelessness or despondent: No future possibility of success, joy, happiness, etc.
  • Lust: Possible sex experience or opportunity (real or imagined).
  • Envy or jealousy: Wanting something that someone else has.
  • Greed and avarice: Envy tempted toward the action of taking.
  • Joy, happiness, peace, contentment: Everything is good.
  • Like: Helpful and "for" me.
  • Love: Very good and really "for" me!

The "values dimension", then, is, "What values or beliefs do you hold that are causing various events (or imaginings) to be evaluated as indicated by the emotions above?" This is the second dimension as to why you are experiencing this emotion.

One person may consider an insult to be inconsequential and just let it go like "water off a duck's back". When you look at the reaction of football players in a football game, for example, one player will consider a bad call to be "business as usual" and another will go ballistic. Same event and totally different reactions. The difference is the values of the two players. One may consider the game to be relatively unimportant compared to the world issues of cancer, global warming, world hunger, etc. The other may see the game as the "make or break" for their ability to feed their family in the future. It may be true that the "ballistic" player will never have another chance in life -- but that probably isn't the case. The "hot head" probably just thinks any injustice is a personal vendetta and thinks they "never" get fair treatment in the world.

So, let's say someone cheats you out of a promotion in business by spreading false rumors about you behind your back up the ladder. First, did this really happen? What are the facts? First, call timeout so you can think and not make a fool out of yourself, do something rash, or have a stroke. Assuming it happened, how important is it relative to the things you value most? Do you really even want the promotion with the additional responsibility and travel? Were you thinking about leaving the company anyway? My hope is that this type of thinking will help you in some situation in the future. 

Think about this in your own experience with each of the major emotions you have felt lately. What is really going on in your world of values? Are you properly weighing the significance and reality of event? Given the event, what values do you hold that are generating feelings of envy, anger, disappointment, etc.? 


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