I’ve come to understand that the way we respond to people and our environment will often be a reflection of how we are feeling. Whether we are hangry (hungry and angry!) or actually deeply unhappy, other people either intentionally or unintentionally can bear the brunt of our feelings. We can then send mixed or conflicting messages to others and this in turn affects how they behave towards us.
Why is this? Why do we find it difficult to communicate how we actually feel? Perhaps we don’t always really know. Generally, we think we are good communicators, the “Hi, how are you?”, “Fine thanks, you?” type of conversations we have on a daily basis suggest we are good integrators. But how do we actually feel and what non-verbal messages are we sending out to other people? I’m not suggesting we should always be really frank, “…Well actually I’m really hungry because I didn’t have breakfast this morning and I’m stressed because the trains were delayed…” (OK too much information!). Instead, maybe we should start with having a more honest conversation with ourselves. How do I actually feel? Frustrated, angry, tired or anxious? This will help us to acknowledge how those feelings are manifesting themselves and what they are communicating to others.
If you are feeling some negative emotions, spend some time connecting to what they are trying to tell you. Feelings are feedback to bring your attention to what you need. Are you unhappy about a phone conversation you had yesterday? Are you tired? Are you annoyed because you seem to always do the housework? See if you can identify the cause of your feelings rather than trying to shake them off. If you feel able to, talk to someone you trust and share the load. Sometimes our emotional state can feel quite overwhelming which is why we often try not to acknowledge it, let alone talk about it. However, by acknowledging these feelings, without judgment, you will help build your emotional intelligence. There are times when there appears to be no root cause to your negative emotions, recognise this too and if you don’t want to talk to someone then do something that nourishes you instead (or both!); watch your favourite film, have a bath, go for a walk, read a book, listen to music – whatever works for you. It would be great to be able to recognise an emotion and not label it as good or bad, just acknowledge that it is there and identify what it might be telling you.
Sometimes negative emotions feel as though they are caused by someone else. Sometimes the saying may be “It’s you, not me!” A good start to communicating with someone you feel has upset you is “I feel…” and “I need…”. Try not to blame another person for how you feel, even though they might appear to be the source of your negative emotions.
A possible (familiar?) scenario could be that you feel you always do the housework. You say to your partner after feeling annoyed for some time – “You do nothing around the house; everything would fall apart without me…” Although you may feel that this is accurate, it may not start a helpful conversation(!) as inevitably the other person could get defensive. Instead, this could be replaced with “I feel really overwhelmed with the amount of housework I am doing and I feel frustrated because it feels like I always do it. It would be great if we could share the responsibilities and support one another.” Or words to that affect. The emphasis is on “I” rather than blaming the other person with “you don’t do this or you are unsupportive”. I know it might seem a million miles away from how you actually feel and rather idealistic but by doing this you are intelligently identifying and expressing your feelings and the outcome of this conversation should be significantly more positive.
The next time you feel annoyed or sad see if you can identify why. No need to over analyse, just acknowledge what you are feeling and perhaps why you feel that way. Feel encouraged to have emotionally intelligent and caring conversations with yourself, loved ones and colleagues. As a final point and moving away from how you feel, think about why people behave towards you, in particular (unhelpful) ways, for example, the grumpy coffee barista or the angry commuter. It is probably not personal!
“Everyone you meet is fighting their own battle, be kind.” Author unknown.
Here’s to a happier and kinder 2017
The Mental Health Foundation has launched a new campaign called ‘I’m Fine’. Check it out here