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BTGOYD: IV. Can You Manage Your Emotions?

By: Ardis E. Parshall - January 16, 2012

See here for overview.

IV.

Can You Manage Your Emotions?

Any awareness you have of unfulfilled needs, either physical or social, is usually through your feelings. You feel hungry when you need food. You feel tired when you need rest. So also you feel lonely when you need friendship and affection. You feel frustrated and angry when you are thwarted in something you are trying to do.

Sometimes when you feel restless, unhappy, or uncomfortable, you can’t tell what need is driving at you, but you are sure to do something to try to make yourself feel better. Your feelings, good or bad, have a great deal to do with your behavior.


There Are Three Basic Emotions

Sorrow, anxiety, jealousy, embarrassment, hatred, prejudice, and happiness are words that describe feelings with which you are very familiar. These and a number of others stem from the three basic emotions – anger, fear, and love. These are very useful and important attributes of the human personality.

The added strength and energy generated in your body when you are angry is important in self-defense. This is especially true of primitive people and in primitive situations such as personal combat. Anger also drives people to improve bad conditions, protect the weak, and resist domination by others.

Fear of the right things will help to keep you safe – may even save your life. Fear is often a spur to greater effort and has been responsible for many great discoveries and inventions.

There is an old saying that “It is love that makes the world go round,” and it is true that this emotion, expressed in many ways, motivates most unselfish and constructive activities. Peace, harmony, brotherhood of men, and personal happiness are all dependent on love.

Strong Emotions Produce Physical Reactions

Did you ever choke up and burst into tears at some moment when it was terribly embarrassing? Or have you had something tickle your funny-bone so you giggled out when everyone was quiet? Or have you felt yourself blushing scarlet when you would have given almost anything to seem calm and poised?

Upset digestion, accelerated heart rate, increased perspiration, trembling, stammering, restlessness, shaking knees are illustrations of physical reactions to strong emotion. these can be very embarrassing at times, but there isn’t much you can do about it except try to control your feelings.

People Differ Greatly

Some people are more emotional than others. Some cry easily, some have quick tempers, some are often sad, some fearful, some nervous about staying alone, especially at night; some worry a great deal, others are inclined to be jealous with little reason.

We can’t assume that another person feels exactly as we would feel in a similar situation. Some have nervous systems that are more sensitive and more easily irritated. Some people have had illnesses or injuries that have made them more emotional. Some have had experiences which have made them depressed or fearful. Some live under conditions which constantly wear on their nerves.

Neither can we always measure the intensity of another’s feeling by his expression of it. Some have difficult expressing emotions, especially love or sympathy or appreciation. Other people have difficulty hiding their feelings, especially the negative ones – disapproval, anger, embarrassment, or disappointment.

If we want to be well-liked, we should be very considerate and understanding and tolerant of the feelings and emotional outbursts of others, but at the same time it certainly will be to our advantage to develop as much control as possible over our emotions, and to learn to express them in appropriate and respected ways.

To learn to love and express love in grown-up ways, to control or get rid of negative feelings such as jealousy, prejudice, needless fears and hostility is what it means to become emotionally mature and that is the goal toward which we need to strive.

What Do You Do When You Are Angry?

Since Linda’s family moved, she had to change to a larger school in the middle of the year. After two months, she still felt lonely and left out of things, and missed her old friends and activities. The girls went around together in small groups, and no one seemed to pay much attention to her. Then one day Judy, one of the most popular girls in the school, asked her to meet with a group after school to plan an assembly program stunt. She felt elated. Now, at last, perhaps she was to become one of this active group.

When the planning meeting convened, Judy explained the interesting part each was to play and there was much laughing and enthusiasm, but none of the parts were assigned to Linda. Larae was to impersonate an artist and try to sell her pictures which would be humorous drawings of school people and activities.

“But where will we get the pictures?” Larae asked, “I couldn’t draw a cat.”

“That’s where Linda comes in,” Judy explained. “Miss Brown says you’re awfully good in art, Linda. Will you draw the pictures, and in the stunt Larae will pretend that she did?”

Linda’s disappointment turned to anger. So they just wanted her to do a lot of work and someone else was to have the fun and credit. It wasn’t fair. She wouldn’t do it.

“No,” was all she could say as her voice choked up, and she ran out of the room and to the dressing room, tears stinging her eyes.

“Well, if that’s how she feels about it, I guess we can get someone else,” Judy commented. “Let’s go on with the planning.”

“She’s a queer duck,” Larae added.

Linda liked to draw. Why did she feel hurt about this request? Would she have behaved differently if she hadn’t felt so lonely? What would her reaction do to her chances of ever becoming one of this group? What else might she have done? Was it fair for the girls to ask her to do this? Could they have been more tactful in the way they asked her? Do you think they should have been more considerate since she was a new student than if they had known her well? Were you ever on either side of a similar incident?

Do you think you are ever guilty of creating unnecessary emotional strain for your friends without intending to, by being inconsiderate or thoughtless?

Kathy had had a bad day. Everything, since early morning, had seemed to go wrong. Then on the way home from school, Jane had told her that Dick was going to take Ilene to the school harvest dance, and Kathy had really expected that he would ask her.

It was four thirty when she arrived home. There was an MIA chorus practice at five. She decided to go lie down for a few minutes, but when she went to her room she found a basketful of clothes, fresh from the line, dumped on her still unmade bed.

“Why does my room have to be a laundry room?” she stormed.

Her mother came to the door. “I thought you could fold and sprinkle the clothes for me before you go to your practice, but you’ll have to hurry; you’re late today.”

“I wish I’d been later,” Kathy answered; “the minute I come in I find everybody’s been saving up the work for me to do. I never have a chance to do anything I want to do.”

Kathy’s mother had had a bad day, too, and was in no mood to be patient with her daughter’s petulance. “You certainly don’t do very much to help me – you didn’t even get your bed made. A girl your age should be able to take a little responsibility at home – but if ever I ask for fifteen minutes help, there’s a tantrum.”

Hot words flew back and forth for several minutes, then the mother gathered up the clothes and took them to the kitchen.

After a good cry, Kathy daubed powder on her red nose and left the house for her practice without a word. She felt miserably ashamed and unhappy, and her conscience lashed her. Why did she always flare up at her mother? She wasn’t angry at her – she was angry at Ilene, Dick, and her English teacher – or was it herself? She ought to say she was sorry, but why was that so hard to do?

Kathy didn’t know it, but her mother, vigorously slapping the clothes into folds to give vent to her own irritation, was struggling with tears and remorse, too. “Why do I always take out my temper on Kathy? She has her problems and a right to come home tired. It was trying to manage those boys at Primary today and rushing so to get there that really wore me down. Why didn’t I put my arm around her and say, ‘I understand how it is – try not to mind.’”

When you were a little child, you immediately struck out at anything that hurt you. Through the years, you have – or at least by now you should have – learned to control yourself and hold your fighting impulses in check.

In practically every book on behavior or etiquette, you will read that the way to make people like you is to forget about yourself and do the things that are kind and considerate – that make others feel good. That is excellent advice. The catch is that it’s so difficult to follow. You can only imagine how someone else feels, and you feel how you feel, and sometimes quite intensely. At the very moment you are supposed to be thinking about someone else’s feelings, you are often so self-conscious and preoccupied with your own that you can only concentrate on what to do to make you feel better. People whoa re extremely self-conscious in this way may be liked and appreciated by other, very understanding people, but they won’t be really popular. It may help somewhat for you to understand why it’s a good idea to “forget yourself,” but until you learn to manage situations so you can feel comfortable yourself you can’t be really free to be thoughtful of others.

Then, too, it’s all very well to say you must be cheerful and friendly and cater to the wishes of others if you want to be liked, but you are not a paper doll with a permanent painted-on smile. You are a very human young girl, living in contact with many other human individuals whose needs and desires frequently come into conflict with yours. You have your own needs to fulfil and your own personality to protect. It wouldn’t be desirable for you always to be the one to give in, for many times others are very selfish or thoughtless in their demands. You naturally want things to go your way, but you also want the good will and friendliness of others so your life is a constant series of compromises between getting satisfaction directly from the thing you want or want to do or getting it indirectly from the approval of others when you cater to their desires. This conflict is bound to make you feel frustrated and angry occasionally, and what you do about these feelings is very important.
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It is easy to dream of popularity, but not so easy to earn it.
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Exploding like a firecracker over every little thing is bad for your popularity. But to keep bottling up your feelings and acting cheerful, regardless of the effort it takes, while nice for the folks around you, isn’t a process that can go on indefinitely either; for hostility, pushed down inside you, bubbles and boils, and the pressure increases until the lid is bound to blow off eventually, and maybe over some trifle, as in Linda’s and Kathy’s cases. If too much gets stored up, it will warp your personality and may come out in some disguised, hurtful behavior, such as bragging, bossing, or “pushing people around.”

So what can you do? Here are a few suggestions. [footnote: Some of the suggestions in this section have been adapted from: New Ways to Discipline (Barach), McGraw, Hill & Co.; You’re Growing Up (Schacter, Jenkins & Bauer), Scott Foresman & Co.]

A. Learn to get rid of your resentment in small doses. If you can do something to get it out of your system, good feelings can take its place. But you want to get rid of it in ways that won’t hurt you or anyone else, nor your reputation.

1. To talk about it to a really understanding person is one good way.

2. To shut yourself in a room and talk out loud to yourself sometimes helps. You can say all the mean things you’d like to say to others without the consequences of actually “telling them off.”

3. Some vigorous physical activity that uses your surplus energy will help. Ride your bicycle around the block. Drive some nails into a stump. Pound a pillow and play it’s a person you’d like to hit. Play some loud, fast music on the piano; go bat a tennis or croquet ball around.

4. Write down how you feel and why; or draw a mean picture of the person who made you angry. Put it all down. Most likely you’ll be able to laugh and tear it up when you get it done.

B. Learn to think straight about the real issues. It’s easy to blame the wrong person or thing and to be angry at someone else when the fault is at least partly yours. Both Kathy and her mother did a mentally healthy thing in recognizing, at least to themselves, that they weren’t really angry at each other. (Our next chapter will give more help on this.)

C. Discipline yourself to more patience, and learn to “take things” better. Manage your affairs so that you avoid as much unnecessary frustration as possible. It’s important to learn to control your temper, but if you can keep the chips off your shoulders you will have less anger to get rid of.

Don’t make mountains out of trifles.
Don’t shoot butterflies with rifles.

The jingle makes sense. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Sure, things pile up sometimes, but usually it’s no one’s fault. Folks aren’t ganging up to make your life miserable. It’s silly to wail “nobody loves me” whenever you don’t get what you want. If you go around with super-sensitive feelings sticking out all over, they’re bound to get hurt.

D. Be as understanding as possible when someone else feels resentful. Getting along with people, like many other things, should begin at home, but there are some good reasons why you are more apt to put your best foot forward when away. Because of the difference in age and experience of family members, desires and interests often clash; and then, because you feel more relaxed and “at ease” you express your feelings, either good or bad, more freely. If you “take out” the day’s aggravations on someone at home, you should be willing to let others of the family do the same with you. Temper strikes sparks and spreads like fire. But if one person can remain calm, a quarrel can be avoided. For both Kathy and her mother the same incident proved to be the last straw, but because they both understood this, they should be able to talk it over later, and no grudges nor scars need remain.

Good friends can learn to be understanding about each other’s tensions, too.

Why Be Afraid?

As a baby you were afraid of sudden loud noises or loss of support. Any other fears you now have, psychologists would tell you, have been learned since. Some fears should be encouraged because there are many very real dangers in the world. Other fears get in your way.

Stage fright and self-consciousness are fears you have learned. You are afraid of failing, of making mistakes, or of saying or doing the wrong thing. The way to get rid of these fears is to trace back, if you can, and see what earlier experiences have caused them. Then seek opportunities to conquer them by forcing yourself to do over and over the things that seem so hard for you to do.

Begin with little parts on programs and small responsibilities until your self-confidence grows. never let yourself get panicky and back out at the last minute once you have agreed to do something. Let your fear be an incentive for careful and thorough preparation so you will do as well as you can and your abilities will grow with each success.

Even Your Good Feelings Need to Be Managed

Cheer is contagious and spreads to those around you, but expressing exuberance inappropriately or at the wrong times and places won’t help your popularity. Scatter sunshine – but no one appreciates your bubbling happiness if she has reason to feel sad or miserable and is wanting a bit of understanding sympathy, or if it is an occasion for serious or quiet attention.

A sense of humor is a personality asset, but not if you are a giggling goose and can’t control it. No one else enjoys your fun if it’s at her expense. Making fun of others, personal wise cracks, and practical jokes that aren’t funny except to the prankster won’t win you friends. On the other hand, being a good sport about jokes on you and the ability to see the funny side of things that happen to you will help a great deal.

Even affection should be expressed appropriately, especially where it concerns fellows. No matter how much you like a certain boy friend, he doesn’t want you to go on the air about it. Even showing him privately but too enthusiastically how you feel may scare him off. and if your behavior in public is so silly it’s embarrassing to him and your friends, your personality rating will fall like mercury on a cold night.

Emotions are useful and a person who never displayed any feeling would be not only abnormal but dull and uninteresting. However, as we grow up we do need to learn to manage our feelings or they will too completely manage us.



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