That’s My Secret, Captain: I’m Always Angry (Part 2 of 2)
Emotions are powerful tools in the human experience of life. But we must be able to control them. Here are three steps to help you
By Quentin Steen, Representative
In my previous Mental Health Moment, I began to explore the connection between our emotions and their relationship to our mental health. That is, emotions are powerful tools in the human experience of life.
Being angry can help motivate people to do things immediately. It can help you get results. But, since anger is an emotion, and emotions are tools, we must control it. The problem is we usually let our emotions control us.
There is no doubt that our current pandemic has dramatically affected our emotional state of being, collectively and individually. In times of chaos, our feelings are often amplified and, more than often than not, left unchecked, the downlines can be devastating (e.g., broken relationships, mental health disorders).
Given the possibility of subsequent waves of the virus—and no guarantees of where this thing is headed—it becomes even more critical for us to work with our emotions in healthy ways.
As I mentioned last time, my therapist gave me a feelings chart that I was to complete and be prepared to discuss in our next session. It seemed simple enough but to be honest, it was something I really struggled with at first.
My homework was to identify the feelings I felt—only the strong ones—by using the chart given to me. During our next session, we explored my findings. I was making progress, ever so slowly.
Today, I am better equipped to deal with my emotions. I’ve come a long way to know what I’m feeling, but it has taken a long time.
Here are three steps that you might find helpful climbing the staircase of your emotional journey.
1. Recognize Your Feelings
The first step is to recognize when you are feeling something. This might seem like a lame point, but it’s not. It’s essential to understand when you’re feeling something, especially the strong ones. Not to say the subtle ones are not important, but let’s focus on the big ones for now.
How do I know when I’m feeling something? When I feel something, especially a strong feeling, it often manifests itself in my behaviours, which don’t necessarily match the circumstances. An outburst at a grocery store line up is my latest example. When the situation doesn’t justify my behavioural response, then I know I’m feeling something. I might not know what the feeling is in the moment, but I know it’s a feeling. At times, the challenge is to discern.
2. Identify Your Feelings
This is where the chart was a Godsend for me. Once the recognition that I’m feeling something is made, then the work of digging down to try to identify what those feelings are, and what they may be attached to, begins on a deeper level, where they reside in my conscious or subconscious mind.
Sometimes, this can be more difficult to do than other times. It took me a while to realize that it was the feeling of being hurt that produced anger feelings. There have been times when my feelings are more connected to feeling lonely or rejected. This is where the assistance of a trusted professional can be beneficial, if not essential.
There are also times when I need some time between recognizing a feeling and identifying precisely what it is because, at the moment, I’m simply not in the right headspace to do so. In these times, I need to be careful not to exasperate the issue, and the only way I can do so is by removing myself from the situation as soon as possible. The same is true for the next step.
3. Sit with Your Feelings
You managed to recognize that you are feeling something. You found the space and time to do the work necessary to identify the feeling. Now what?
As I mentioned, not only do you need to be in the right headspace for this step, but this is also where the assistance of a trusted professional may be a good start, to sit with our feelings and feel them for what they are. There is a reason they are there, and so we explore those reasons by being curious.
The crucial piece here is understanding and believing that all feelings are valid. Feelings are neither right nor wrong; they just are. There is no morality we need to attach to them.
Our feelings are our emotional reactions to what’s going on around us, consciously or inside of us subconsciously. This requires that we speak to ourselves gently about our feelings and their existence. To be careful about how we talk to ourselves. Asking questions without judgement of ourselves or the circumstances behind them.
Ultimately, we are responsible for the behaviours and actions or inactions behind our feelings. This is the morality part that might be helpful not to repeat the next time around. No one can make us feel something—we do that by our own volition.
For example, say someone cuts me off in traffic, and my immediate reaction is to roll down my window at the next stoplight and in a greenish hue, let them know what I think about their driving habits and general personhood. When my wife Tracy turns to me and asks, “What are you doing?” I attempt to justify my actions. “What? He made me angry. He deserved it.”
But this is simply not true. If I can respond in anger, I can also respond peacefully. It’s all about how my mind encodes the event that makes the difference.
If I allow my mind to create a narrative that the driver is an entitled, ignorant jerk, it makes sense why anger would be my response. But suppose my mind considered a narrative where there was no malice in their actions or that they were, at most, inattentive at the moment, and that we all make mistakes in traffic from time to time, including myself.
In that case, I have the option of a peaceful response. Both responses are equally possible. It all depends on how we allow our mind to encode things.
By the way, this remains a work in progress for me. Some days are better than others, and some are better left unsaid.
Quentin Steen is a certified mental health first aid instructor for the Mental Health Commission of Canada.
Get your BRAIN right and your MIND will follow!
4 Mental Health Resources to Help You During the Pandemic
- If you or someone you know is struggling with a mental health issue, CLAC has a number of resources and interactive tools available to help you at My Health and Wellness.
- Stronger Minds features videos and quick reads from mental health experts, activities to help you gain resilience, and ask-an-expert videos in response to questions.
- WellCan offers free well-being resources to help Canadians develop coping strategies and build resilience to help deal with uncertainty, mental health, and substance abuse concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Wellness Together Canada: Mental Health and Substance Use Support provides free online resources, tools, apps, and connections to trained volunteers and qualified mental health professionals.