By Nikki Owen.
Walk into most organisations and you notice that the majority of employees have learned to repress their emotions. People share a common perception that being emotional at work is a sign of weakness and somehow diminishes one’s professional competence. The irony is that organisations want their employees to feel motivated, inspired and engaged – yet these outcomes cannot be attained simply by implementing processes and procedures alone.
Emotions and emotion management are a prominent feature of organisational life. This is why emotional intelligence and neuroscience has started to creep into the curriculum of many learning and development offerings. Rates of anxiety, depression and stress are increasing. The drive to medicate and anaesthetise ourselves from overwhelming negative emotions is rising. Antidepressants, alcohol, drugs or food – we search for ways to soothe the pain that arises from feelings that we’d rather not feel.
Emotions are the natural and innate reaction to thoughts and beliefs relating to a situation. The way we perceive our external reality determines an emotional response. Ultimately, emotions are simply energy and provide important feedback from the unconscious mind designed to guide us safely through the precarious challenges of life.
With the rise of pop psychology we are being told that looking on the bright side of everything and choosing positive emotions is the way to attract more success in life. This belief is damaging. It encourages the suppression of negative emotions and a ‘fake it until you make it’ attitude. This then leads onto inauthenticity and superficial interactions. Although an individual may ‘appear’ positive and upbeat with their ‘Pollyanna’ attitude if they are holding negative emotions in their body these will intensify and fester unless they are acknowledged and released.
How often do you tell someone “I’m fine” when you are anything but fine or you use the phrase “with respect” when you don’t feel respectful? When people say things that don’t align with how they are feeling they appear untrustworthy. Negative emotions such as pain, anger, frustration or stress don’t feel good so we have a natural tendency to want to push them down into the invisible realms where we can’t see or feel them. If emotions become too uncomfortable we learn how to move our awareness away from how we feel and operate mainly in our minds.
When we think, consider, analyse and process we keep things more objective. Yet the emotional turbulence that we are trying to avoid still exists but we remain temporarily unaware of what’s really going on under the surface. Until one day we explode with anger, breakdown with depression or have excruciating panic attacks and can’t sleep. The more we learn to acknowledge and express how we feel in an appropriate and considerate manner ensures that our emotional reactions flow and we behave with greater authenticity.
The healthy way to manage and work in harmony with our emotions, particularly the negative ones is to lean into them and surrender to how we are feeling. We send a signal to the unconscious mind that we have received the emotion and are open to experiencing it. This is vitally important because emotions are not random acts that interrupt our day, they occur because they want to convey a message. If we allow emotions to rise up to the surface then our emotional responses are more likely to be appropriate to situations. If we suppress and bury negative emotions we create a mountain of negativity. This means that our emotional responses become out of proportion to the triggering event.
Learning how to lean into the centre of any negative emotion is the quickest way to help you process that emotion so it can move through your body before it’s released. Here are powerful steps that enable you to work with the full spectrum of your emotional responses without reverting to the need to suppress them.
- Accept that you are feeling what you are feeling. When you reject an emotion you are reject an aspect of yourself and this creates resistance. The more we try to avoid or resist what we feel the more strength we give it until we ‘cannot not’ pay attention to it. When you accept an emotion then you are validating your self worth. For example; “I’m feeling overwhelmed with work at the moment and it’s ok for me to feel like this.” The minute you associate that it’s ok to feel what you are feeling your body relaxes and surrenders to the emotion.
- Notice where you are feeling what you are feeling in your body. How does it feel? Where is it located? Is it heavy or light? Moving or still? As you become aware of your responses, notice that you can change the aspects of the emotion within your body and in doing so this will either increase or decrease the intensity of the emotion. This internal processing naturally creates a sense of objectivity and shows you that you have the power to change, move and alter the emotion should you choose to.
- Ask yourself for the message or the reason why you are feeling what you are feeling? If you hold the presupposition that all emotions within your emotional pallette are designed to help you what important information are you receiving? If you feel anxious what does your unconscious mind want you to pay attention to? If you feel depressed what does your unconscious mind want you to change? If you start to see your emotions as the effects of underlying causes then you build greater self awareness of your emotional needs on a moment by moment basis.
- Lean into your emotions – not away from them. Often the fear of the emotion creates more intensity around that emotion. When you lean into and accept what you are feeling you notice that this changes what you feel. The emotion may be intense initially yet it will always change, soften and flow. Emotions are energetic vibrational frequencies that get interrupted all the time. When you place yourself in the centre of a frequency you distort and interrupt it. You change the emotion.
When business leaders demonstrate high levels of emotional intelligence and self awareness they create a culture that supports a high functioning, high performing workforce.
Collaborative rather than critical, open rather than closed, flowing rather than stuck.