Life has challenges. Conflict happens. Stress is a given.
When life happens, often we have emotional reactions in our body faster than our brains can make up stories to understand what’s happening. Mix those emotions with our past history and our personality tendencies and the stories we make up can get pretty crazy. We’ve all heard it said that the key to happiness and satisfaction isn’t what happens to you, but how you respond.
That’s much easier said than done because some emotions are easier to deal with than others. Here are three highly seductive emotions that can lead us down a dangerous path of drama and self-justification. The stakes are high for what we do next in these situations.
Feeling helpless can motivate people to adopt a victim attitude. They decide to give in, compromise, or lose hope. In doing so, they only magnify the problem by giving up control. In some situations it truly is safer to give in, for example, if you are a victim of domestic violence or in a physically dangerous situation. For most of us on a daily basis, helplessness has more to do with the stories we tell ourselves about what we can and can’t do, should or shouldn’t say, or fear of rejection. Most choices made from a feeling of helplessness only make things worse. Here are some tips for helping yourself take back control.
- You are OK no matter what happens to you or what others do to you.
- Focus on what you have control over, let go of the things you can’t control.
- Remember that nobody can control your effort or attitude.
Urgency rarely leads to good decisions. Some people do better under the gun, and that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m referring to people who always seem to feel a sense of urgency to make a decision, get an answer, or get moving. They often act on their impatience by giving unsolicited advice to “help things along.” It’s as if they are trying to spoon feed everyone. Urgency is usually a cover up for fear of losing control or lack of confidence in others. Sometimes people are afraid that if they stop and smell the roses they might experience a backlog of uncomfortable emotions and they don’t know what would happen.
Don’t let urgency lead you down the wrong path, try these tips
- Take five deep breaths and listen to what’s going on inside of you.
- Let others finish their thoughts and ask curious follow-up questions.
- Ask simple open-ended questions and then stop to listen for the answer.
- Remember that the best idea is usually better than your idea.
- Identify what you are most afraid of and disclose it to those you rely on. Ask for help to slow down and take a break.
Desperation is particularly dangerous because people (and animals) do crazy things when they think they have nothing to lose. Often, however, it’s the story we make up that leads to this feeling. Have you ever heard one of these statements?
“You’ve left me no choice but to fire you.”
“Sometimes you have to bring the hammer down to get respect.”
If so, you’ve experienced a person who has told themselves a story about not having choices. The reality is that they don’t want to own their choices or face their deficiencies. So they give ultimatums instead. The rationale is, “If I feel cornered, either blame someone else or turn the tables and attack.”
If you’d like to release the choke-hold of desperation, try these tips:
- Accept that you can’t be perfect and you can’t control the outcome or other people. You can only control your behavior.
- Evaluate what deficit you have and what you can do to change it. Is it a skill-deficit or a deficit in self-awareness and self-control?
- Take responsibility for your decisions, even if it means you are firing someone.
When you feel helpless, urgent, or desperate, be very careful of the stories you are telling yourself and the danger you could be in if you act on it. Instead, ask yourself, “What am I doing to solve the problem and change my experience?