Years ago, our teenage daughter got us hooked on an MTV show called Catfish. As you can see from Urban Dictionary’s definition, this show follows hosts that help people find out if they are being “catfished” and who the “catfish” really is. It seems to be an emotional roller coaster for the victim as they find out that the person they have strong feelings for isn’t who they say they are. In some cases, the victims are willing to move across the country to be with a person they’ve never met (and perhaps never talked to on the phone or video chatted with). When they realize that they’ve been duped, their whole world is turned upside down.
As a family we typically sat there shaking our heads wondering how someone could have such strong feelings toward a person they’ve never met. How could someone be willing to pick up and move to another state to be next to a person who won’t even talk to them on the phone? As crazy as that sounds, I do know the answer to why someone would do that – emotions.
Our emotions are powerful things. They are neither good, nor bad. They just are. Emotions are tools meant to work in conjunction with our brain to help us problem solve and protect ourselves. For instance, a feeling of fear should trigger our brains to determine a safe course of action. Should we flee or stay and fight? Hurt feelings should relay to the brain that another person’s behavior isn’t appropriate and we need to determine whether to address the behavior or let it go. In other words, our brain needs to be engaged whenever we feel something. Otherwise, it’s just our emotions running amok . . . hence the folks on Catfish. When they contact the hosts of Catfish you can see that they are finally engaging their brain and thinking things through, which is great. Prior to that, however, it was all emotion, all the time. Emotions had full control of the wheel.
This was an issue I have had to work through most of my adult life. My counselor told me that I was a “heart” person because I tended to hand over the wheel to whatever I was feeling prior to letting my thoughts join the party. As helpful as emotions can be, I’ve found that they can be destructive in relationships if not put in check. We’ve all heard of “crimes of passion” and experienced arguments that result in hurtful words that can never be unspoken. Letting emotions speak for you leads to damaged relationships – especially in marriage.
Here are some helpful tips I’ve learned along the way that assist me when I need to let BOTH my heart and brain take the wheel:
- When you feel something, stop. Don’t react. Instead, if you are able, take a moment to examine the feeling and name it. Are you hurt or offended? Are you angry or frustrated and who are you angry or frustrated with – someone else or yourself? Sometimes we can’t take a lot of time with this based on the circumstance, so if you need to step away and come back to the person and/or issue, do that. It’s always better to take a step back and reflect before words are spoken that can’t be unspoken. Identifying what you feel will help your brain determine next steps.
- Determine whether what you are feeling is based on something external or something internal. Was that person truly rude to you, or were they simply sharing information and you took it personally? So often arguments and conflicts arise due to miscommunication and misunderstanding. We tend to lash out at others for a feeling that is cultivated from our own issues. Being a heart person, myself, I have been guilty of having hurt feelings and accusing others of hurting me when it was the way I interpreted their information that caused the feelings. I just took something personal that was never intended to be. And, if I’m engaging my brain appropriately, this should trigger me to work through exactly why I’m taking the information personally so I can move past it.
- Try to respond to the other person using your thoughts and not your emotion. If your emotions and your thoughts have determined that you need to address someone who has truly hurt you with their words or actions, try to let your brain do the talking and keep your emotions in check. This is tough – believe me . . . I know. But if we try to talk to someone when emotions are high the conversation will almost always go south. Speak clearly, identifying what the issue is , how you now feel about it, and request ways to work through the issue together. In marriage, this means that you avoid “you” language and use “I” language: “I am hurt following our conversation earlier and I’d like to talk about ways we can move past that issue and find a resolution.” or “I was feeling frustrated when we spoke and I feel like we said things we didn’t mean. I’d like to start over and find a better solution.” Again, not easy to do. But, emotions tend to put the other person on the defensive. And, if you are married to someone who shuts down when emotions run high, then you want to stay as calm and rational as possible.
I’m sure there are many more tools to help when it comes to managing our emotions, but these have been the most helpful to me and I hope you find them helpful as well. If you have some great tools I’d love to hear from you. We can’t control how we feel, but we can manage what we do with those feelings!