Strong Emotions: Are you a Suppressor or a Rager?
Rachel: Welcome to today’s webinar entitled Strong Emotions: Are you a Suppressor or a Rager? We are thrilled to have Wendy Kaufman with us today, who has provided training and consulting services for many of the Fortune 500 companies.
As Founder and President of Balancing Life’s Issues, Inc., Wendy oversees a targeted network of trainers to bring a wide range of work-life balance programs to corporations, not-for-profit organizations, Employee Assistance Program and educational institutions.
Wendy Kaufman has been the go-to resource for companies committed to providing optimal support to employees.
And without further delay, Wendy, I will turn things over to you.
Wendy Kaufman: Well, thanks! Hi! Welcome everybody! Rachel, can you hear me, we are all good?
Rachel: You sound great.
Wendy Kaufman: Awesome! So today we are really going to get right to it. We are going to talk about what are strong emotions. You can hear so much -- in today’s Wall Street Journal there’s information about handling emotions and how it ties even into exercise, and we are going to talk about what sets us off. What are our triggers and certainly the triggers of our loved ones and coworkers?
And we really want to talk about what is a suppressor and how does it compare with a rager, and what are some of the most important newest strategies of including distractions and soothing techniques, which I think you will find very interesting.
So I am ready to get started. Strong emotions occur everyday. As a matter of fact, I have been working Daniel Goleman and he can tell you that we can experience over 200 emotions a day. Now, maybe 50 of them or 30 of them can be what we consider to be strong, which are the anger, the ecstasy, the irate, the really strong emotions that we can feel in our body.
And the best way to describe it is, if you are driving on a road and someone cuts you off, your body does go into pure flight, right, it goes into the flight mode, and really what happens is your pulses start going, your palms gets sweaty, your heart paces and beats.
And so you have this idea of what happens to your body when strong emotions kick in. And absolutely these are normal and natural, and the part of our brain that heightens up is called the amygdale. That’s the way our bodies are made. They are part of our life and they can be managed.
So the good news is, we all have these strong emotions, we all feel these strong emotions, and they are part and parcel to everybody from, believe it or not, 6 months old and up. So even very infants, what we consider infants, experience strong emotion.
We want to take a step back and say what’s going on is, what do we do with these strong emotions? So if you look at the list you can see they range from the fear, the anger, the sadness; even love is an example of strong emotion. It was Valentine’s day recently, and we have this outpouring of love, and we sometimes feel that it’s so strong it can control us. Ever been so lovesick you can’t think about anything other than significant other?
So all of these are some examples of strong emotions and it’s really important to be attuned to say, when do I feel this, how do I feel this, what’s going on, what happens to our body? We are going to look and feel differently. When I am angry, everybody knows it. When one of the woman who works for me is angry, no one knows it.
What’s really interesting about it is, the more we are attuned to our body, you can answer that question right in your own head and say, you know what, boy, I really need this class and I really wish I would have -- I really wish I didn’t.
I know so for me, how often do I say, I wish I hadn’t said, and I actually have an easier time at work than I do at home, which is pretty common. I work with a psychologist who says, sometimes we know how to behave better to our CEOs than we do to our significant other, so food for thought.
The quicker you identity what sets you off, the more you are able to handle it, and the more that you are able to say you do what you want to say you do.
So look at how your body responds. Look at how we respond in a way that makes us feel proud, that makes us feel good. So the more that you learn to be attuned to your body, the more that you will be successful in handling strong emotions.
For instance, a colleague gets a promotion instead of you, it’s announced at a meeting. That’s a perfect example of a suppressor or a rager. We all know which technique is going to work better, but you can see how it might be easy to become a rager.
Well, maybe if another employee gets all the credit and you really feel like you have done the bulk of the work. How does your body, how does your verbal and nonverbal skills really contain jealousy, and especially when it’s unfair, right, when you deserve something?
For some of us on the phone we are true suppressors, and these are people that just deny and say, it’s okay, I am okay. Do you not speak up when you have been treated unfairly? It’s another silly question, but it makes sense is, if you order a chicken salad sandwich in a restaurant and he brings turkey salad or tuna fish, will you just say, it’s okay, I will eat it anyway? Are you a suppressor? Are you an avoider?
Do you go to bed at night or wake up in the morning saying, I wish I had? Do you just avoid tough conversations? We had a conversation last night, there was a death in my husband’s family and we were at the wake, and I tried to get my husband to talk about his plans, end of life plans. And he is a true suppressor, and it’s, change the topic, I don’t want to talk about it, this is not going to happen, we are not going to have this conversations. That is a definition of a suppressor.
The extreme opposite is a rager, and these are people -- and some people say they tend to be extroverts, but not always. These are people that are blurters. So whatever they think, they say, and what happens is, it’s not always the words they say. So if Rachel was to ask me how I was, and I was a rager, I might answer by saying, fine, I am happy. So my words are okay, but my tone is not.
So it’s really important to take a step back and say, do any of these sound like you? Do you end relationships? Do you have people in your life for years and years and years and years, or you constantly recycle people? And these are really important characteristics to look at whether you tend to be more of a suppressor or you tend to be more of a rager.
Now, either way, suppressors or ragers tend to have negative coping strategies. So whether you are speaking out too loudly, aggressively and rudely, you can overeat or overdrink or overshop or not be able to sleep or take it out on loved ones, but the same is true if you are a suppressor, and that’s why we are so concerned with handling strong emotions well.
Emotional intelligence, the entire field is all about positive coping strategies, and suppressors and ragers tend to really fall into patterns where they do and say things they shouldn’t.
I really have to tell you, on a personal level, I went to college and I was very unhappy and I became extreme suppressor. I never told anybody how unhappy I was. I just went to school. I diligently did my homework. As a matter of fact, I can tell you I got near perfect grades, but between that and eating I gained about 100 pounds; classic negative coping strategy. I am unhappy, I am not going to tell anybody, I am going to substitute food.
We certainly see it with people using drugs and drinking or overshopping, credit card addiction, not sleeping, and ultimately it destroys our relationships, and it destroys relationships that are near and dear to us, that are close to us. So these are very much a concern to say, how can we better handle strong emotions?
So what are some tips, what are the takeaways, why are we here? What’s the purpose of having a class about strong emotions? The first one, doesn’t it sound easy? I mean literally, does that not like the easiest thing on the board to say, stop and think before you act? But it becomes one of the most important advice. I am going to think it all the way through. What’s going to happen when I say this? What’s going to happen when I do this?
Many years ago I had an opportunity to interview a couple that had been married 70 years, 70. They were 91 years old. And the woman said to me, I sometimes go to bed very angry and hating my husband and I wake up loving him. And I was so baffled, because I said, but that’s not what we learn. We learn to never go to bed angry. And she said, well, you know what, some things bother you at night that don’t bother you in the morning.
So it’s a little confusing. There are times where I do recommend suppressing your emotions; going for a walk, saying what do I need to do before I act? If you are a true extrovert like me, it might be calling a friend. You know that phone a friend? That may be a really important tool, because how are you going to get yourself to stop and think, especially at your work?
I can tell you I actually know ragers who have learned to bite on their inner cheek of their mouth, or have a friend or a colleague kick them at a table so that they know now is not the time to speak up, now is the time to stop and think before you act.
The reason that’s so important and I am spending so much time on it is, we want to be able to say things the way we want to be able to say things. We are responsible for our response, no matter what. I don’t care if that person is screaming and yelling at you, you are responsible for your response.
So you definitely get to own that you are angry, you are upset, you are irate, you are overwhelmed, I am certainly not suggesting that you suppress that. I am really angry, I am really disappointed, I am really overwhelmed are all very fair responses. They start with the I word, they are clear, they are concise, they are authentic, and they help us move to a better, healthier place. All of these are options for us to put in our bags.
Now, what’s so interesting about the next two, and they are pretty new, so maybe you haven’t heard of these yet, is this idea of distraction and self-soothing. Let me talk a little bit about these.
Distraction therapy means I am going through a really hard time and I am going to give myself permission to take a break from the emotion.
My dad died and it has been the hardest thing in my world to get over. The strong emotion I feel is grief and despondency, and there are days where I don’t even want to get out of bed. And the way distraction therapy works is, you give yourself a day, you say today I am not going to think about my dad, today I am not going to think about the fact that he is dead, today I am just going to go to work, I am just going to cook dinner, I am just going to do these normal things.
So I am really going to take a step back and give myself permission, permission to not think about it, to allow myself to be distracted. With a movie, with music, with a vacation, with a day off, with a walk on the beach, you get to pick, you get to pick what works for you, what really allows yourself to be distracted.
And I would actually even go further and tell you, allow your family to be on this. We are all going to take a break from this right now.
At work, a good work example, merger and accusation are very, very busy times for companies, or a lot of layoffs, you give yourself an hour or two hours to say, you know what, we are not going to talk about this right now. We are going to table the conversation when it distracts ourselves.
Now, why does it work? A good way to look at it is it dilutes it. So in the morning you can feel despondency, but by the afternoon it changes to sadness. It dilutes. It feels better. It takes the edge off of it.
So it really is important to understand that you can feel it and then you give yourself a permission to say, I just need a break from feeling this. I have to tell you, I am a huge fan of using distraction therapy at times; I think it’s very effective.
Even in counseling, in relationship counseling, when people are so angry or hurt, maybe there has been an affair or maybe there has been a financial situation, I tell counselors, you know what, just go out to dinner and have fun and don’t talk about the issue, don’t concern yourself. Maybe it’s an illness, give yourself a night off on the problem and see how you feel after.
The next one is pretty interesting, because you all understand self-soothing and the idea of a pacifier, right? So a child uses a pacifier because it calms them down, or they suck their thumb because it calms them down. What do you do that actually calms you down? Is it music? What healthy thing I would say you do that calms you down?
Some of the top proven ones are music, meditation, guided imagery, which is really interesting. Guided imagery means that you can visually go on a trip. Maybe it’s a favorite mountain or a favorite beach you have ever been to, and you can close your eyes, or not even close your eyes, but you actually can soothe yourself.
So all of these reduce the intensity, and that’s one of our goals of being here today that we go back to the idea that we feel rage or anger or jealousy or guilt, any of these strong emotions, we are able to say, okay, you know what, I need to turn it down a little bit. I need to feel just a little -- maybe it’s a little resentful, but it’s not total anger, so we take the emotion and we play with it.
We talked about the distraction and we talked about taking the edge off of it. So it’s important to say that this is not denial, because some people get those very much mixed up. So this is, the idea is that it’s a temporary break, you name the begin time and you name the end time.
These are the top ways that work to distract yourself; deep breathing, I love the idea of writing in the journal. There are wonderful apps, if you guys have smartphones that you can use now. There are actually stress apps. I have a new favorite one now called SuperBetter, which is an awesome app that helps you -- you get to pick a goal and it helps you get to that goal.
Counting backwards is a great distraction, because you have to really think, and I say start at 74; 74, 73, 72. You can’t let your mind go anywhere else; you are just going to give yourself a few minutes break from it. And of course exercising and vacation we have talked about.
We did talk about self-soothing and I just want to make sure we do cover everything. We want to heighten all of our senses. So maybe it’s a touch. While you may think this is silly, I have a furry blanket that I watch TV with at night, and I rub my hand, you can hear me, I just rub my hand on my fuzzy blanket. And it’s really interesting, because I can actually feel myself begin to relax. I look forward to my fuzzy blanket.
My son would probably kill me for sharing this, but he is 20, and he went to college, he was very nervous and very anxious, and he took his comforter from home. Well, that’s not so funny except his comforter from home he had when he was five years old.
So touching and tasting and sighting and hearing and smelling, all different research on smell; for some it’s lavender, for some it’s vanilla, for some it’s potpourri, for some it’s actually the smell of what we call the holiday, so it’s keeping the pine smell, anything that works for you, that calms you down. That’s what self-soothing means.
Of course mindfulness, and some of you may know Jon Kabat-Zinn talks about, are you enjoying this minute? Are you enjoying this minute of life? What can you do to enjoy this minute more? That’s what mindfulness means. Not necessarily splitting the small stuff, or don’t split the small stuff, what it really means is that you are enjoying where you are in this moment.
And so I wanted to say there is ton of time for questions and comments at the end, but I also want to make sure we understand that managing our strong emotions is our responsibility. It’s a skill, just like using your iPhone is, or just like using your computer is, so it’s something that we get better at every single day. It’s something that is an essential part of life, because it can destroy relationships, and it also can repair relationships.
It’s important to nip it in the bud. So the quicker that you are able to say, you know what, I will use a personal one, when my husband talks about my weight, it makes me angry, it’s a trigger for me. So he could say something even good about my weight and it’s still a trigger for me.
Identifying your trigger is critically important. For some people it’s touching your stuff that’s a trigger. So the closer you are to the person, the more you want to share the trigger with the other person. Once you learn to manage these strong emotions, once you learn to minimize depression and really minimize raging, you understand that you get to control your response, and you actually get closer to the other person.
And of course we gave you some really good tools; distractions and self-soothing techniques that can help at least tune it down, so we are not feeling so outraged or so furious or so out of control that we can actually solve the problem and focus on that.