The Three Rs of Handling Your Emotions

My son was watching a Richard Scarry video this morning as I was doing my usual rushing around, getting ready to leave the house. He's watched it countless times, but I've never managed to sit through the entire thing. This morning one song caught my attention, "If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands", which I sang many many times as a child in Sunday School, and always followed with "If you're happy and you know it, then your life will surely show it ..." In the version I heard this morning, the first verse was followed by "If you're angry and you know it, stomp your feet", which made me pause a moment. I muttered to my husband, "Since when do kids need to be taught to stomp their feet when they're angry?"

What do we do with anger? What do we do with any of our emotions? Are they a right, a luxury, an indulgence, or just a part of being who we are? Some of us "wear our heart on our sleeves," leaving those around with no doubts about what we're feeling. Others (myself included) tend to keep a poker face, leaving everyone guessing. Sound familiar? Both extremes have their advantages, but as I muttered this morning, kids at least seem to start out putting their emotions out there for all to see, and aren't one bit shy about it.

The key in all of this? What do you DO with the feelings once you've looked them deep in the eye and acknowledged that they are yours? Do you stamp your feet? Clap your hands? Act them out? Give them away? The very bottom line ... do you react, do you release, and do you respond? The three basic R's ... three healthy stages.

Reactions are more or less involuntary and spur of the moment. There is no thought involved, but an instinctive gut reaction based on the emotion you're feeling. Releasing emotions has two parts. First, release everyone but yourself from any responsibility for the emotion. It's your feeling and your responsibility. Then you can choose to release the emotion entirely and give it up to God or to the universe if you wish, or follow it up with a response. Responses are based on thoughts and reasoning rather than feelings. I believe there is a place and a time for all three, so long as the emotions are acknowledged first. At times a gut reaction may be the most healthy and helpful, usually when associated with positive emotions like joy, love, affection, and so on. Negative emotions like anger usually work better when you make it past a gut reaction to release and response.

Sometimes emotions are overwhelming and we almost can't help but react. Making a very raw painting was my reaction to a super-strong feeling of anger a few weeks ago ... rather than break something (my first impulse), I grabbed the brushes and paints and went to it. I admitted I was angry, and then checked my first reaction and let fly with a slightly controlled response instead. Potential disaster and regret averted!

One last thought on sharing your feelings ... letting others know how you feel, especially in a responsive way, gives them the opportunity to respond back to you. Chances are if they can see your face or hear your tone of voice they have a good idea how you feel, but telling them has a much greater impact. The R that doesn't belong, Repression, never helps. Feelings in the open can be addressed, and I love the fact that my son is old enough now to not only stamp his feet and clap his hands, but to tell me how he feels about things so we can talk about it. Go on then ... keep the three R's in mind when dealing with your feelings ... react with abandon, release always, and respond wisely.

Bethany Rule is an experienced personal and professional life coach, championing human development, encouraging change, and helping you break your own rules. Based in NYC, she works with clients all over the world. Please visit http://www.bethanyrule.com to learn more.

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