4 practices that have made an immense difference in controlling my emotion in tense moments are as follows:
Own the emotion
Emotional responsibility is the precondition of emotional influence. You can’t change an emotion you don’t own. The first thing I do when struck by an overpowering feeling or impulse is to accept responsibility for its existence. My mental script is, “This is about me, not about that or them.” Emotions come prepackaged with tacit external attribution. Because an external event always precedes my experience of an emotion, it’s easy to assume that event caused it. But as long as I believe it was externally caused I am doomed to be a victim to my emotions.
Name the story
Next, you need to reflect on how you colluded with the initial event to create the present emotion. Emotions are the result of both what happens, and of the story you tell yourself about what happened. One of the powerful practices that helps me detach from and take control of my emotions is to name the stories I tell.
Is it a victim story, one that emphasizes my virtues and absolves me of responsibility for what is happening?
Is it a villain story, one that exaggerates the faults of others and attributes what’s happening to their evil motives?
Is it a helpless story, one that convinces me that any healthy course of action (like listening humbly, speaking up honestly) is pointless?
Naming my stories helps me see them for what they are , only one of myriad ways I can make sense of what’s happening
Challenge the Story
Once you identify the story, you can take control by asking yourself questions that provoke you out of your victim, villain, and helpless stories.
For example, I transform myself from a victim into an actor by asking, “What am I pretending not to know about my role in this situation?”
I transform the other person from a villain into a human by asking, “Why would a reasonable, rational, and decent person say this?” and I transform myself from helpless into able by asking, “What’s the right thing to do now to move toward what I really want?”
As I pondered these questions in my interaction with the other person, I saw how my impatience and arrogance, was a big part of why he was saying this. As I asked, “What is the right thing to do…” I felt an immediate release from resentment and anger.
A calming humility emerged. And, I began to ask questions rather than present my defense.
Find your primal story
Over the years, I’ve wondered why the stories I tell myself are so predictable. And that most people have habitual stories they tell
in predictable circumstances as well. Early life experiences that we perceived at the time to be threats to our safety and worth become encoded in our potent memories.
When my chest got tight sitting across from the other person, simply thinking, “This can’t hurt me” and “Humility is strength not weakness” had an immediate calming effect. Reciting a specific script in moments of emotional provocation weakens trauma induced reaction that is not relevant in the present moment.