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Browse the self-improvement section of your local bookstore. Okay, sorry, scan the headlines on your favorite blog. Either way, what’s the impression that you get?
Humans aren’t robots, but it seems we strive to be. We’re steadily in search for one simple tweak, or hack, that will make us be the most efficient automaton we can possible be.
This will never happen. We are animals.
We are living, breathing, biological organisms driven by our emotions. Suppress your emotions. But that’s rarely good advice. We’re better off learning how to understand them. Then maybe we can make the kind of decisions that lead to better lives.
There are more than four emotions, sure, but that’s how many I’m going to cover here. Let’s get to it.
When we don’t meet a certain standard, we feel ashamed. This can be a societal expectation, familial tradition, academic goal, or workplace norm. It doesn’t matter. When we don’t feel we’re doing what’s expected, we feel bad.
Parents shame children. Communities shame outcasts. People on the internet shame just about everyone. But, more importantly, we shame ourselves. We let fear of what others will say prevent us from taking actions that are for our own good.
Here’s the secret to shame: we don’t talk about it. Rarely does someone say, “I’m shaming you.” Many will deny that they’ve done any such thing. But we all confront shame every day. What can we do?
Talk about it.
Tell others when we feel ashamed. Listen to feedback and learn how to express yourself differently. When you shame someone for doing something you wish you could do yourself, you’re contributing to a stifling culture.
That’s not only bad for conversations around love, faith, and race. This has economic repercussions as well. Employees don’t produce new ideas, take risks, or speak up when they’re surrounded by a corporate culture of shame, and that can lead to a company’s downfall.
Truth #1: Don’t tie your self-worth to what you do or what happens to you.
Shame calls into question our self-worth. To combat shame, separate your value as a person from how people respond to you, no matter how many people tell you otherwise.
- If people don’t like your boyfriend, that says more about them than it does about you.
- If a spouse cheats with a co-worker, that doesn’t mean you’ve failed as a loving person.
- And, if someone criticizes a song you performed, that’s no reason to give up singing.
Guilt and shame make for good bedfellows. But there’s a big difference between the two. Where shame says, “I am bad,” guilt says, “I did something bad.” Have you seen Brené Brown’s above TED Talk? Breaking down shame and guilt is kind of her thing.
Truth #2: Guilt doesn’t mean you’re an awful person.
It means you made a mistake. That means you can salvage yourself. An apology, a second chance, or a gift may be all you need to assuage the feeling of guilt and prevent yourself from falling into a more lasting depression.
For this reason, guilt isn’t inherently unwanted. True, none of us ever want to feel guilty. It’s not anyone’s idea of a good idea. But it does encourage us not to engage in bad behavior.
Let’s say you make a joke over dinner and accidentally hurt a friend’s feelings. Feeling guilty is a good thing. No, you shouldn’t have said what you said, but it’s nice that you notice you did something wrong. This encourages you to do something about it.
Should you have ordered that extra-large soda with your meal? Probably not. Think of all that sugar! But that’s okay. You can make the decision to order water tomorrow, and overall, you’re still making healthy decisions. But if you’re telling yourself that you’re a useless sack as a result, that’s not guilt, that’s shame, and doing a better job next time won’t make you feel better.
There are deeper feelings you need to confront, which is why being able to distinguish between your emotions is a powerful thing.
Take mom guilt, for example. Whether working or staying at home, many mothers feel guilty regardless of what they do. We call this guilt, but there isn’t really anything a mother can do to alleviate the feeling. This is because she’s done nothing wrong.
If she left her child in the car, that’s one thing, but more likely, what she’s really feeling is general sense of shame brought on by cultural expectations. Giving in to that shame can do more harm than being a “bad” mom.
There are two kinds of fear. There’s the kind that arises when you see a bear charging toward you. Then there’s the kind we create, such as the fear of speaking in public.
The first kind is important. You should be afraid of a hungry bear. Getting out of harm’s way can keep you alive. Doing so will let you live to see another day.
The second kind is harmful. It causes anxiety, increases stress levels, and hinders our ability to make prudent decisions. Fear that we create can be summed up by the acronym: False Evidence Appearing Real.
You can turn this kind of fear around. Robert Kiyosaki is the author of the best-selling book Rich Dad Poor Dad: What The Rich Teach Their Kids About Money That the Poor and Middle Class Do Not!. He says fear can lead to financial success once you turn “False Evidence Appearing Real” into “Fail Early and Responsibly”.
Setting the acronyms aside, fictitious fear can lead to real harm. If your spouse loves you today, being afraid of them leaving you doesn’t help your relationship.
Truth #3: Dwelling on that fear may cause the outcome you were trying to prevent!
So, the next time you feel afraid, analyze what you’re feeling. Are you in any real danger? No? Then being afraid probably isn’t the best emotional response. Take a deep breath, and live life a step at a time.
We are social creatures, even the introverted among us. When we go too long without human interaction, we feel it as strongly as any sickness or injury. Technology has only exasperated the issue, with our phones providing the illusion that any moment not spent interacting with another person is a lonely one.
There is a difference between being momentarily alone and a long-term sense of isolation. It’s okay to be alone. We all need to spend time in tune with nothing more than our own thoughts. Art and creativity only spawn when we are not distracted by anything else.
Truth #3: Problems arise when we go weeks, months, or years without feeling connected.
Isolation is the threat many other emotions conceal. The reason shame is effective stems from our desire to be accepted. Whether shame comes from a community, an employer, or a lover, it’s the isolation that we fear. Otherwise we would have nothing to lose by leaving shamers behind to feel what they wish.
Isolation has real effects on our health. Lonely people stand a higher chance of dying. Preventing school shootings and terrorist attacks starts with pulling back into society people who feel disconnected.
To really address loneliness, we can’t think solely of our ourselves. Keep an eye out for others. Go up and speak to someone sitting alone at a party. Say a kind word to someone who appears to be having a rough day. Sometimes it only takes a few words to remind us that we aren’t alone.
If you’re feeling lonely, seek out spaces that work for you. Heavy readers can join a monthly book club. Gamers can play online throughout the week but go to their local board game shop to roll dice with other gamers face-to-face. There are no shortage of apps and websites that can help you connect with people who share your interests.
Emotional Intelligence Can See You Through the Day
Emotions can leave you feeling out of control. To a certain extent, you are. We are all emotional creatures, with our brain chemistry determining how we feel from one moment to the next. But we are also conscious, and emotional intelligence teaches us how to interpret and respond to what we’re feeling.
What emotions do you struggle with? Are stress and anxiety keeping you down? Or are you plagued by a never-ending sense of ennui?
The internet is rarely the safest place to talk about these issues, but if you have advice for others, please share them with us!
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