Posted in Life & Happiness

The Story You Tell Yourself

It is the human condition to be our own worst enemies. Yes, life can get hard and it will throw various obstacles and challenges at us, creating all kinds of stress and distress. However, much of our anguish will come from the stories we tell ourselves.

We often think that we feel emotions as a reaction to a stimulus or a change in our environment. This makes us feel powerless and as if we are slaves to our emotions. In reality though, our emotions are usually reactions to our thoughts.

For example, when a relative or someone close to us dies, we feel sad. This may seem like an automatic response, but we first process the information with our rational mind and tell ourselves the story that we will miss them, or that we will never see them again. Our sadness is a reaction to the thought process rather than a direct result of the event.

In this case, the emotional reaction is highly appropriate. The problem is that it is extremely common for us to tell ourselves the wrong story.

A good example would be insecurities. If you ever notice yourself feeling inexplicably anxious, sad or angry, ask yourself the question: what am I telling myself?

You may find that the reason that you are angry every time your colleague talks to you is because you are telling yourself that they are lazy. You may be frustrated whenever a friend doesn’t reply back to your messages because you think they are avoiding you. You may feel sad whenever you look in the mirror because you tell yourself that you are not physically attractive enough. You may be telling yourself that your partner does not love you whenever they go quiet and withdrawn suddenly.

The importance of understanding this concept is that it lets you be more in control of your emotions and lets you diagnose the problems affecting your mental health. Once you know what story is causing the emotion, you can examine the story. When we run the story through a rational filter, we may find that our reaction was completely irrational.

The “lazy” co-worker may be going through a rough time making it difficult for them to work efficiently. Your friend may be busy at work, hence not able to reply. You may be objectively attractive and in good physical health, but your poor self-confidence may be creating a false story. It could be that withdrawing themselves is your partner’s normal coping mechanism when they are dealing with their own problem and it may have nothing to do with you.

This is also useful in a relationship setting, as you can ask your partner how your actions make them feel and what they are telling themselves in that situation to better break down what the true issue is. This lets you both resolve the issue in a more constructive, peaceful manner.

The bottom line is, to improve our mental health, we must examine and alter the stories we tell ourselves. If you tell yourself the worst stories, it will become reality. So ask yourself: what kind of stories am I telling myself and how is it affecting my life? You may be surprised to see how different life can be when you get your stories straight.

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Posted in Life & Happiness

Express Yourself

Emotion is a funny thing, in that we all feel emotions, but we each express them in different ways. Some people are great at verbalising how they are feeling about something, while others will be reluctant to share their emotional state with others. There are many factors involved, such as the individual’s upbringing, cultural background, personality type and past experiences.

In general, society seems to encourage people to hide their emotions. People who cry in front of others are seen as weak and fragile. People who smile and laugh a lot are seen as untrustworthy or foolish. Because of these stigmas, people learn to hide their emotions more and more as they grow up. We try our best to appear rational, calm and professional in the eyes of others.

But emotion is not a tame horse that can be controlled so easily. It is like a wild elephant that will behave irrationally and impulsively, and as the rider, we can only try to steer it on the right path. Because the elephant is so much more powerful than the rider, it is foolish to resist against it and try to force it to go a certain way.

This means that when people try to stop their emotions, it finds another way to be expressed. When you suppress your anger and worries, it manifests as cranky behaviour, causing you to lash out at the blameless people around you. When you try to hold back your tears, it will build up and up until it causes subconscious trauma. Worst of all, if you continue to suppress your emotions, your emotional intelligence will dim, and your ability to recognise and interpret your emotions will atrophy away. This will make you even more vulnerable to extreme swings in emotions, giving you even less control.

The solution to all of this is simple – express yourself. It is okay to cry. It is okay to laugh. It is okay to feel. Watch a sappy movie or a hilarious show to explore the breadth of your emotional range. Practise laughing out loud often. Make it a habit to be mindful of how you are feeling currently, and be comfortable in expressing that to another human being.

Emotions are a natural part of our identity and others have no right to strip that away from you to make you a lesser person. Of course, you need to be able to read the room and be able to compose yourself if the situation calls for it, but for the most part, little harm can come from you being able to show others how you are feeling.

More importantly, it is difficult for your loved ones to truly understand who you are if you do not communicate your emotions to them. If you didn’t share that you were stressed at work today, they may think your sullen mood and solemnity were due to their wrongdoing. Emotion drives us in so many different ways, so it is impossible for your partner to understand the intent behind your actions and words if they don’t know how you are feeling. Communication helps clear up the misunderstandings, letting you build a deeper connection.

Embrace the emotional elephant within you and learn to become friends with it. It will make the journey of life much smoother and less rocky.

(Image source: Puuung http://www.grafolio.com/puuung1)

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Posted in Psychology & Medicine

Emotional Intelligence

Out of all the traits and skills we value, admire and teach to our children, one of the most neglected seems to be that of emotional intelligence. Most people are not even aware what emotional intelligence really means.

Emotional intelligence can be summarised as the ability to recognise, analyse and control the emotions of yourself and others around you. It begins with recognising the presence of an emotion, either through mindfulness or empathy. Once the emotion has been identified, analyse that emotion: where it came from, what effect it is having on the current situation and what the subtext may be. Lastly, use this information to prevent yourself from overreacting, or to understand why someone may be reacting so defensively or aggressively and how to defuse the situation.

Harnessing the power of emotions is a very useful skill. We like to think of ourselves as highly advanced, intelligent beings, but we are still ruled by basic instincts and emotions embedded deep in our brains. Emotional intelligence works to give us more control over our behaviour and unlocking the power to live a happier life. More importantly, it lets us improve the lives of those around us as we are less likely to do or say hurtful things, while being a more kind, supportive human being.

Let us take an example. You are frustrated at your partner because she has not texted back for over a day. Using emotional intelligence, you recognise that you are feeling angry, but also disappointment and rejection. Further analysis shows that these stem from a subconscious expectation that if she cared about you, she would have texted you. The real reason that you are angry at your partner stems from your insecurities, possibly even past trust or abandonment issues. You also remember that she has been very stressed with a project recently, so she may not be in the mood to talk. The end result is that instead of sending passive-aggressive signals at your partner and creating a rift in your relationship, you bring some chocolate ice cream to cheer your partner up.

Like any other kind of intelligence, emotional intelligence must be learned through education and practice. We cannot rein in our emotions if we have never thought about how our past affects us or what motivates or scares us. We cannot possibly understand why the other person is reacting a certain way, if we never trained the ability to see things from their perspective. We cannot help others process emotions such as depression and anxiety, if we cannot understand our own emotions.

We can teach ourselves to be more emotionally intelligent. Meditation and self-reflection allows us to catalogue and interpret your range of emotions. Reading books helps us understand that other people may have a different way of seeing the world. Having deep and meaningful conversations with your loved ones lets you clear up misunderstandings and better learn why people react a certain way in given situations.

We can then apply this knowledge to constantly hone our skills. It may sound exhausting, but every time you feel a strong emotion – whether it is negative or positive – try to analyse it with your rational mind. The more you practise, the more you will be in touch with your own emotions.

Emotional intelligence is an invaluable tool on the journey of life. With increasing levels of emotional intelligence, you quickly realise why things are the way they are. We are all scared little children in the playground, pulling someone’s hair because we cannot tell them that we love them, or punching someone in the face because we cannot withstand the inexplicable surges of insecurity and self-doubt.

Now look back on yourself: how have emotions affected your life and your relationships? What fights and sufferings could have been avoided had you stopped to interpret the emotions and simply talked things out?
The emotional side of you is an integral part of your identity. Why make it your worst enemy when it can be your best ally?

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