Improving Our Relationships for Life

It has been my experience that living and working with other people elicits a myriad of positive and negative emotions. Of course, we all enjoy the positive emotions and wish that we could have less, much less, of the negative emotions. One day, I decided to ask two acquaintances the 3 questions (and their corresponding responses) that you see below.

  1. Whenever Negative Emotions are triggered within you, what effect/s do these emotions have on your physical, mental, spiritual well-being?
    • “I feel a strain in my chest area, possibly tension in my stomach as well. My mind is not clear and may be full of negative thoughts and my spiritual well-being is lowered.
    • When negative emotions are triggered, I feel lethargic, drained and depressed.
  2. Whenever someone does or says something to trigger Negative Emotions (like anger, annoyance, resentment, etc.) in you, how do you tend to respond, in general, to that person?
    • I would lash out, express my anger.
    • I tend to keep quiet and avoid the source of negativity.
  3. Does this response of yours tend to make the relationship better, the same, or worse?
    • It makes the relationship worse. My spouse would clam up even more.
    • My response does not make the relationship better but, perhaps I rationalize it, it will also not make it worse.

In my opinion, the above responses are representative of how most people would respond. What we can learn from these typical responses are:

  • Whenever we experience negative emotions, these emotions adversely affect ourwellbeing.
  • The negative emotions we experience often lead us to behave in negative ways: e.g.lashing out or bottling up the negative emotions.
  • Related to the first 2 points above, when someone does or says something to triggernegative emotions in us, we tend to behave in negative ways, and these negativebehaviors adversely affect our relationships (as well us our own wellbeing.)

What we need to focus our attention on is – NEGATIVE EMOTIONS! How do they come about? Is there any value to be derived from Negative Emotions? How do we prevent negative emotions from occurring and/or how do we use them to our advantage?

How Do Negative Emotions Come About?

In our case (The Trip to Makati), does the Wife’s spending almost the entire trip to Makati sending and responding to text messages, the cause of the Husband’s irritation? Let us say that in that same trip, a motorist suddenly cuts into the lane you’re in, causing you to have to step hard on your brakes to prevent being bumped. What emotion are you highly like to experience? ANGER, right? What caused the Anger? You might say that your anger was caused by that idiot motorist who cut you off. In both instances, it is NOT your wife’s texting that caused you to get irritated. It is NOT the motorist’s cutting you off that caused you to be Angry. The events, or what happens around you, do NOT HAVE THE POWER to cause negative emotions in you.

What, then, causes us to experience negative emotions? Below is a visual display of how our
emotions come about.

SITUATION

In life, we face a never ending stream of Situations or Events that take place24 hours a day, everyday! Most, if not, all these events are not of our doing. They just happen. For example, the dogs of your neighbor bark incessantly; the daily newspaper delivered to you is missing a section; your Internet Service Provider is down, yet once again, and you have a very important meeting via zoom in 5 minutes time; the next door neighbor is once again burning leaves which is triggering off your allergy; your child is throwing a tantrum, etc. etc.

INTERPRETATIONS

In every situation we encounter, we utilize our 5 senses (sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch) to take in as much information about the situation. All this information is processed by the brain and given a conscious or subconscious interpretation or meaning. For example, you’re taking a walk and you see a black cat ahead. You might say to yourself, “Oh no! A black cat. This means bad luck. I better get out of here!” In this case, you have made a conscious interpretation about what encountering a black cat means.

In the same scenario of the black cat, it is possible that without you being aware, you find yourself crossing the street to get to the other side, away from the black cat. In which case, you most likely had a subconscious thought that black cats are bad luck!

According to the U.S. National Science Foundation, an average person has about 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts per day. Some neuroscientists, like Michael Gazzaniga of the University of California, estimate that as much as 95% to 98% of all these thoughts occur at a subconscious level. What this simply means is that without our being aware of it, we are interpreting almost all the stimuli coming at us at a subconscious level.

EMOTIONS

Now, here is the “punch line” – Our Emotions are NOT caused by the situation or event at hand, but by our thoughts or interpretations of such. For example, you are a passenger in a commercial flight to Istanbul. Your plane passes through turbulent weather causing it to vibrate heavily. Most passengers would tense up. But some, will continue what they were doing like reading, chatting, watching a movie, etc. as if nothing was happening! If it is the situation or event that causes us to experience the emotion, then all passengers, in our example, should have gotten scared. But, NOT all do, because some perhaps, interpret the plane vibrating, when going through turbulence as normal! And those who get scared, probably think, consciously or subconsciously, that the plane might crash!

ACTIONS

Given our Interpretation or the Thoughts we have about what is happening, and the accompanying emotion/s our interpretations generate, we then Act or Behave accordingly. So, if we think that the heavy vibration of the plane could lead to the plane’s frame splitting up and crashing, we will tense up, breathe rapidly and maybe, even start praying.

So, to the question, how do emotions come about? The simple answer is: our conscious or
subconscious interpretation of the situation at hand, and NOT the Situation itself, is what
creates our emotion!

Is there any value to be derived from Negative Emotions?

YES! The biggest value we can get out of Negative Emotions is that they can serve as triggers to make us aware that there is something in our environment that is in conflict with what we believe “Should Be”. Whenever this happens, we can take the following steps:

  1. Clearly Define the Situation that is triggering the Negative Emotion. What IS happening that you consciously or subconsciously believe should not be happening?
  2. Accept the “Is-ness” of the situation. Let go of your tendency to judge and to think that the situation should not be the way it is. Accept the fact that it is already the way it is. You cannot turn back the hands of time and say that this shouldn’t be happening. You may be absolutely right that it should not be happening. But, the fact is, it IS happening.
  3. If the situation violates laws, or organizational policies, or accepted norms, or personal beliefs you consider to be sacred, take action to correct the situation – if you can. If you have truly accepted the “Is-ness” of the situation, you will most likely not experience any negative emotions and, when you take your “corrective” action, you will be able to do so minus any negative energies coming out of you. In such a scenario, there is a greater likelihood that the other party/ies in the situation will be able to more readily and constructively receive your attempts at corrective action. Another important point of this step is the need to be fully aware of, and ready to, address theconsequences of whatever corrective action/s you decide to take.
  4. If you cannot (or will not) do anything to change the situation (which you believe is in violation of a law / policy / norm / etc.), then accept it for what it IS. If you do not accept the “Is-ness” of this situation, you will end up poisoning yourself (and others) with all your negative emotions. Rather than poisoning yourself and/or others, and just making the situation worse, you might as well take yourself out of that situation, that is, LEAVE! Of course, you must be aware that if and when you leave, there will be corresponding positive and negative consequences! You are 100% responsible for these consequences.

From experience, the above 4 steps are most definitely DO-ABLE, though not easy. Carrying out
the above 4 steps whenever you experience negative emotions, will lead to a significant
decrease in the frequency of situations or people that can trigger you to become upset. This, in
turn, will bring about better relationships and greater PEACE and HAPPINESS in your life!