Denial does not work. If we deny something then we prevent ourselves from understanding it. If we are to understand the human experience then we must not deny any part of it. This is especially true of our emotions.
When we deny a feeling then it persists. It keeps nagging us. We might try ignoring it but that doesn't help. We must accept all our emotions. We own all our feelings so that we are not frightened or confused by them.
Learn to observe and choose responses
A great way to understand and master the human experience is to be able to center (identify) yourself with your soul deep within your heart center, or place yourself in an inner space from where you can observe all that is going on in the body, emotions, and mind. From this peaceful, non-attached vantage point we can observe the experience arising in the body, emotions, and mind and we can choose how to relate to all these experiences. For example, hatred may arise and from our vantage point we can choose whether to co-operate with it or not. We become self-masters when we are able to choose whether or not to cooperate with that which is arising in our body, emotions (heart), and mind. This is central to any self development work.
How do emotions work?
The human brain is split into three main catagories:
- Hind brain: Basic survival "fight or flight/flee" part of the brain that generates emotions relating to our life events. The hind brain generates hormones that enter our bloodstream and instruct the body to either "fight" the oncoming event or "flee" from it. We experience these hormones as "basic emotions" and of course we have many other emotions that are not just "fight or flight" responses.
- Fore brain: The basic management thinking part of our brain. This is where our brain thinks about what is going on and tries to decide the best plan of action.
- Top brain (neo cortex): The place where all our higher thoughts, emotions, imaginations, creativity, philosophy, and wonder happens. This is the part of the brain that distinguishes a human from an animal
Embrace all our emotions
When we feel or express an emotion then we must own it. We must not deny the emotion or project it onto somebody else. If we feel strong hatred towards a person or a thing then we must admit to ourself how we feel. For example, "I hate Mr Richardson" or "I hate going shopping". Then we can take several deep breaths and think to ourself, "I feel hatred for (such and such) but I will be faced with the situation, so can I let go of the hatred (applying non-hatred) or transform the emotion to a healthier one: Mr Richardson is ok, perhaps he is very unhappy and has lots of problems and that is why he behaves the way he does.
black and white thinking
When the hind-brain is in control and we are experiencing strong emotional arousal then we are involved in very simplistic "black and white" thinking.
- DESIRE: We want something and we must have it
- AVERSION: We don't want something and we must not have it
With hind-brain emotional activity, there is no middle ground, no thoughtfulness, no consideration of what we are experiencing. Little planning or self-control or the ability to broaden our mind to consider many different approaches to the situation.
Black and white thinking is "all or nothing" and it is the hallmark of anxious, depressed, or manic people. The emotional arousal overtakes the fore-brain thoughtfulness and the person becomes a victim of their emotional states. They have lost control.
Learning to relax
The key to calming the hind-brain, understanding our emotions, and overcoming "black and white" thinking is simply to learn how to relax.
Breathing: The Golden Tool to relaxation and mind control
"As the mind, so the breath. As the breath, so the mind."
Taking control of our breathing is the most ancient and most successful way to calm, relaxation, and taking control of our mind. Next time you become stressed or anxious, check your breathing. Is it short, sharp, difficult, through the mouth, pain and tension across the chest? All these are symptoms of emotional arousal, the hind-brain kicking in and creating those "fight-or-flight" hormones.
Taking control of our breath: 7/11 Deep Breathing
Learn a special type of breathing, not into your chest but deep into your tummy or diaphragm which is below your chest. The important thing here is that the out breath must be longer that the in breath. This causes stimulation of the part of your nervous system responsible for relaxation. This is a basic law of biology and if you breathe in this way then your body will have no choice but to relax.
It may take a few minutes but the body will respond regardless of what your mind is thinking. Experience this now. Sit down and close your eyes for a little while. Just become aware of your breathing.and breathe in to the count of seven and breathe out to the count of eleven. You can hold for a couple of seconds at the bottom of the out breath if that's comfortable for you.
If you can't manage a seven second inbreath, then take the longest inbreath that you can (eg: 4 seconds) and simply extend the outbreath to be at least two seconds longer than the inbreath (eg: 6 seconds). Do this at least 20 times and then begin to increase the length of the inbreath and the outbreath, always ensuring that the outbreath is at least two seconds longer than the inbreath.
It may be a little difficult at first, but doing this regularly causes your general anxiety level to come down. You may also find that you begin to breathe this way automatically if you feel anxious. Regular relaxation actually starts to inhibit the production of stress hormones in the body so it actually becomes harder and harder to panic. As you become more generally relaxed the 'baseline' of arousal from which you are starting lowers. It actually becomes harder to get stressed!
Identifying our emotions
Once we have mastered the 7/11 Deep Breathing Technique and learned how to relax then we can take control of our body, emotions, and mind just by taking control of our breathing. No need for sedatives, tranquilisers, or any other external tool, just master the 7/11 Deep Breathing Technique and your life will quickly change for the better.
Now we are in a position to allow the fore-brain to beginning analysing the situation. We have become cool, calm, and collected. Now we can identify what emotion we have just experienced and why. If you are unsure about the types of emotions that we have then study the emotions page. If this is too difficult then try to find somebody to talk to about it.
We have calmed down using the 7/11 breathing technique and we have identified the emotion and why we had it. What now? This all depends on the situation but we have "disarmed" the dangerous and harmful state of hind-brain reactions. We are now in a position of calm to consider what is the best action to take. We may feel that we don't need to do anything, that is was just a passing emotional response. We may feel that we can apply the opposite emotion and thus attempt to create a positive result from a possibly negative situation. We may feel that we need to take action but now we can do this from a calm, thoughtful, and deliberate stance, not flying off the handle in a mindless emotional reaction.
Self Control is Success!
Whatever we decide to do next about the initial emotional reaction, we have actually succeeded in taking control of our body, emotion, and mind, and this is a glorious moment. Never again will we be the victim of our emotional reactions. We have learned the art of self-control. This is the mark of maturity and of true adulthood. Well done.
By taking time to learn about the science of emotional reactions and how to use your breath as your golden tool of self-control, you can now go forward into your life with confidence and maturity.
Reward yourself and be happy.