We might very often find ourselves letting our emotions get the best of us and say or do something that hurts an important relationship – whether in our families or workplaces.
Our emotions can drive us to act in ways that cut us off from connection and the intimacy that we all need and crave.
In the #1 New York Times Bestseller, Rising Strong, author Brené Brown calls on us to recognize emotion, and get curious about our feelings and how they connect with the way we think and behave by 1) engaging with our feelings, and (2) getting curious about the story behind the feelings—what emotions we’re experiencing and how they are connected to our thoughts and behaviors.
Brene Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston and holds the Huffington Foundation Endowed Chair at The Graduate College of Social Work. She has spent the past two decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy, authored five #1 New York Times bestsellers, and is the host of the weekly Spotify Original podcasts Unlocking Us and Dare to Lead.
As Dr. Brown points out in Rising Strong “when I start rehearsing mean-spirited ‘gotcha’ conversations, I’m normally feeling vulnerable or afraid.”
She acknowledges how much easier it is to steamroll right over emotion and jump to “so-and-so is such an asshole” and “Who cares?” without any recognition of emotion.
Many of us are raised believing that emotions aren’t worthy of our attention. In fact, Dr. Brown notes, most of us were never taught how to hold discomfort, sit with it, or communicate it, only how to discharge or dump it, or to pretend that it’s not happening. We also don’t have access to emotional language or a full emotional vocabulary.
In Rising Strong, Dr. Brown points out that emotions like hurt don’t go away simply because we don’t acknowledge them. In fact, if left unchecked, it festers, grows, and leads to behaviors that are completely out of line with whom we want to be, and thinking that can sabotage our relationships and careers.
The irony, she says, “is that at the exact same time that we are creating distance between ourselves and the people around us by off-loading onto others, we are craving deeper emotional connection and richer emotional lives.”
I know firsthand both personally and in my two-plus decades as a family lawyer, that uncontrolled eruptions of emotion endanger the emotional and physical safety that we try to create in our families, and also in our workplaces.
At the same time, medical resources show that when we try to hide or ignore emotions, they go deep within and can cause ulcers, back pain, and any number of illnesses.
Behind our emotions lies the meanings we make. In Rising Strong, Brene Brown points out that meaning-making is in our biology, and our default is often to come up with a story that makes sense, feels familiar, and offers us insight into how best to self-protect. We make up hidden stories that tell us who is against us and who is with us. We start weaving these hidden, false stories into our lives and they eventually distort who we are and how we relate to others.
What can we do?
According to Dr. Brown, we can start by getting curious about our own emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. We can commit to understanding and staying curious about how emotions, thoughts, and behaviors are connected in the people we love and lead, and how those factors affect relationships and perception.
We can commit to blaming others less and holding ourselves more accountable for asking for what we need and want. We can parent by telling our kids that it’s ok to be sad or hurt- it’s normal and we just need to talk about it.
As difficult and uncomfortable as it is to talk about emotions, not talking about them ultimately causes greater disconnection and damage to relationships than feeling our way through them and committing to learning an empowering vocabulary to have tough conversations.
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