The phone rings.
It’s your boss.
He’s just read through the memo you sent him, and he’s not happy.
You spent hours working on that memo for him – going through the legislation, the guidance, the thought leadership, until you finally come up with, in your view, a seriously thought out piece of work. Possibly not what he was expecting – because when you did the research you realised that what you had discussed was not really the best approach, because of a recent finding by one of the courts, and there was a simpler more pragmatic way of doing things – a way you know your client is going to love. So you went with your gut and wrote what you think is the best way forward, and included a bunch of materials for him to read through when he was reviewing it.
“What the hell is this?”, he yells down the phone at you. “I can’t believe you think this is a finished piece of work. Are you stupid? we talked about this, I told you what the position was, and now you come back with this piece of shit. Do it again and I want it before you go home tonight, and I want it to say what I told you it should say”.
“Yes, but ….”
Too late. He’s already rung off. And you cant even go into his office and talk about it, because you have been working from home for the last 6 months, and “popping into the office for a chat” is now a thing of the past.
“What a frigging ass hole”, you say to yourself. “Does he think I am some junior member of staff, just out of uni, with no clue about this? This is my field of expertise, not his. Given the initial conversation we had about this, does he seriously think I am going to write something different if I haven’t thought this out properly? When the hell is he going to start respecting what I have to say, and allow me to voice my opinion? Why is it that if it’s not his way, then it’s not right? Every single frigging time this happens. The guy has an ego the size of a house, giving it the big “I am” all the time. Why the hell do I have to keep putting up with this. I’ve had enough of this ass hole”.
You feel your temperature rising, your stomach is clenched, your hands too. You are so angry with this guy that you think you are going to explode, and you feel the urge to tell the guy where to shove it…..
That phone call from your boss – Sure it wasn’t a pleasant phone call of itself, but it is simply a phone call.
The call of itself is just a fact. An event, neither positive nor negative.
What makes it anything else is how you interpret it. The thoughts that you have about the call, the guy ringing you, what the call tells you about him and his respect (or lack thereof) for you.
The reaction you have – in your body, your brain, your face – the emotions you feel – they come along in response to those thoughts, the judgment and interpretation that you have of the situation.
The thoughts that you have are different and separate to the emotions that you feel – even if there is an interaction between the two.
Your thoughts are just thoughts. We are all entitled to our thoughts and opinions, and it doesn’t make them true. Someone else in the exact same situation may have had different thoughts and interpretations of that call – perhaps that while the boss sure is rude, he is under a lot of stress from the client to get this piece of work to him, and perhaps he knows something you don’t.
Your emotions, on the other hand, they are true. They are true to you, because they are what you feel.
Anger. Resentment. Frustration.
Work around emotional intelligence – and more specifically ensuring that when we make decisions or take actions we do this from a calm place, not a place riled up by emotions – has got to start with understanding and making a clear distinction between our thoughts and emotions. Understanding the first to be just thoughts, and being ready to validate the second, our emotions.
When we can learn to name and validate our emotions, we can start to return to base line – return to a “quote/ unquote” wise mind, one where both our rational and emotional parts are in harmony and in balance. Where we make decisions or take actions when we are either hyper emotional or hyper rational, that’s where things can get a bit messy.
The problem for many of us, however, is that we never learned a vocabulary to talk about our emotions. While there are core emotions like anger, joy, fear, sadness – there are many many words for each. And there are some emotions that we were brought up to think were “good” emotions to be shared and celebrated, others that were “bad” and had to be hidden
So when we feel an emotion, it might be really difficult to name it.
Instead, we might say “I feel out of control. I feel that he is disrepecting me. I feel stupid”.
Those arent feelings. They are also thoughts and judgments. Even if we use the word “feel” in the sentence.
And so long as we can’t name the emotion, we stuff it deep inside ourselves so we can’t feel it, and we sure as hell cant accept it.
And that’s where the suffering begins.
And so, it is never too late to start. Or too young either. Understanding, naming, and validating our emotions.
When we learn to name and validate the emotion of anger, we might still think our boss is an asshole, but at least we will be calm when we respond to that call rather than do something that might end us up in deep shit at work …
Thoughts and emotions – this is what this first conversation in our series “Jo and JJ go Mental … Health” is about.
- realising that thoughts are just thoughts, they are not necessarily true. We can have an opinion about something, but it doesn’t mean its true. We want to recognise its a thought, but nothing more
- realising also that on the other hand, our emotions are real – they are what we feel, and we are allowed to feel them. We need to validate our emotions, so that we can accept them. It is only in accepting them that we can move forward. If we don’t accept the emotions that we feel – because we don’t want to, because we think that its not socially acceptable, for example – that leads to pain and suffering. And who the hell wants to have that in their lives?
- When we accept our emotion, we can bring ourselves back down to base line – our wise mind. That ideal overlap between our emotional and rational responses. When we are back in wise mind, we can react calmly to the situation, and say and do things that are a lot more helpful to us.
Very specifically we cover the following elements in this conversation: