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July 2, 2022

How To Handle People’s Emotions (and why you should)

Negative Emotions Are A Part Of Life 

We all experience negative emotions from time to time. It’s part of being human. But it’s interesting that, despite the fact that we all feel negative emotions, we seem to have a difficult time tolerating the negative emotions of others

Maybe your child throws tantrums, or your co-worker complains too much, or your friend expresses themselves more emotionally than you’d like. But it’s a special skill to get comfortable with negative emotions. Ask yourself:  

  • Do you need to learn to tolerate other people’s negative emotions more?
  • Would it be helpful for you to learn not to fragilize others? 
  • Do you tend to think that other people can’t handle their emotions, so you need to save them from feeling bad?
  • Do you need to build confidence that you can handle other people’s negative emotions? 
  • Do you need a better understanding that other people can handle their negative emotions, too?
  • Do you need to be less judgmental of other people’s emotions?

If you need a different approach to managing other people’s negative emotions, then this blog is for you. 

How We Perceive Negative Emotions & Why We Don’t Like Them  

When my son was around 4 years old, he said to me in a very upset tone, “If you do that, I’m gonna cry!” 

I said matter-of-factly, “Go ahead and cry. Mommy thinks it’s okay to cry. Nothing wrong with crying at all.” 

Defeated, he realized he had to find a different way to get what he wanted. But he was also relieved that he was free to feel his tears. 

It’s uncomfortable for us to watch someone in distress. Even children seem to understand this concept. Little kids threaten parents with negative emotions as if they were weapons because they appear to get that other people’s negative emotions make us feel uncomfortable. We don’t like feeling uncomfortable, so sometimes the mere threat of negative emotions is enough for us to throw in the towel. I’ve observed this is particularly true when it’s people we love or care about. 

Remember, back in cave people days, every emotion had a function; they helped us survive. Everyone needed to contribute to ensure the success of the tribe, so problems needed to be solved quickly in order for every tribe member to be functional. But we don’t necessarily need survival skills the way we used to.

Today’s humans have not built a tolerance to negative emotions. We don’t take the time to notice that what the person is feeling actually makes sense. There is tons of psychological research that shows that acknowledging and validating emotions is far more effective than problem-solving or ignoring them! We need connections that help us understand that we’re not alone in this world. We need to create support.

And let’s not forget that as uncomfortable as negative emotions feel in the moment, they are temporary. Your emotional temperature won’t stay hot forever. Eventually, the feeling will pass. Take it from one of the greats. 

“Every storm will run out of rain.” — Maya Angelou 

My hope for my son is that he doesn’t run away from his emotions. He, too, is learning that every emotion will change, and I hope he can express himself comfortably. I am learning that I don’t need to freak out every time he freaks out. I don’t need to jump in and save him from feeling what he needs to feel. We’ll both be okay. 

Homework:

We all have someone we know who wears their emotions on their sleeve. From a child screaming and refusing to get out of the car at school, to your best friend who cries a lot, to the “Debbie Downer” of the group, your parent who feels unstable, a boss who is quick to anger, or your angsty teen.

Consider these steps when interacting with them:

  • Think of these moments as learning opportunities to feel more comfortable with feeling uncomfortable
  • Observe your own feelings; label your physical sensations and emotion(s)
  • Observe your thoughts and urges
  • Now stop, collaborate and listen. Not a joke. 
  1. Stop the urge to problem-solve and change other people’s emotions 
  2. Collaborate and connect with your person
  3. Use old school listening 

Tips For Parents:

Try to observe if you are rescuing your child from valuable learning experiences regarding their emotions. Validate by listening, paraphrasing, and using encouraging words. Remember, all negative emotions suck and feel like they’ll last forever. But they don’t. Feeling these feelings is just human nature, and it will eventually stop, like a storm running out of rain.