Controlling your Emotions

Let me ask you a question:

Imagine that in front of you are standing a clown and an angel, each holding a glass of liquid. The angel is holding a glass of nectar, which contains all kinds of good stuff that will refresh your body and soul, revitalise you and in general make you feel good. The clown on the other hand is holding a glass of poison, which contains all kinds of bad stuff that won’t kill you but will make you feel absolutely horrible. Now tell me – which glass should you drink? Well obviously the nectar. Yet we so often choose to drink the poison. Why is that? Everybody has done it at one time or another. Many people (myself included) repeatedly take the glass of poison when the omnipresent clown presents it to you at whatever occasion he wishes.

What I am talking about here is of course allowing unpleasant situations to control the way you feel. Instead of imaginary clowns and angels (we’ll come back to that later), let’s take a more realistic example. You are on your daily commute to work. You stop in the local shop to pick up a newspaper. A little old lady is trying to reach up to a higher shelf to get something and she is obviously struggling. You ask if you can help her. She gratefully accepts and you reach the item for. She thanks you and says “that’s very kind of you”. You tell her that it was a pleasure to help and think nothing of it. You get in your car and continue your drive to work. The roads are wet and it is a bit misty and visibility is poor, so you rightly drive slower than normal to accommodate the bad driving conditions. A car races up behind you, headlights on full beam, overtakes you, horn blaring. The driver opens the passenger-side window as he overtakes you, shouts obscenities, makes an obscene gesture, cuts back dangerously in front of you and races off into the distance. Annoying eh? Well yes, nobody can deny that such a situation is annoying. But it is really up to you how annoyed you get and how long you keep the annoyance with you.

You carry on driving to work seething about the incident. You think about it for the rest of the journey, winding yourself up more and more. You get into work and are still annoyed and you keep it in your head for at least another couple of hours because you want to relate the story to a work colleague during coffee break, which you do. All this time, the incident is becoming more and more exaggerated, more and more engrained on your consciousness. The perpetrator meanwhile has completely forgotten about it. In fact he forgot about it the moment he cut you up and sped off into the distance. He has basically given you a cup of poison, which you accepted and from which you drank (and are still drinking from). Now what about the cup of nectar that the little old lady gave you when she said “that’s very kind of you”? She paid you a compliment. She said you were kind. She offered you a little cup of nectar. Instead of drinking the cup of nectar (thinking about the fact that you performed a kind act), you chose to drink the cup of poison (thinking about the road rage incident). Now why is that?

The crux of the matter is. When you believe that someone has upset you, this is not strictly true. What is actually happening is that you are allowing yourself to be upset by that person. This is very different.

By allowing yourself to be upset by that person, you are allowing them to control your emotions; even if that person is no longer present and has long forgotten the incident. Even if you don’t even know him and you will never see him again in your life, by being upset by his behaviour you are allowing him to control your wellbeing! Now how ludicrous is that?

You have the power within yourself to take control of your own emotions.

After you consciously rationalise the situation applying logic, the evidence in favour of just dropping the situation is indisputable and you can tell yourself to do so. And believe me, this will work. If you just drop it, you will feel a lot better for it.

CBT can also be applied to control your emotions. So let’s apply a little CBT to this hypothetical road rage incident.

  • Fact 1: You are feeling bad because you were wronged
  • Fact 2: You didn’t get his registration number and you did not stupidly risk your life and that of others, by chasing after him.
  • Fact 3: There is nothing more you can do about the situation
  • Fact 4: It is pointless to continue seething about the situation.
  • Fact 5: It would be better for your health and well-being to drop it and think about the fact that someone told you were kind earlier that morning.

The logic is irrefutable. Apply it, and it will help you look at the situation in a more realistic and helpful manner.