Do You Control Your Emotions or Do Your Emotions Control You?: Developing Mental Toughness
A few days ago I had one of those eerie ‘synchronicity’ experiences. I was contacted by a clinically diagnosed Psychopath and later that same day I turned on my TV and the movie American Psychopath was on. The next day, I went to the book store, to buy a book on recovery from emotional trauma, for research on an upcoming blog.
I found the book I was looking for, stepped over a few feet and propped my elbow up on a shelf, to leaf through it. As I did, I knocked a book onto the floor. I picked it up and looked at the title – The Wisdom of Psychopaths, by Kevin Dutton. I scoffed at the word wisdom and put it back on the shelf. I walked to another part of the bookstore, with my recovery book in hand and everywhere I seemed to look, I saw the word Psychopath. I looked at a few other books, but I couldn’t ignore this voice in my head that was now screaming – you need to read this book – what else do I have to do, hit you with it? So I bought it.
Seldom do I finish reading a book and want to jump up and clap and say bravo, but I actually came pretty close when I finished this one. Dutton illustrates that not all psychopaths have anti-social and violent tendencies. When you remove those aspects from their personalities, what you have left are the qualities that are most highly sought after in Western culture:
- Stoicism – the ability to allow nothing to bother you.
- The absence of emotion or the ability to regulate emotion in decision making.
- The ability to live in the moment.
- Super human ability to concentrate or focus on a task.
- Empathic ability – the ability to read people.
- The ability to be calm and actually thrive under pressure – their heart rate actually slows down in high stress situations.
- Charm – enhanced ability to influence people.
- Quick Thinking and Quick Acting.
After I read this I started thinking I was an anti-psychopath. I felt everything. Highly sensitive people feel not only their pain, but the pain of those around them too. When I was trapped on an emotional rollercoaster with my Narcissists I used emotion in my decision making all the time. How I was feeling always dictated my actions. I let what other people said or did affect me. I procrastinated making decisions, because I had to analyze how they would effect everyone else. I lived in fear. My past affected the choices I made. I was so wrapped up in my emotions that I couldn’t focus on anything else.
When I look back on my relationships now, I realize what made me stay – was my emotions. I was not in control of my feelings, not by a long shot – they definitely controlled me. There is a really excellent documentary called, ‘What the bleep do we know’ (I will include a Youtube link at the bottom of the blog). In it they say that anything that you can’t control, you are addicted to. Could it be – was I addicted to my emotions?
Look at your relationship right now. Imagine if you took emotion completely out of the equation and you looked at your situation with nothing but logic, how would it seem to you then? Would it be logical to stay?
Dutton states that some of the most successful people in the world score high on the Psychopathic Personal Inventory Test (PPI): CEO’s, entrepreneurs, athletes, physicians, politicians, soldiers (the brave lads that took out Bin Ladin), stock brokers, lawyers, members of the clergy… When your emotions don’t rule you, you are able to make sound logical, unemotional decisions based on facts and probability. You are able to focus on your goals and the tasks at hand. Emotional control breeds stability, confidence and higher functioning.
In contrast when your emotions are out of control, your life is in chaos, you’re unstable, unable to focus and functioning from a place of weakness. We’ve all heard the term ‘emotional wreck.’ This is what happens when we let our emotions run amok.
Unlike the psychopath, most of us have fully functioning amygdalas. We feel emotions that can be very hard to control, but like all things, with practice and discipline we can become better at controlling our feelings.
I first heard this term in University. I was the sports editor of the University’s newspaper and I remember being on the sidelines watching the varsity Football team go through their practice drills. The coach would constantly lecture his team on the importance of mental toughness.
I remember thinking this is great stuff, why don’t they teach this to girls. I realized then and there, that this type of thing is what many fathers pass down to their sons and why men seem to be so much better at controlling their emotions than women.
There are many definitions of mental toughness, but for me it means stoicism, emotional control, being in the moment, fearlessness, and focus. It’s not allowing past mistakes to make you fearful and influence your decisions. It’s overcoming adversity. It’s calmness in the face of what frightens you the most. It’s bravery and it’s confidence, with a little swagger thrown in for good measure.
Men pride themselves on their level of mental toughness. These are skills that corporate America seeks in its biggest and brightest, but right out of the gate women are at a disadvantage. We are taught to sit quietly, be pretty, be kind, don’t get dirty, be agreeable, warm and sweet natured.
Mental toughness is a mindset and it can be learned. I have compiled a few tips to help control your emotions and be more mentally tough:
1.When you are in an emotionally charged situation, don’t just react. Take a deep breath and consider your options. Take emotion out of the equation and allow logic to enter into your decision making process and choose the course of action that will best benefit you.
2.Own your feelings. Don’t make excuses like, he made me do this, or he’s making me nuts. How you feel is your business. Don’t blame anyone else for how you feel.
3.When your inner voice, that always wants to take us to a place of hurt, is flashing you thoughts and images of painful things, stop it immediately, don’t allow it to travel any further. Change your focus to something positive.
4.Stop taking responsibility for other people’s junk. Stop apologizing. Own your junk and let other people own theirs. And learn the difference between the two.
5.Be confident, even when you’re not. The more you practice this, the stronger your confidence muscle will become.
6.Be like water off a ducks back. There are always going to be people in your life that will try to make you lose your cool. Recognize the situation when it arises and don’t allow any person, place or thing to knock you off balance. If you see your ex walking down the street with his new woman, don’t run away and cry. Walk confidently right on by.
7.Lose the victim mentality. Meet all challenges from a place of strength.
8.If you are engaging with someone or something that you know isn’t good for you – just stop. Easier said than done, right? But what would logic dictate? Take off the rose colored glasses and start looking at things the way they are, not as you wish them to be. You’ve all heard the expression follow your heart, but take your head with you. If it doesn’t feel right don’t try to change it, don’t feel bad about it, don’t pine about it, just move on.
9.Meet your fears head on. Something only seems impossible until you do it once. Once you have mastery over something that previously seemed impossible, you will feel invincible and it will motivate you to greater and greater heights. Practice doing things that scare you.
10.Choose an image of a strong and fearless woman and model her behavior. Put pictures up all over your environment to remind yourself.
11.Focus on you. It’s the old cliché. But I mean put all of your attention, all of your energy on making you the best you, you could possibly be. Get motivated and get excited about all of the possibilities that await you.
Live long and prosper.
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What the bleep do we know>