Everyone has moments of fear, flashes of anger and twinges of envy. But if your life is dominated by a painful or damaging emotion-paralyzing dread, uncontrollable fury or incessant envy—you are imprisoned by your feelings. Stress rises, self-image suffers, relationships falter...and you lose the ability to simply celebrate life.
You can become free. The key is to master specific techniques that help transform negative feelings into positive ones.
What to do: Consider the three common emotional traps below. Which descriptions trigger a wince, a sigh or some other sign of self-recognition? Those are areas where you can benefit most by working toward emotional freedom. Here's how to…
Transform Fear Into Courage
An emotional response to real or imagined danger, fear can make you abandon good sense and hold you in a chronic state of stress.
Examples: Fear of being alone may keep you trapped in a demeaning relationship even though you know that you should get out...fear of economic insecurity may keep you awake with worry night after night.
What to do…
- Identify the source. Make a list of the things you are afraid of. Then ask yourself where those fears came from. Did a hypercritical parent make you fear that you were unworthy of love? Did growing up poor make you chronically anxious about money? By recognizing such origins, you can predict which situations set off your fear, such as arguing with your husband or incurring an unexpected expense. This helps you feel less panicked when your body's automatic fight-or-flight response to fear causes your heart to race and your muscles to tense.
- Shift your internal response. Be on the lookout for the fearful inner voice that catastrophizes every situation I can't afford a new roof. The water damage will ruin the house, and I'll wind up on the street. When fear speaks, talk back to yourself with the voice of reason I have options. I can negotiate with the roofer or sell Aunt Jane's old silver to pay for the repairs.
- Take courageous action. Identify an easy first step toward changing your situation, then do it.
Example: If you fear leaving a bad relationship, first confide in a trusted friend or therapist. After you accomplish that, take another small step—such as setting a limit on how much time you spend each week with the person you are trying to distance yourself from. Slowly but surely, you will get unstuck from fear as your confidence and courage grow.
Change Anger Into Tranquility
Occasional irritation is normal, but if you often are on the verge of a blowup, you must address the true sources of your anger. Emotional freedom comes from improving situations when possible...and accepting situations over which you have no control. What to do…
- Acknowledge the underlying emotions. Anger often masks feelings of being vulnerable, unappreciated, excluded or powerless. A furious outburst ("You're a terrible friend!") makes others feel defensive or angry in return—but admitting to the deeper emotion ("I felt hurt when you invited the rest of the book club to your party but didn't include me') is likely to elicit compassion and a desire to make amends.
- Ask specifically for what you want. Instead of demanding. "Stop being a slob!" say to your spouse, "rd appreciate it if you would put your dirty dishes in the dishwasher." Limit your comments to the present rather than dredging up past grievances.
- Recognize your own role. How are you contributing to the situations that make you angry? Perhaps you are left off of guest lists because you always argue about politics during parties. Perhaps your spouse leaves the housework to you because you are too critical. Changing your own behavior can prevent future fury.
- Soothe yourself. When a situation is beyond your control (the long line at the post office, the heavy traffic), giving way to anger leads only to behavior that you'll regret-such as speaking rudely to the postal clerk or endangering yourself and others by tailgating.
Better: Use a relaxation technique, such as deep breathing or listening to calming music, to safely dissipate frustration.
Turn Envy Into Self-Esteem
Envy is the desire to have for yourself the advantages or accomplishments of another person. At the root of envy is a sense of your own inferiority.
- Look for a pattern of putting yourself down. Ask yourself if you habitually point out your own shortcomings (I'm an idiot with numbers")...compare yourself negatively ("They are more outgoing than I am")...or deny your own needs ("It's okay if you smoke in the car. Don't worry about my asthma"). Like envy, these signal low self-esteem. Catch yourself when you make such remarks, and replace them with thoughts of self-affirmation-I am well-read..I exercise and keep fit...I deserve to breathe clean air.
- Become the best you can be. Look objectively at the person you envy and identify the attributes that you admire. Which of those traits can you work toward? Maybe you can't aspire to your rich cousin's designer wardrobe, but you can emulate her cheerful disposition. Rather than focusing on the ways in which you and she are different, list ways in which you are similar-you both volunteer, you both have new grandsons-and foster a positive connection by talking with the other person about the things that you have in common. Once you feel more positive about yourself, you'll be able to sincerely celebrate the successes of others.
- Lend a hand. Look around for people who are struggling, and use your talents to provide assistance—for instance, tutoring at a local school or organizing a charity fund-raiser. When you start to see yourself as competent and compassionate, you'll admire yourself more...be more confident of others' affections...and feel little cause for envy of anyone else.
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