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SALT LAKE CITY — In this edition of LIFEadvice, Coach Kim talks about how to become more psychologically mature and eliminate emotional reactions.
I am, admittedly, a drama queen. I overreact to things and am even prone to temper tantrum-like behavior. I get offended easily and am almost always mad, sad or upset about something. What is wrong with me? Can you give me any advice that would help me not feel this way? I know these upset feelings are having a negative effect on my marriage, and I really want to change.
I'm going to give it to you straight if that's OK. You are basically psychologically immature. You let your subconscious programing and your emotions drive. It's not your fault though. You were probably never taught another way of being, and you have been doing the best you could with what you knew. You may have had a parent who was the same way (reactive, easily offended or emotionally defensive).
Some people were lucky enough to have psychologically mature parents who taught them how to think situations through accurately and logically, and talk about feelings in a respectful way, but I would guess you didn't get that.
The good news is that you change and learn to handle your life with more wisdom, compassion and mindfulness, but it is going to take some work. I would also strongly suggest getting some professional help. A guide who knows how to get you there would make changing a lot easier.
Tal Ben-Shahar, an author and lecturer at Harvard University and the author of the book "Being Happy," says psychological maturity has three components.
- The ability to step back from a situation and see it from a more "big picture" perspective, letting go of your first emotional reaction and consciously choosing a more logical response.
- The capacity to step back and see things from another person's point of view.
- The ability to detach from your need to be right and become teachable and open to changing your perspective in any situation.
Go through this process before you react to anything:
- How big a deal will this be 10 years from now? Step back from this problem and try to get a long-term perspective on it. Chances are in the long haul this isn't that big of a deal.
- Am I taking this more personally than I have to? Most people behave badly only because they are scared themselves.They are either afraid of being insulted or looking bad (failure) or being taken from, cheated or wronged (loss). These two fears drive most human behavior. You must always ask yourself, "What is this person scared of? If you can identify their fear you will understand — it isn't really about you.
- What does this other person really want and need? What is the underlying cause of their behavior? Most people behave badly because they need love, attention, reassurance or validation. Bad behavior is not a good way to request validation, but this person may not know a better way. When other people are behaving badly, choose to give them what they really need (even if they don't deserve it). Being loving is the right answer in most situations.
- Is my fear of failure (not being good enough) in the way? If you have low self-esteem, this makes you see insults in everything. It makes you blow problems out of proportion and get offended by things that really can't hurt you. You may need some professional help to improve your self-esteem before your self-control will improve. It's worth whatever it costs for the peace it will create in your home. You must also remember that nothing can diminish you. Your value is infinite and absolute. You have the same value no matter what others think. You cannot be diminished or hurt without your permission. This means you can choose to see yourself as bulletproof if you want to. You can decide to let offenses bounce off you most of the time. Even if you choose to address an offense, you must do so with the understanding that your value is unchangeable, that way it will be less emotional.
- Do I remember I get to choose how I will experience each situation? You have the power to choose your emotions. You can choose to be hurt and offended if you want to. You can create all kinds of unnecessary drama around this offense. You can use it to cast the other person as the bad guy so you can feel superior. You could use it to play the victim and get sympathy love, but if you choose this, people will lose respect for you and you will be giving away your power. Instead remember no person and no situation can make you upset. Your thoughts about the situation create your upset feelings. You are the one responsible for those thoughts — so only you can make you upset. Take responsibility for how you choose to feel. You may need to write out all your other options (besides being upset). There are other options and they are probably more mature, wise and loving.
- Am I seeing this person or people as the same as me? We all have a subconscious tendency to see other people as better or worse than us. This mindset creates a lot of unnecessary drama, self-pity and conflict. In reality, we are all the same. We all have the same value. We are all struggling, scared, divine, amazing human beings in process. We are all students in the classroom of life and we are all afraid we aren't good enough. When you see people as the same as you, you will respond with more love, compassion and wisdom.
- Does this person's bad behavior need to be addressed? There are times it definitely does need to be discussed for the health of the relationship, but you must have this discussion in a strong, loving and validating way. You must set aside your need to be right, superior or angry. You must focus on your love for them and your desire to have a better relationship. You must listen to how they feel and what they think first and honor and respect their right to feel the way they do. You must not disagree or criticize them. After you have listened to them, you must ask permission to share your feelings. It would be wise to use more "I" statements than "you" statements and focus on their future behavior more than their past behavior (which they cannot change). Ask them if, in the future, they would be willing to behave differently. There are instructions for having mutually validating conversations on my website too.
Nathaniel Branden wrote an amazing book in 1969 called "The Psychology of Self-Esteem." In the book he says, "Only if we have a rational approach to our emotions can we be free of paralyzing self-doubt, depression and fear." I hope these questions will give you a way to step back and process emotions rationally. Again there are many other worksheets on my website that step you through processing emotions, offenses and upsets more accurately.
The path to eliminating the inner drama queen lies in seeing situations more accurately and learning to respond with more maturity, love, wisdom, honesty and compassion. It lies in learning to communicate better with more understanding and respect for yourself and others.
Even if you have never learned to do this, it's not too late to change.
You can do it.