On Dealing with Emotional Extremes

By Troy Headrick

I’m getting older.  We all are.  Of course, as we age, we lose things.  For example, because I’m older and injured my knee playing competitive sports when I was a young guy, I can no longer jog without having significant pain afterwards.  That sucks, but I’m fine with that limitation and loss.

It’s not all bad news though.  I’m gaining things too.  For example, I think I’ve got a few things figured out about life that used to befuddle me.

For one, I’ve learned the value of keeping an even keel as often as possible.  I try not to allow myself to slip into extreme emotional states, or when I do, to keep them in proper perspective.  Of course, as I’ve written in many other places, I’m very much influenced by the Stoics who teach that wisdom and happiness can come to those who realize that impermanence is the natural order of things.  Nothing—including life itself—lasts forever. 

When I do get extremely angry or frustrated, I remind myself that this state won’t last forever.  It’s hard to remember that “this too shall pass” in the heat of the moment.  Anger and frustration are like fire.  They inflame us and can become conflagrations.  It’s hard to remain coolly rational and clear-headed when you are on fire.  Anger feels like an emotional emergency.  It’s hard to be calm in such situations, but most think that calmness is a valuable trait to have. 

It is extremely dangerous to use your voice when you’re burning with anger.  The words spoken during such situations are likely to be the sort that send heat outwards, towards others.  By the way, it is a misnomer to say that some person or something has made us mad.  In fact, anger is merely a type of reaction.  If you can remain cool and calm when someone or something has “done you wrong,” everyone benefits.  Keeping your head allows you to see that you have choices.  You can walk away from an angry situation or keep your mouth closed.  You may want to lash out, but in the long run, you’re likely to regret allowing such an extreme emotional state to take full control of you.  You should try to control your anger rather than letting it control you.  The moment you allow the latter to happen is the instant you become an object rather than a subject.

I love to experience extreme happiness and such.  But I’ve found that I can appreciate these positive feelings more if I remember that they won’t last forever.  Such a realization focuses my attention and allows me to be fully in the moment.  One needs to be prepared for a giddy kind of happiness to wane.  Knowing the end is coming gives you the opportunity to savor the experience more profoundly.

Extreme anger, giddiness, frustration, sadness—all of these can affect judgment.  When you are feeling overly emotional, it’s best to wait until the sensation passes before making a firm decision about an important matter or taking action, especially if it’s likely to have significant repercussions.  Decisions made or actions taken during such states are likely to be flawed and can come with regrets.  I’m not suggesting that you should live like an unfeeling robot or that you should ignore your “gut.”  On the contrary, being able to keep things in perspective helps you experience the emotion fully while realizing that all things end.  Once they’ve passed, try to establish a kind of emotional equilibrium.

The sea you travel on can occasionally become quite wild and choppy, but that doesn’t mean you have to let it capsize you.

Thank you for reading, and I look forward to seeing your reactions.

Troy Headrick’s personal blog can be found here.

36 thoughts on “On Dealing with Emotional Extremes

  1. Wish it didn’t take so dang long to realize this! Oh the words I’ve uttered in frustration and anger over the years. :-/ I love the way you put it – “sending heat outwards”. And once it’s out there, there’s no going back. Better to approach those situations with as much calm as possible. I enjoyed reading your perspective. -L

    1. Thank you for the kind words and comment. Yes, youth is a time of heat and passion. That begins to moderate as we get a bit older and gain more perspective. And you’re right. Words spoken in anger are impossible to take back.

  2. Anger is extremely powerful if its now reined in and can hurt many people along the way. I like your post as it is very informative and can relate to probably everyone. I like how it links to awareness. I have dealt with my own anger on many occasions, sometimes I have let myself get too boiled and struggle to get things back in. Once words are out there is no way of taking them back. Thank you for the creative and informative post.

    1. Anger is one of those powerful emotions that can fully control a person. At such a point, we may be self-aware, but don’t care how we are presenting ourselves because we have become an object rather than a subject. It would be a good experiment to video people during angry episodes and then play that video to the angry person once the emotion has subsided. Many would be astonished and more than a little humiliated by what the video would show them. Thanks so much for your comment.

      1. You manage to go into the depths of anger and describe it extremely well. Its scary how someone can be controlled by their own emotions, I did a blog about dangerous emotions and envy was the topic which I feel can also control person. If people were videod while they behaved in an angry manner im guessing that they would be mortified and very humiliated however it would be a fantastic opportunity for them to learn and how to handle their anger differently in circumstances that arose afterward the video. That’s a very interest thing to actually present. I am pleased to have found you and your blog.

  3. In the recent personal transformation I’m having I learned that having a self development coach is super important and thankfully with the technology, it can be online. The rewards of it, I had no idea, are immense. You should try one. My life is so much better since my coach is teaching how to reach goals and still be happy. Letting go of concepts that are negative for us, it’s the most difficult part of the process and having help is essential. But yes you are right in your article, living the present moment knowing that happiness has fluctuations is important.

    1. Hi. It’s interesting that you talk about life coaching because I have a certification in that field and have been life coaching for many years now. If fact, I’ve been talking with a European life coach and we are talking about starting a business together. I’d like to hear more about your experience with your coach. I’ve been working with people on finding success (especially academic success) and life purpose and overcoming limitations and getting past hangups and such for a long while. You’ll notice that many of my blogs here are about the sorts of things a life coach might help someone with. Thanks for commenting again and for sharing your story.

    1. Problems in life always seem to work themselves out, don’t they? Many of us don’t realize that we have the answers to our problems already worked out. The challenge is accessing that “wise voice” we all seem to have and then learning how to hear what it has to say to us. Thanks. I always enjoy hearing from you.

    1. It’s interesting that you mentioned the owl in your post. I’ve had one or two really interesting experiences with owls and now think of them as my spirit animal. Do you have a spirit animal? Thanks so much for participating in this conversation.

  4. As someone who suffers from Complex-PTSD i have so much anger towards the world and people within it, that over the years it has taken me so long to try calm myself and just accept what is happening

    1. Hi. I’ve had PTSD myself. Are you currently working with a counselor or life coach? I’m just curious. if you want, we could talk sometime. Just let me know. Thanks for commenting.

      1. I don’t actually do well with talking to someone I usually end up laying with cover up stories of the events being not as bad as they actually are. (kind of the reason why I stared my blog because I can express myself through writing)

    1. I found your comment very intriguing. So you think your problem-solving skills are causing your problems? Would you mind saying a bit more about that? Thanks so much for commenting.

  5. I have anxiety so stress tends to be my overwhelming emotion. I’ve found that having a daily self care routine such as yoga or meditation really helps me. But, if I get really overwhelmed I might do some boxing, dancing, or just play on the guitar so I can physically get my feelings out in a healthy way.

    1. Hi, Kelly. I think you are very lucky because you know your Achilles Heel and have found ways of helping yourself. This suggests that you have a great deal of self-knowledge and mindfulness. Congrats! Many people don’t really know themselves very well or understand what’s holding them back. It seems you’ve got things figured out though. Thanks for sharing your story,

  6. I was quite emotional in my younger years displaying frustration, anger, joy, admiration, sadness and more in a daily kaleidoscope. In fact, I almost became to believe it was expected of me. I certainly expected it of myself. No longer. I am now the caregiver to a loved one with dementia and my free-wheeling range of emotions only made the situation worse. I have learned rather quickly that calm almost to the point of apathy is the most effective way to deal with the careening emotions of my partner. I still feel intense anger toward the disease that is stealing his mind and immense sadness at my loss of his loving memories, but I know now that I cannot express such feelings without creating an incomprehensible firestorm between us.

    1. One of the hardest things in life can be to stop being bothered by those things we have no control over. Your word apathy struck a cord with me. I’ve been in situations that we so extremely troubling that I sort of had to make myself numb to get by. It was like I had to step outside my body which allowed me to not getting emotionallly caught up in what was taking place. In your case, being the caregiver for such a person must be exhausing and saddening (that’s an understatement). In such a situation, it think it’s important not to try to do everything yourself. Do you have allies, helpers, or a support structure who can help carry some of the weight? If you’d ever like to talk, let me know. Thanks for sharing your story.

      1. Interesting that you honed in on the word apathy. I debated myself and used a thesaurus to determine if that was the word I wanted. It was. And yes, I have family right next door who give us tremendous support.

    1. Thank you. That means a lot coming from you. I read your bio and see that you have considerable expertise in the sorts of things I was writing about.

  7. When you speak of “enjoying even more because I know it will come to an end”, savouring it is, reminds me of a course I took via Yale University last year: “The science of wellbeing”. They explain (in scientific frame) that appreciating moment in the moment, savouring the sensation of the moment does indeed increase the positive effect and makes it last longer.

    p.s. forgive me for saying that “extreme happiness” is also extreme state of being and burns your heart just as extreme sadness does. Keeping an even keel is a true skill in the art of being.

  8. “The sea you travel on can occasionally become quite wild and choppy, but that doesn’t mean you have to let it capsize you” – couldn’t agree more.

    Thanks for this post!

  9. I certainly feel the change in body capability over time. Recently I have begun to notice a need for increasing the amount of time I spend warming up and in recovery, to continue to play high level ultimate frisbee. If I want to continue to play at a high level while keeping the risk of injury low I add more time outside of actually playing, or I can make the choice to switch to lower intensity exercise to keep fit and spend the extra time on another activity. It’s not yet at a point where the extra time is disproportionate compared to the amount of fun, but I am definitely aware of the change. This noticing has helped me enjoyed playing ultimate with my friends more, and even helped me play better in some games by running smarter and not harder.

    I also relate to being better able to manage emotional extremes. By acknowledging them when I experience them, and not making decisions in the heat of the moment, I allow myself to process these emotions in a healthier way. I can then free myself from stress, worry, anger, and sometimes lashing out, and understand they are temporary. I think this is one of the reasons I have started to enjoy ultimate more, because I am present in each moment.

    Thank you for sharing this intelligently introspective piece, and encouraging learning lessons from our own lives.

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