One of the things I come across as a coach (and also personally) is having strong negative feelings when someone behaves in an aggressive or angry way.
In this blog, I would like to give some suggestions to help cope with, and understand, negative feelings. I will be covering different approaches from coaching, philosophy and therapy. Please note that these tips are not aimed at resolving traumatic experiences.
Let’s say you have a bad meeting. The person leading it gets angry and aggressive towards the people there. Let’s look at the ways in which you could overcome the strong negative feelings arising from this experience, using approaches from a number of fields:
This is the notion that we often associate behaviours today with intense experiences we had when younger, often with significant figures from our childhood.
According to the theory of Transference, the horrible meeting is likely to remind you of something similar that happened in your past. The yelling colleague, boss or whoever reminds you of a person who used to yell at you when you were much younger. And this is the ‘source’ of the very strong reaction.
You have transferred the feelings you had towards someone in your past to someone in your present. This person somehow reminds you of them, which super-charges the negative feelings you feel today.
However, when we can disentangle our historic feelings from our current negative feelings, we can often cool down quite rapidly. There are techniques which I cover in the NLP training. These can help to heal those original memories, making these types of episodes much less frequent.
Part of the reason why we may have got so upset from that horrible meeting, is that we start engaging with a Drama Triangle.
The Drama Triangle explains what goes on in our minds as a result of negative feelings. If we feel that someone has been unpleasant to us, they become the Persecutor and we are the Victim. If someone else gets involved, this person becomes the Rescuer.
For example, after the horrible meeting we may:
- Obsess over it in our heads;
- We may want to get even (therefore becoming a Persecutor ourselves); or
- If we felt that someone else had been hurt at this meeting, we worry about them and want to rescue them.
This might seem like a honourable intention. However, when we then become a Rescuer, we disempower the person we are rescuing. On top of this, the person we cast as the Prosecutor may well feel victimized as a result of our behaviour, and start their own drama-triangle with us.
These situations are also called psychological games, where the indirect intention of the person is to engage you in a Drama Triangle, so they will get emotional stimulation, to validate their own negative feelings and alleviate subconscious boredom.
Such patterns are deeply ingrained in our social interactions and our need for them is exemplified in what we read, watch and listen to every day.
However, instead of perpetuating these patterns, refuse to play, and see others’ negative behaviour as their problem and not yours.
Accept your feelings
Often, we try and stay professional or “cool” even though we are actually feeling angry, scared or ashamed.
There are plenty of ideas in this blog about how you can change your reaction to negative feelings. However, it is also important to simply allow yourself to experience these feelings.
Often, our thinking mind will try to solve the problem that makes these feelings arise, hoping that we will immediately feel better. However, after a while this simply makes matters worse as your thinking processes go into analysis-paralysis.
Your adrenaline system then kicks in which literally shuts down the rational part of your brain — your thinking is no longer helping you. Realise when this negative loop has happened and tell yourself that you can’t work out what to do right now — just live with it and it will soon pass. Being able to tolerate negative states leads us perfectly on to the next topic…
“There are some things you have control over and there are some things you have no control over”
Concerning yourself with things over which you have no control over is futile. A Stoic will focus their mind on what they do have control over and will choose to act accordingly, which may mean choosing to do nothing. During the horrible meeting, you can say to yourself that you have no control over how someone else behaves, but you do have control over your attitude towards that behaviour. Indeed, Stoics would call the horrible meeting an amazing opportunity to practice your stoicism!
Another counter-intuitive idea from Stoicism is to imagine things going worse (with the intention of feeling better). Allow yourself to imagine things going much worse than they did in the horrible meeting. This will bring a full appreciation of how lucky you are when you end the practice.
A Way Out
Often when we look back on unpleasant experiences, we feel trapped. In actuality, there is always a way out. One renowned coach told me that he advised his clients to simply get up and say they had to go to the toilet immediately. Not many people would deny you this request! So, when you next feel trapped in a situation that is causing you negative feelings, remember: you can just leave.
Change your perspective towards the person who did the yelling. Behind the yelling person is an angry child, finding it difficult to express their needs, who feels frustrated and passionate about something.
They clearly are not doing a good job at communicating.
Try and work out what they are trying to get out of this behaviour for themselves.
Step into the shoes of the person yelling and recall all the times when you had problems containing your own feelings. View the situation from above and notice how you appeared in those situations too.
Perhaps imagine the yelling person as a young child having a tantrum — try imagining them wearing a school uniform or dressed as a moody teenager. This will enable you to empathise with them and view their behaviour with relative emotional detachment.
There are positive human energies, such as power, caring and imagination. These also have shadows, naturally occurring feelings and behaviours that can make a negative impact. Power can shade over into aggression, caring into emotional pain and imagination into manipulation.
This is the nature of being human and when we see someone else enter a shadow, it can have the effect of unleashing one of our own shadows too. Noticing this process and accepting the reality of being human again can give us choices, including not to enter into a shadow when someone else does.
Practice building positive states
Spending time building positive states and feelings requires practice — just like lifting weights builds muscles. There are techniques such as mindfulnessand anchoring from NLP, which you can learn to develop this muscle. Eventually this leads to us being more strongly anchored when we enter challenging situations.
Talk to someone
Sometimes problems go around in our head. When we can speak our thoughts out loud, often we can hear them more clearly ourselves. As my original coach Anna Baldwin said to me, “I help my clients have conversations with themselves.”
I also hope that you will find some of the ideas in this blog useful the next time you experience some kind of horrible meeting.