Updated: Feb 4, 2022
You're driving along, and you see an emergency flare on the highway. What do you do? If you are like most people, you slow down and look around. You see if the person that put the flare down already has aid, or might need some. You also decide if you should keep going the direction you were headed, or take another route. Either way, you proceed with caution because things are different than they usually are.
You are having a flare of emotion.
A flare is sudden, it feels out of your control, and can be uncomfortable.
It might be an overreaction or irrational (But not always- sometimes you have to bring the crazy to get out of a tight situation).
Maybe you lash out in anger, cry, or withdraw. However you react, it doesn't really suit the present situation and has a high chance of uncomfortable and confusing fallout.
What's going on?
Just like when there’s a traffic accident and the emergency workers put flares on the road to ask you to slow down and be careful, a flare of emotion is signaling the same thing.
You might need to take another route- make a different decision about your current situation.
You might need to take a step back, slow down, de-escalate your emotions, and look at things more practically.
A great first step is to defuse from the feeling in three steps:
I am sad.
I am feeling sad.
I see that I am feeling sad.
This helps you separate your identity from the feeling, which allows more space to choose a different direction.
If you run into the same flare, say anger or resentment, over and over again in the same situation, it might be a sign that your boundaries are being broken, or that you have some assumptions that need to be looked at.
Or say you have a sadness flare that comes up whenever you are with a certain person. Are they draining to you, or is there an activity you always do with them that you don’t enjoy?
An important note here is to stay in the present. Don’t be an internal ambulance chaser. If something painful has happened in your past, and you have managed to move on in a healthy way, there is no need to go back over it and stir up the coals. On the other hand, if something that happened in your past is unresolved and interfering with your present, then it bears (🐻!) looking at.
An example of this would be that you notice that every time you have a female supervisor, you don’t get along with them, even though each of them had different characters. It may well be that you have some unresolved feelings about a female authority figure in your past that you are projecting on your supervisors.
Another way to think about this is that if the past has healed over, there is no need to pick at it. But if It’s like a bruise that doesn’t quite ever heal, it needs to be more closely examined.
What’s the takeaway?
The next time you have a flare of emotion, slow down. Defuse. Look around. What needs attention?
Is it in the present or the past?
What do you need to do to get back on course?
Will simply acknowledging it do the trick, and it can be let go now, or do you need to dig deeper?
What's the next best thing to do or say?