For goodness sake, don't be so emotional!!
June 13, 2010 11:48 AM   Subscribe

How do I become less emotional and more calm, cool and rational? I tend to wear my emotions on my sleeve - joy, anger, sadness, etc. - and also react emotionally instead of cognitively processing things. I jump to conclusions. I like to debate and argue.

Some co-workers like my "passion" and ability to think quickly, but more often than not, I'm being seen as hot-headed and well, emotional. I tend to make mountains out of molehills, and others have called me too sensitive to criticism. What words of wisdom doth the hive mind have for me? Books, online resources? (Be nice - I'm sensitive! haha!)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (14 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe you have anxieties in which case consulting with a psychologist, or a psychiatrist if you want medicine, would be a good idea.
posted by dfriedman at 11:53 AM on June 13, 2010

Zen meditation. You'd be surprised at the crazy stuff your brain will throw at you while you stare at a wall. If you can learn to sit through your own craziness, you can keep your calm through pretty much anything.
posted by milarepa at 11:53 AM on June 13, 2010 [3 favorites]

Is this affecting you, or your work, negatively- if not, or if the consequences are less than the benefits, don't listen to these people that say "psychologists/psychiatrists." I think it's ridiculous that people call for medication for everything. So you are emotional, great, why kill that.

Kill the caffeine, calm the mind through mindfulness (in whatever form you are most comfortable with), pare down on multi-tasking and enjoy feeling passionate/being hot-headed.
posted by TheBones at 12:23 PM on June 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

I tend to wear my emotions on my sleeve - joy, anger, sadness, etc. - and also react emotionally instead of cognitively processing things. I jump to conclusions. I like to debate and argue.

OK, here's one way of looking at it ... I don't know if this will be useful for you, but here it is. You like to effectively get across your points in a debate, right? You like to be convincing and potentially win people over to your point of view? Some people will say, "Oh, don't bother, it's not worth it, you can never change people's minds." Well, let's put that aside for a second and assume it is worthwhile to have debates.

What happens when you get overemotional? You automatically lose. Because even if people might have been receptive to your points on an intellectual level, once you cross that emotional borderline, people are going to stop absorbing the actual content of what you're saying. They get so distracted by your emotions that the emotions become the issue. Suddenly, the idea of responding to you in terms of, "Hmm, I hadn't thought of that, you make an interesting point," is no longer going to be an option for them. Rather, they'll only think of the discussion in terms of, "Well, I don't see why you're getting so angry/sad/whatever."

Getting back to the question of whether it's ever possible to convince people of things they don't always agree with ... let's say you'll only be at all convincing to people 25% of the time. That could still be worth attempting. But if you get overemotional, you're guaranteed not to be convincing. So don't kid yourself that your emotional reaction is a complementary frame for the content of what you're trying to say. On the contrary, the display of emotions effectively erases that content.
posted by Jaltcoh at 12:26 PM on June 13, 2010 [4 favorites]

I've wished I could attain the same thing. You've described me to a tee.

The only thing that has worked for me are Welbutrin and Zoloft. They really calm my mind. Sometimes I feel like people don't really know me that well, because my emotions kind of get in the way of who I really am on the inside. The medications put the emotions on the back burner, and I feel more like the real me when I'm on them.

I would encourage you to not reject this suggestion out of hand. Give it some consideration, try the meds, and if they don't work for you, go off them. You will never know if this is a true brain chemistry thing until you try meds. If it IS brain chemistry and you DON'T try the meds, you will try really, really, really hard and may never quite achieve your goal. I think the disappointment I would feel in myself outweighs an argument against meds.

[That last paragraph was preachy, but you didn't mention meds at all, so I'm just going on the assumption that you're not into that solution.]
posted by wwartorff at 12:31 PM on June 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

MG, is that you????

I'm only kidding a little bit; this story is eerily similar to a pal of mine with whom my interactions are becoming less and less enjoyable... because I know that we can't have even a simple conversation without it turning into a melodramatic miscommunication or pointless debate. Still, I don't believe that my pal is on MeFi, so.

First, Anon, I would ask you to look inside and figure out exactly why you like so much to debate and argue? Is it because you need to win, and prove to everyone that you are right, always the smartest person in the room?

This tendency, combined with an inability to receive constructive criticism, pretty clearly adds up to a lack of self-confidence. Rather than solving for "being overly emotional" (a mere symptom), you might consider solving for "lacks self-confidence" (the actual disease).

Or, is the need for argument because you feel a compulsion to engage others in a way that brings them onto your terra firma of hot-headed passion, where you feel most secure?

If so, then you should look instead for books or resources about communication rooted in intellectual rationality, or regarding social anxiety.

Being emotional and passionate are not negative qualities in and of themselves. But if you can't turn them off, so to speak, and aren't having successful communications and relationships because of it, they are almost certainly indicators of other, more deep-seated issues. It sounds like you first need to identify the problem's root cause, before willy-nilly chopping off branches.
posted by pineapple at 12:35 PM on June 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

Yes, what pineapple said, especially the last paragraph.

Having been around a lot of hot-headed people (most members of my family) who got more, not less emotional while I was growing up, I've observed excessive displays of emotion on numerous occasions, and while the same rules don't apply (it's not a professional setting), the same reasons might.

Defensive people are emotional. Either you are being too touchy, or there are people around you who are trying to put you down. Which do you really think it is? In either case, is being defensive a smart response? Defensiveness can be a result of lacking self-confidence, but it can also come from a lack of trust in the people you're with and/or a lack of control over a given situation. Since both (or all, for most of us) those 'lacks' are part and parcel of adulthood, it's very much in your own interest to come to terms with those things as opposed to acting out.

Confused people are emotional. This also is a perfectly understandable response, but it's always less than desirable. If there are things you don't understand about what's going on - the real nitty gritty of your work and how it fits into a larger picture, say - or how other people are thinking about a situation or project (or you), try to understand it better. Go with the most sensible explanation of things, not the most flattering, the most self-loathing or the most cynical. Reason things out, ask those you trust for guidance, and even in cases where you can't make sense of things, trust that they make sense - even if you can't figure out how. Once you see the world as a rational place, you will have much less incentive to act irrationally in it.

Self-involved people are emotional. This is not a put down or an attack. I'm not saying you shouldn't put yourself first or pay mind to what you feel - but if you are wired to be sensitive, don't just be sensitive to yourself. In fact, I'd say, put being sensitive to your own feelings last of all - be sensitive to the situation first, and to what you as a group are trying to accomplish, and then to other people (if you can).

There really is no convincing defense for an excessive show of emotion at work - your passion and sensitivity, unless its serving the company and I don't see how that could be, will be interpreted as boring, counter-productive immaturity. So even while you're trying to 'change who you are', think of your excessive emotions as tattoos - they don't belong at work, and they create a negative perception of you. The sensible thing is to hide them.

I don't have any resources for you, but I strongly suggest that you read more about how to debate effectively. This will satisfy your argumentative itch and also give you some helpful strategies for reasoning (or using reason to make a point). Also I like this little mantra I recently read on Ask.Me:

Stop taking so much notice of how you feel. How you feel is how you feel. It'll pass soon.
posted by mondaygreens at 1:53 PM on June 13, 2010 [4 favorites]

I find that focusing on listening to and understanding people rather than focusing on what you want to say or do is a real big help with this. Restate what people say when you are debating in a slightly different way first so that you can help them communicate with you. That way you have time to calm down and you can actually argue the points where you differ rather than engaging in the usual all over the place wild tangential wooliness of typical impromptu debates.

Be like the spelling bee kids and make sure you are absolutely clear on things before reacting.
posted by srboisvert at 1:54 PM on June 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

The best way to balance, that I've found, between being rational and emotional and to understand your emotions, where they come from, why they come up when they do. So, the first step is to do a whole lot of introspecting (and for some great ideas on how to go about that, read this).

If you find that being emotional is getting in the way - you're getting angry, or really upset and can't communicate - then there are a few different things you can do. First and foremost is learn to identify when those times are. Too often, it's only once I'm actually in tears that I realize I've gotten really worked up (and I hate crying in public. I'm a regular waterworks, and I find it really frustrating). I don't know if it's the same for you, but try to be aware of when your emotions are ramping up, when it's becoming more difficult to think clearly and articulate. When you realize it, say it to yourself, very clearly, in your head: I am becoming emotionally invested in this situation. If you need to, say it aloud, as calmly and slowly as you can manage. Then take two steps back - physically and emotionally, if at all possible. Say to the people around you that you need to take a quick break, or just go to the bathroom. Take a few deep breaths. Try to gain some perspective on the situation - this is a way of forcing yourself to be distant from it. Retell the story of what just happened to yourself in your mind until you feel like you have a better grip on what's going on, inside and out.

Perspective is really the most important thing here, I think. If you can remember that there are many other sides to any given issue, that you don't have the whole story, that you should take it slow and easy and not jump to conclusions, then you're making an effort to base your reactions on more solid ground. The hard part of all this is that with perspective comes the realization (very often) that you've been over reacting, that whatever it is ISN'T worth this kind of upset, that now you've got to go out and face whatever it was that got you so worked up in the first place and make it better - and that's really challenging. It's worth it, though.
posted by lriG rorriM at 2:00 PM on June 13, 2010

Your question was pretty short so maybe you do need to argue less, but everything you talked about was about how people perceive you as opposed to what you think you were doing, so are you sure this is not a perception problem?

Some co-workers like my "passion" and ability to think quickly, but more often than not, I'm being seen as hot-headed and well, emotional.

I notice you seem overly concerned with what your coworkers think. What do your bosses think? Do you have anyone whose job is not threatened by you could go to for an honest assessment? Passion and emotion will take you very far in some organizations as long as it is focused at productive goals. On the other hand, passion and emotion will always make your coworkers hate you if you are making you look bad. I've been in a job where I was harassed by my coworkers for being too passionate (aka working too hard) while being told by my bosses that I was hired because I was more passionate than everyone else :) Just remember that being emotional, sensitive, and passionate is a strength at work -- its not the guy who thinks about everything logically who gets everyone excited about their work. Try to focus your passion and sensitivity into being that guy who persuades by getting everyone else excited about your idea as opposed to trying to sell it/argue it.
posted by An algorithmic dog at 3:09 PM on June 13, 2010

Not sure if this works for anyone else but I tell myself that emotions stem from the reptilian part of my brain and reflect humanity's fuck, fight, hunt, and kill instincts. Emotions are just as wrong as they are right, if not more so. I tell myself that I can choose to be a higher ape or a lizard. Once I have this perspective it becomes easier to let go and relax about situations.

I also prefer to always be the better person when it comes to conflict and not retaliate with someone who is emotional or abusive but try to calm them or at least not allow them to drag me down. This is difficult but 100% doable. When one party is mature and the other childish then you can still kinda work things out. When both parties are childish then you have nothing to gain and essentially have the recipe for most reality TV shows.

Personally, I find the whole "you probably have deep seated issues" a bit condescending. Your problem is that you allow yourself to be like this and society rewards you for being "authentic" and "in your face." Don't let validation from idiots guide who you become. If you want to be calm then start making the effort. I've also had to cut out caffeine except a tea in the morning and engage in relaxing activities instead of stimulating (chill music, walks, etc instead of fast music, video games, etc.) In the end, once you learn to value calm and level-headedness you'll want to do it for the benefits.
posted by damn dirty ape at 3:32 PM on June 13, 2010

I wear my emotions on my sleeve, too, and have, over time, internalized that it is very embarrassing to cry when talking to a professor and very ineffective to scream when I'm upset at a friend. I know that these behaviors make me look bad and do not help me get what I want. I am therefore motivated to temporarily remove myself from a situation that makes me very frustrated or angry, or if this isn't possible, close my eyes and take a few breaths. Even though doing this indicates that you are emoting, it also indicates that you are handling it maturely and appropriately.

You may have "deep-seated issues". You may benefit from medication. But a few deep breaths and a little introspection go a long way.
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 4:12 PM on June 13, 2010

Zen. Or Xanax. Your description of yourself sounded very familiar to me, and both have been helpful to me. Zen, for the long haul; Xanax, situationally.
posted by OneMonkeysUncle at 6:19 PM on June 13, 2010

damn dirty ape: "Personally, I find the whole "you probably have deep seated issues" a bit condescending."

To clarify what I said, for the benefit of the OP:

"Being emotional and passionate are not negative qualities in and of themselves. But if you can't turn them off, so to speak, and aren't having successful communications and relationships because of it, they are almost certainly indicators of other, more deep-seated issues."

Other than the incorrect reduction of my comment, I do like damn dirty ape's points about our reptilian brain, and about how society today validates that in-your-face "I'm just keepin' it real, man" approach. Reminds me of that "Radical Honesty" chump.
posted by pineapple at 9:27 PM on June 13, 2010

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