With so many polarizing opinions and points of view of today’s topics, emotions are sure to get in the way. When we disagree with someone, it is easy to lose control of our emotions, feel personally attacked, and return those feeling through harsher attacks. It comes from our survival instinct (reptilian) brain that is tightly connected with our emotional (mammalian) brain. So when we feel attacked, we attack back to survive. It happens often in conversations.
In my childhood, I remember a Looney Tunes cartoon that demonstrated this concept well. I believe it was Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny who were arguing neighbors. One shoots the other. The shot is returned with a shot from a larger gun, which is returned with a shot from an even larger weapon. The weapons continue to get bigger until both characters are blown up with a massive bomb, along with the neighborhood. (If you can find this cartoon clip, I would be ever grateful).
If either of the characters could have regulated their emotions, perhaps the end would have been more peaceful. So how can we learn to apply emotional regulation to these tough conversations?
The Gottmans recommend five steps of Emotion Coaching for relationship success:
- Be aware of emotions (your own and the other person).
- Recognize an expression of emotion as an opportunity for connection, empathy, and understanding.
- Listen with empathy and validate the other person’s feelings.
- Label emotions with words (“I feel angry. I feel frustrated.”)
- Set limits and boundaries (“It’s okay that you are angry but it is not okay to yell at me.” “I need 20 minutes to cool down.”)
Emotions are wonderful when they bring humanity to others. Right now, it seems our fear, anger, and disgust paint others with opposing opinions as enemies or even evil. Perhaps if we work to respect instead of demonize those who disagree with us, we can practice the emotion coaching steps.
Work to let your emotions lift others up instead of tear others down. There is always room to disagree. If done with respect, it’s how the world moves toward progress. Be a model for others. America needs models right now who can love, be kind, respect, and regulate their emotions with others who disagree.