Saturday, July 27, 2013

Harnessing Your Emotional Superpowers

Do you find yourself riding an emotional roller coaster, catapulted to great heights when good things happen and sunk into the depths when bad things happen?  Do you cry too often and too easily such that its difficult to get your message across and people don't take you seriously? Do you feel inflamed by injustices and turn people off with your intensity regarding hot button issues? Are you overwhelmed by other people's emotions; feeling awkward around those who are anxious, easily drained and hassled by others' problems, devastated by their criticism, or terrified of their anger? Do you fall head over heels into romantic relationships only to be crushed with disappointment when they don't work out?

If so, you may be a highly sensitive person with emotional "superpowers" which you haven't learned to harness.  Emotions are signals that provide information about ourselves, other people and our environments. They can be very useful when managed skillfully, but they can wreak havoc when allowed to run wild.

Emotions are adaptive when they:
motivate behavior in order to respond appropriately to a situation. 
help us make good decisions.
help us remember things we need or want to remember.
warn us of trouble or alert us to new opportunities

Emotions are maladaptive when:
They are too intense
They last too long
We are unable to manage or cope with them.
We react impulsively or destructively based on them.

Emotional sensitivity might be likened to Spiderman's "Spider Sense". Emotionally sensitive people may be much better at receiving emotional signals.  However, the trick is to be able to see these signals for what they really are and respond to them appropriately - just like Peter Parker had to learn what his Spider Sense meant and how to harness it for good.  Learning to harness your emotional superpowers will improve your ability to:
  • control impulses
  • delay gratification
  • self-motivate
  • understand other people's social cues
  • self-soothe in order to cope with life's ups and downs
The first step in learning to harness your emotional superpowers is to pay attention to the signals rather than just responding automatically to them.  When you notice yourself feeling very strongly about something, stop and ask yourself what you are thinking and feeling.  You may not be able to do this in the moment at first, so it can be helpful to make a habit of reviewing your day before you retire for the night.  While you are developing this skill, it can be useful to write down or record your thoughts.  Ask yourself if your thoughts are rational or if they might be biased.  Then practice challenging your biased assumptions and beliefs.

It can also be useful to learn how to relax your body and quiet your mind so that you can respond more appropriately to a situation.  Developing relaxation skills using techniques such as diaphragmatic breathing, visualization or progressive muscle relaxation can help you calm your physiological reactions to the emotions you are feeling.  Practicing meditation can help sharpen your mind so that you can focus better on an adaptive response.

Most people find it easier to manage their emotions when they are living a healthy and balanced life.  This requires taking good care of yourself such as eating right, practicing good sleep hygiene, engaging in daily physical activity (preferably outdoors), and setting aside time for relaxation and socialization.  This also requires avoiding bad habits such as overindulging or driving yourself too hard.

If you suspect you are struggling with unharnessed emotional superpowers, a psychologist might be able to help clarify the problem and assist in transforming superpowers into assets rather than liabilities. You can find mental health professionals in your area through online therapist locators such as those hosted by the American Psychological AssociationPsychology TodayNetwork Therapy and GoodTherapy.

Please also visit my website http://www.kctherapist.com/ for more information and resources regarding a variety of mental health concerns.