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When You Need Help Managing Your Emotions, This Practice Can Help

Summary: Strong emotions that run unchecked can wreak havoc in all our relationships. We all need help from time to time managing our emotions to preserve the relationships we care about. When emotions run high, this time-tested strategy can help you stop, reflect and respond in a way you'll feel good about later.

When You Need Help Managing Your Emotions, This Practice Can Help

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In a previous post I talked about something we’ve all experienced: those awful moments when we say the exact wrong thing at an important moment and immediately regret it. Open mouth, insert foot.

Intense emotions can wreak havoc on the good working relationships and harmonious home life we’ve worked hard to build. These emotions can cause us to say stupid things that might unravel years’ worth of accumulated good will or closeness. Chances are, like me, you’re interested in managing your emotions effectively, so they don’t get out of hand and ruin a good relationship we’ve work hard to establish. 

RAIN – a method for untangling hard emotions

Mindfulness meditation teacher Michele McDonald has coined the acronym RAIN to identify four steps that can help you manage your emotions and keep them from sabotaging our behavior. Here are the steps, and my translation of them. 

  • Recognition: Identify the problem (when you lose it or are about to).
  • Acceptance: Allow this problem to exist without fighting it or trying to change it.
  • Investigation: Dig into the problem to understand it better.
  • Non-identification: Observe the problem as separate from yourself.

Recognition

In my last post, I talked about the importance of the first step, recognition. I also offered some strategies to help you push the pause button when you’re feeling overwhelmed and strong emotions are about to get out of hand. Now let’s dive into the next three steps.

Acceptance

After recognition, the second step in the RAIN process is acceptance. Allowing a problem to exist without resisting it or trying to change it. This step is challenging because many of us want to immediately try to fix or avoid any problem – especially when high emotions are involved – rather than just let it exist. This tendency to react isn’t actually managing your emotions, it’s letting them manage your behavior. Acceptance is important because allowing an emotion to exist without action for a while enables you to gain control over it rather than letting it control you. 

Investigation

Next comes investigation, which involves carefully picking apart the problem to understand it better. To manage emotions, I’ve found it helpful to probe how they affect me physically and mentally. This way, I can begin to recognize the downward spiral when it starts. Asking specific questions can help, too: What stories (true or untrue) do I tell myself when faced with these types of situations? What assumptions do I make?  What insecurities do these situations rile up that may cloud my vision and obscure rational thought?

Non-identification

Finally, non-identification. This refers to the idea of separating yourself from the problem you’re facing so you don’t take the problem personally. This helps you manage your emotions because you recognize them as just that – emotions. They don’t define who you are, they are only temporarily how you feel. This step is critical because accidentally identifying directly with the problem means you’re much more likely to feel shame.

Shame is one of the most powerful negative emotions we experience. It’s defined by shame and vulnerability expert Brené Brown as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.” Once shame takes over, it’s nearly impossible to separate yourself from the emotion and act in a way that serves your highest purpose. Instead, practice separating who you are from the problem at hand: recognize that you aren’t the problem; you have a problem. 

Getting started…

In my experience, RAIN is very useful but also challenging to put into practice. Each step takes effort and time to become good at. My point is, be nice to yourself, and recognize that adopting this strategy is a marathon and not a sprint.

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The good news is, while I’m hardly an expert RAIN practitioner, I can honestly say that learning this strategy a few years ago has helped me enormously in both my personal and professional life. My hope is that over time, this strategy will help you, too. 

To begin, take a moment to remember a situation from the past when you were unsuccessful in effectively managing your emotions. Then practice applying these steps in hindsight.

  • Identify the signs that the downward spiral was about to begin.
  • Practice letting the situation (awful as it may have been) exist without trying to change it right away.
  • Ask yourself good questions to understand the situation better.
  • Work to recognize that this problem does not define you. 

This may give you a tangible frame of reference the next time you’re faced with an emotionally charged situation you wish to handle well.

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