Applied EQ #22: Protection against the Moods of Others

In the last post, we talked about emotional triggers.  Emotional triggers are external events that leave us vulnerable or serve as a catalyst for an emotional breakdown.  In the next series of posts, we will talk about each of these triggers and how to protect ourselves against them.

The first of the emotional triggers is Moods & Attitudes of others.  Many of us are vulnerable to the moods and attitudes of others.  When others are feeling down or angry, this can have a negative impact on us, leaving us vulnerable to an emotional breakdown.

This has been the case for me due to growing up with an alcoholic father. All my life I have been acutely attuned to the moods of my Dad.  It was one of the ways I tried (unsucessfully) to control my chaotic home environment.  If my Dad was in a good mood, I could let up and relax a little. If he wasn’t, well, then I was on edge and always on the lookout for some kind of trouble.

Do you take your cue on how to feel from how those around you feel?  Do you get bummed out when your boss is angry or sad?  Do you ever say, “well I was in a good mood until you called me” or something like that?  If this applies to you, consider taking the following actions to understand and begin to protect yourself from emotional breakdown:

  1. Who is it? – Try to evaluate whose moods make you feel the most vulnerable.  It could be your spouse, or your parents.  Perhaps, like me, you are vulnerable to your boss or other authority figures.  Know who it is.
  2. Why is it? – If possible, try to understand why you feel vulnerable.  Is it because you grew up with a parent with addiction or boundary issues?  The cause may be easy to understand, or it could require some help from a trained therapist. 
  3. Cut the cord – Try to de-sensitize yourself to the moods of others as much as you can.  Envision yourself with this key person who is in a bad mood.  Practice laughing a little and saying, “Wow, you sure are in a bad mood today” or something like that.
  4. Don’t take it personally – Don’t personalize or try to control how the other person feels.  They are responsible for their feelings, just as you are responsible for your own.  If they are reacting to something you said or did, let them have their reaction.  Don’t walk on eggshells or try to cushion the blow.
  5. Be Extreme – You may find it helpful to practice going to the other extreme with those you are vulnerable with.  Once I was driving in a car with my manager and she commented on how fast I drove.  I slowed down and apologized, feeling small and criticized.  What would have been more self-respecting would have been to say, in an unapologetic way, that I usually drive faster.  The difference between the two approaches is in how much or little I care about the reaction or attitude I was expecting from her.
  6. Look ahead, not back.  If you find yourself in an environment where someone has reacted in an extreme way to a negative event, do what you can to focus on what is important.  Encourage the other person to focus on what needs to happen next and not on blaming or dwelling on the past.  I often say something like, “we can focus on who shot who later, right now let’s get the paramedics working on the patient”.
  7. Who is the victim here? – This type of emotional trigger is closely related to playing the victim.  Evaluate whether you also tend to play the victim when it comes to others.

For some people, just becoming aware of the connection between the breakdown and the moods of others can be enlightening.  It is the first step toward choosing different, healthier responses.

In our next post we will look at foreshadowing as an emotional trigger.

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