The Rational Scale of Extremity

When you’ve lost touch with how upset you should be about something…

Blame it on hormones, the weather or blame it on Mercury in retrograde. Whatever it is, sometimes we get really upset and we ourselves don’t completely understand it. Emotions are powerful and blinding, so when it comes to a fight with another person, they can literally take over our ability to see the truth of what we’re upset about. Sometimes it can seem as though we’re upset for little to no reason, but it feels very real so we can’t let go of it. Times like these are very confusing because the factors that cause us to feel upset are sometimes intricate and layered. How can we get to the true source? When you’re really upset and you can’t stop spinning in circles, before you act on those emotions, try checking yourself against your own logic by creating what I like to call the “Rational Scale of Extremity.” It’s a way to reorient yourself to your own understanding of reality and your true feelings about something when in a rational place. Call it triangulation for when you’re lost in emotions.

Directions: Draw a horizontal line and create a scale of numbers from 1 to 10. Next to the 1, write something that is clearly very mildly upsetting. For example, someone not saying “bless you” when you sneeze. Next to 10, write something that is the worst thing you can imagine a person doing: a terrible but realistic scenario that would devastate you. For example, the same someone cheating on you with your best friend. Now, place your current issue at a number on this scale.

Is it a 5? A 3? How serious is it? Does this thing land close to the 10? Be literal about the severity and put it where you believe it logically belongs.

Now ask yourself: does your level of upset-ness right now seem exaggerated or out of scale to the severity of that problem? If this thing is a 5, is your reaction more like a 10?

If you find this is totally rational and this thing does seem totally serious and worthy of this level of upset, call a friend or someone that can support you right now. Do not do anything rash. Don’t drive a car super fast while crying or take a bunch of shots because you have an excuse to be reckless. Get to a safe emotional place where a loved one can help you. You need support that is objective. Now is not the time to bring this up with the person who caused you to feel this way. Talk to a friend that you trust so that you can sort out how you feel. When you are calm and rested, you will know the right thing to do and you can confront what you need to confront.

If you know you are overreacting but you are still having a hard time calming down, take steps to level out your brain chemicals. Produce some serotonin and get your blood sugar balanced out. This can sometimes take a while, but it is definitely within your power. If you need to go for a run, do it. If you need to blast music and walk around aimlessly, do that. Do not use depressants like alcohol, for this will most likely exacerbate your pain and also promote the weakest emotional route possible. It will also not vent this emotion, instead it will temporarily numb it and later it will come back worse. Emotionally overreacting is usually a sign that you are emotionally triggered by something. For now, take a break from this issue because you might do some damage and/or fabricate reasons to be justify being so upset, which is never a good tactic and totally unfair to that person. Also, it will make you feel bad about yourself long-term.

If you find that you are trying to distract yourself from this emotion and doing all the healthy steps that you are supposed to but it’s still bubbling up, try putting yourself in a supportive social situation: hang out with someone you’re comfortable with and tell them what’s going on. Another very helpful practice is to watch a comedy that you’ve seen before, that you love. Sometimes the emotions will linger for a long time and it can be painful. You just have to keep on telling yourself to let them go, almost like a mantra. Just tell yourself and your body to release them, and breath in and out slowly. Try to invite your mind to be peaceful. With emotions like these you literally have to pass them like a painful kidney stone. Know that it will be a bit easier with every hour.

If you know that the reaction was irrational, but you were extremely upset and would be if it happened again, this is a sign that something current triggered an old feeling. That could be a behavior, a phrase, a situation, or how we think someone feels about us. What happens is we have very sensitive bruises from former experiences, that when touched upon cause us to emotionally relive all of the emotions that went along with that past experience. This could be something as simple as someone talking to us in a dismissive way, or not doing what they say they would, etc. If we were once severely injured by a behavior like lying, even “little” things can trigger us into ultimate defense mode. For example, if you were cheated on by someone you trusted, when someone decides not to tell you they ended up last-minute going out to a party, this will cause you to feel hints of this past betrayal overlaid onto this new familiar situation. Though totally valid in the scheme of your life experiences, this is completely out of whack in relationship to this new situation.

So what’s the solution when you’re upset and freaking out? First, calm down so that you do not inflict injury on yourself or others. That includes cussing out someone you care about for a no good reason. If you yell at this person until they apologize despite their innocence, this will not solve your problem. In fact, it might make it worse because it will make you feel guilty about it deep down. Also, if you care about that person, you shouldn’t be causing them to feel helpless in the face of unrealistic demands. After you calm down you can decide how you need to handle this situation. If it’s something that angered you that you feel you want this person to change, then simply tell them. If they say they will not, you will have to decide whether or not you can accept that. If this is the result of an emotional trigger and it’s something you are baffled by, decide to work on it and unearth it because it is causing you pain. That is extremely healthy and you can by all means do it. When you understand the “why” you can much better see through your triggered emotions, and with time and processing, you can dispel them and let them go forever.

Hope it helps you in some way – especially when you really need it. Happy, happy Sunday, lovely people! xox Sarah

Featured image via nicole st. john

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