Learn to Handle Stress and Emotions the Right Way

Why do people get so pissed off when they lose at chess?

For instance, take this player who I had just beaten on chess.com who sent me a hate taco:

Chess.com Trophy

All taco and no action.

“The real world would KILL you!!” …said the honest, successful, confident man.

It seems so incredibly stupid when someone else is a poor sport, especially after you just decimated them at chess.

But I’ve definitely had my fair share of ungraceful losses. Heck, we’ve all rationalized failure at some point.

How many times have you said/heard:

  • He/she got lucky
  • The ref made a bad call
  • I’m just feeling off today and can’t focus

The list is endless.

We use these excuses to defend our ego and identity.

Our identity is formed from our values, beliefs, and experiences. It gives us a sense of meaning, purpose, and security in world full of uncertainty. But when that identity is threatened, such as when we lose or fail, we get defensive and we resist reality. This inner resistance conjures up painful emotions such as fear, anger, guilt, or grief.

But until we can learn to let go of our identity – to stop holding on to negative emotions and to stop resisting positive ones – we will continue to feel pain in our lives.

This is the basis of the book Letting Go, by David Hawkins.

Letting Go, by David Hawkins

Letting Go, by David Hawkins

Turns out we’re all a bit messed up….

We handle emotions in three ways: suppression, expression, and escape.

Suppression (conscious) and repression (unconscious) are the most common ways of pushing down feelings. This only causes the emotions to intensify. The repressed emotions need an outlet, and so we end up acting them out subconsciously or projecting them onto other people.

If we expect everyone to be hostile toward us, we may have projected our own repressed hostility onto them. If all we see is depression, hopelessness, and gloom, we may have repressed grief. If someone is constantly judgmental and harshly critical, they are projecting their own guilt and insecurity onto others.

What we see in others is what we have repressed in ourselves.

My favorite things are puppies, clouds, and unrelenting anger.

Not only do repression and projection help us maintain our self-identity as being intelligent, good people – they also allow us to condemn and look down on others, which gives us a feeling of entitlement and superiority. This is why we want to cling to negative emotions and resist positive ones. We want to stay angry at someone because it is easy and makes us feel vindicated. We’re right and they’re wrong. It offers short-term gratification at the sacrifice of long-term peace and happiness.

To forgive is difficult. It requires humility. It requires that we let go of our pride. Perhaps we’ll have to admit that our values are not so valuable, that our beliefs and principles are wrong, or that we’re not as wise as we pretend to be. Of course, our ego will resist admitting fault by using all the rationalizations, blame, and fear that it can muster in order to avoid being diminished. But unless we can let go of our makeshift identity, we will continue to feel pain.

My two greatest fears are living, dying, and making mistakes.

We try to escape negative emotions with alcohol, drugs, television, video games, reading, playing music, surfing the internet, socializing, work, or really any other activity that distracts us from ourselves. When we try to sit still, we quickly grow restless or think of something else to do. We’re often trying to distract ourselves from an underlying feeling of anxiety or emotional discomfort.

Of course, being active, social, and creative are good things, but if our motive for doing them is to seek escape from our own deep-seated personal anguish, then we will NEVER stop suffering. We will just keep moving from one distraction to the next, always finding that we reach the end only to find that we’re still right where we started.

It’s kind of like people who pick up and move across the country to escape their problems only to find that their same problems resurface a few weeks or months down the road. We cannot overcome our pain using any external device. The only way to find peace is to have the courage to conquer our internal state.

We can start by realizing one key idea: how you feel depends on how you think.

Fear of life is really the fear of emotions. It is not the facts that we fear but our feelings about them.

David Hawkins

Stress – it’s all your fault! Don’t stress, though.

We’ve all experienced stress. There are whole industries and disciplines dedicated to relieving stress. People even die from stress.

But the truth is, there is nothing in this world – no person, event, or scenario – that can actually cause stress.

Stress is entirely due to our interpretations. We feel stress because we think something threatens our physical or psychological selves, or that something is so important that it governs our intrinsic value and self-esteem.

In order to stop being stressed, we have to change the way we view things. By changing the context of something, we change its meaning. How else can one person in a break up see a future of depression and heartbreak, while the other sees a future of newfound freedom and opportunity? How else can one person see a failure as being the end while another sees it as just the beginning?

It comes down to the stories we tell ourselves. Let go of what you think is right or how you think things should be. Change your story, change your interpretation, and you change your result. Whether or not you feel stressed is entirely up to you.

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

Viktor Frankl, Holocaust survivor

Kings Cross Staunton camel bone chess set

I’m the proud owner of this Kings Cross Staunton camel bone chess set.

I’m so proud of being humbler than everyone else.

Pride is often seen as a good thing – do something we’re proud of, make our parents proud, have pride in our work, etc.

If we are proud of something, we will defend it, and doing so infers that what we’re proud of is open for question – its value is debatable. After all, if something was truly strong, why would we have to defend it?

Pride may seem noble and admirable, but it is really a cover-up for an inner sense of inadequacy. The problem is not that we accomplish things, but that we have a prideful, self-congratulatory attitude about our accomplishments (by the way, my chess rating is 1722). At some point, we will inevitably be humbled (or beaten at chess) and our pride will make us angry and defensive.

But those who have let go of their pride cannot be humbled. They are immune to criticism and attacks because there is nothing to defend. Instead, they recognize the attacks and destructive criticism of others as mere confessions of that person’s own inner problems.

Whenever we get angry at or critical of someone else, we need to pay immediate attention to what we’re thinking. We need to ask ourselves: why am I angry? Why do I take offense? Why do I need to criticize this person? Am I trying to hurt their self-esteem in order to boost my own? Do I feel threatened or inferior?

If so, let go of your pride.

When we feel nervous or intimidated by someone else, we can ask ourselves, why am I nervous? Is there an image I am trying to convey, and I’m afraid of messing things up? Do I feel pressure to seem smart, cool, or interesting? Am I trying to act like someone else because I think my true self isn’t worthy or likeable? Am I worried I will lose face in front of these people and damage my reputation?

If so, let go of your pride.

Instead of feeling pride, we can simply feel love and enjoyment in what we do. No one can really argue with that. If we do something just because we like to do it, who can tell us that we’re wrong? There’s no pride and therefore nothing to defend. It’s only when we start saying that something is right or wrong, better or worse, good or bad that we incite pain and conflict.

We see that learning to dance means we have to be willing to let go of pride. As all of the associated feelings are surrendered, it becomes very clear that the real reason is unwillingness – not incapacity.

David Hawkins

What it all comes down to…

Our world is full of uncertainty. We’ve created an identity to give us structure and security, and we feel the need to defend that identity in order to remain safe. That means resisting reality, which causes negative emotions like fear, anger, and guilt. We repress these emotions or adopt unhealthy habits to try to escape from them.

But in order to achieve peace, confidence, and fulfillment, we have to confront our negative emotions and stop believing that they are somehow helping us. We have to accept reality. We have to let go of our identity. We can still strive for goals and success, but rather than doing so as a means to escape from psychological pain or to gain approval from others, we can do so as a means of enjoyment and personal fulfillment.

We can find true security and contentment, but first we have to learn to accept reality, to have the courage to experience our emotions, and to let go.

***To learn more about how to handle stress and emotions, check out Letting Go, by David Hawkins.***

***Be sure to FOLLOW this blog for more posts on business, psychology, and personal development.***

One comment

  1. […] thing, whether it’s our market position, grade point average, favorite sports team, salary, chess rating, etc. This just causes unnecessary psychological […]

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