By Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D.
Recent events have me thinking about political anarchy – riots, bombings, civil wars, threats, and other bad and dangerous behavior around the world. Politically, anarchy means obeying no laws. It’s frightening to watch a mob take over. Anarchy is the result of two things: repression and neglect. When people are economically and politically repressed, they become frustrated. When they are also ignored and neglected, negative forces are free to take over. This is how gangs and terrorist organizations take hold.
It’s a great metaphor for another kind of anarchy that happens much closer to home, which is a result of similar dynamics. When your feelings and thoughts are out of control and take over your thinking process, you can be gripped by inner anarchy. Depression, rage, anxiety attacks and addiction are all forms of inner anarchy. And they all result from repressing your feelings and neglecting to maintain your inner equilibrium. Milder forms of inner anarchy include saying things you don’t mean (but can’t take back) in the heat of an argument, the inability to accomplish what you want because of inner resistance, and out of control behaviors, such as drinking, spending or eating too much. We all have experienced these.
To calm down the inner anarchy, we must become aware of what’s going on inside, and learn to manage our thoughts and emotions. Acknowledging your feelings is more important than expressing them. Once you know what is going on with you emotionally, you can make a rational decision about how, when and where to express it to best effect. If you don't acknowledge your feelings, they can keep you stuck, and unable to let go. Faced and accepted, they can become an opportunity to change whatever needs to be changed, and to create a new opportunity.
The decision about whether or not to express your feelings in a given situation depends on what you want to accomplish, and how possible that is under the circumstances. For example, if you're angry, take some time to figure out that you're angry, why you're angry, and what it will take to fix it. Once you have that worked out, you can express all three of those facts, in a rational way, to the person you want to tell. Doing this gives you the best chance of getting your desired result. If you just react, and express your feelings helter-skelter, the situation is likely to escalate into a problem.
As a psychotherapist, I think jealousy, anger, envy, contempt, resentment and greed are useful, not ugly, emotions, but I know most people have trouble with them. Think of these emotions as the little lights on the dashboard of your car. When they light up, they're telling you something you need to know, to keep life running smoothly. By overcoming your "autophobia" -- fear of yourself -- and getting comfortable with your feelings, you can turn them from ugly to useful.
Contrary to what many of my clients believe when they first come to me, you can learn to manage your emotions. Becoming autonomous, or self-regulating, means that you can do what you are supposed to do without being told by someone else. It could be as simple as getting yourself out of bed for work, cleaning your home, or as complicated as making sure your financial situation is stable. Inner anarchy is in charge when you don't do things until you're forced to, or you're late for work because you didn't hear your alarm clock.
You can learn to be emotionally responsive to yourself as well as to others, which means you can empathize and respond effectively to your own feelings. That is, you can be sympathetic and comforting to your own sadness, respectful of your own anger, reassuring of your own fear.
When you’re motivated, you have things you want to accomplish in life, and you have the energy to carry out your plans. For example, you want to do better, financially, so you get enthused about being more educated, and you go to school, complete your classes and get your degree. You don't have to fight yourself to do it, because you want the result. No one has to tell you to do it, because you’re self-regulating.
When you’re in control of your impulses, you don't have temper tantrums, drink too much, or let your other "animal impulses": (ie: greed, lust, gluttony, pride, rage, jealousy, etc.) take over. We all have negative impulses. The mature person has them under control, and can keep his or her life on an even keel. That is, you think before you react or respond. Inner anarchy exists if you’re getting drunk, raging, remaining in bad relationships "because I love him".
Self management is not difficult, once you understand it’s your responsibility. Many of us remain mystified about our inner thoughts and feelings, because we’ve never been taught to consult with ourselves before acting. Asking your own opinion about an issue, finding out what you think or feel about it, takes the pressure off you, and gives you the means and opportunity to decide how you’re going to act on what you think and feel.
You have to make some choices: Do you want to keep doing what you're doing, or do you want to learn self-control and have a life that works? Do you want to look good to your peers, or do you want to be successful? Do you want to be right, or be loved? In every case, learning to manage your feelings and act responsibly will get you more of what you want from life.
Inner anarchy will affect your relationships, too. Healthy relationships are built on a foundation, or infrastructure, of clear thinking, problem solving, and mutual support. I often ask my clients to stop and think about what they're doing in the middle of a fight, and ask them what they look like to themselves. They realize they sound and look like children fighting, and they're not making sense, even to themselves. Usually, neither partner would argue with the boss, colleagues at work, or a child's teacher the way you argue with each other. You have choices - you don't have to argue with each other. Instead of acting like bickering children, use your grownup self-control to pull yourself out of the argument. Keep in mind that it doesn't matter who's right, who started it, or whether it's fair. He (or she) who "loses it", loses everything.
Learning to be patient and remain calm also reduces and relieves stress. Cultivating patience is really learning impulse control: Learn how to do "emotional maintenance" and shake off stress; How to quit when something is getting to you. It's an issue in self-control. Research shows that happiness and satisfaction depend more on the inner person than on external circumstances. The secret to living a less stressed existence is to get in charge of your feelings and thoughts. Then you can build the life you want. (Adapted From It Ends With You) © 2006 Tina B. Tessina
Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D., (www.tinatessina.com) is a licensed psychotherapist in S. California, with over 25 years experience in counseling individuals and couples and author of 11 books, including It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction (New Page); How to Be a Couple and Still Be Free (New Page); The Unofficial Guide to Dating Again (Wiley) and The Real 13th Step: Discovering Self-Confidence, Self-Reliance and Independence Beyond the Twelve Step Programs (New Page.) She publishes the "Happiness Tips from Tina" e-mail newsletter and has hosted "The Psyche Deli: delectable tidbits for the subconscious" a weekly hour long radio show. She is an online expert, answering relationship questions at www.CouplesCompany.com and Yahoo!Personals, as well as a Redbook Institute expert and "Psychology Smarts" columnist for First for Women. Dr. Tessina guests frequently on radio, and on such TV shows as "Oprah", "Larry King Live" and ABC news.