Shark music (or why managing emotional situations is so hard)

Have you ever been in the situation where you’ve been with someone who is upset and you end up feeling pretty rubbish yourself. By ‘upset’ here I mean angry, sad, anxious, fearful, cross and a whole range of other emotions.

Whenever we face an emotional situation we can struggle to manage our own feelings. We might get angry, upset, sad, frustrated, annoyed ourselves. This makes the situation even worse and leaves us struggling with a whole load of difficult feelings. This often happens to us when we are a parent who is dealing with a  child having a tantrum. It also happens when we are a teenager is trying to help a friend who is struggling. It even happens to us when we are in a shop trying to complain about poor service or a broken product, or in a café that serves nothing we can eat.

Whenever we try to tackle an emotional situation in the background is all our ‘stuff’ which plays a part in making things difficult for us, even though the ‘stuff’ might not be relevant. Our stuff is rarely helpful in managing the situation in the most helpful way – usually it just gets in the way. For example if we are a parent dealing with an over-tired and demanding child our stuff might say ‘they can’t talk to me in that way’ or ‘no one in this family respects me’ or ‘what would my mother think if they heard my child talk to me that way’. These thoughts and feelings usually are dug up from our childhoods and especially our early experiences. They get in the way of us being able to handle the situation.

So, how do we manage this? Well the first step is to notice when our ‘stuff’ is coming up for us and getting in the way of dealing with a situation. When you feel some emotion bubbling up notice it. Then name it ‘that’s anxiety that I’m not good enough bubbling up there’. They’ve done some great studies imaging the brain which show that when we name emotions we switch on our thinking brain and we can start to think rather than just feel overwhelmed. If we keep doing this (noticing and naming) then we can start to turn down the volume of the old stuff and reduce it’s impact on our lives and our relationships.

The people at Circle of security have explained this idea beautifully here. Whilst this example talks about parenting, it’s actually relevant for all of us as this happens in a variety of situations:

Remember – everyone has shark music, but if you want to change it, you can – with a little understanding of yourself, and some support if you need it. At Headspace Guildford we often support parents struggling to manage their own shark music and thus manage the behaviour of their children. We often support young people struggling to cope with friends and friendships or feeling bad about themselves. There’s no magic wand that we use.  Some things are hard for us to manage, but if you can just begin naming and noticing and remember that many of us are walking the road with you, you’ve started well. Feeling you aren’t alone is a powerful antidote to shark music.

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