If you find yourself angry or upset with someone in your life, I made up this short “emotion inversion” process to help you come to a different understanding of the situation and what you are truly upset about.
To “invert” an emotion is to take back the control it has over you. If you feel trapped by the grip of a negative emotion, regaining control of that emotion will give you back your power and maybe even give you the opportunity to cause the emotion to go away completely.
The Emotion Inversion Process*:
1. Think of someone that causes you to feel upset in some way.
2. Describe a specific situation that upsets you with this person, making sure you come up with the emotion you feel. You must limit your description to a very basic cause and effect. Don’t say “because” or give any reason to why you feel the way you do.
“When I wake up in the morning, she makes herself breakfast but doesn’t make me breakfast. That makes me feel _______(EMOTION)”
(don’t say ‘because she should think about me, she’s so selfish’)
“When I say I love you to him and he says thank you, that makes me feel _______”
“When my wife goes to lunch with him, it makes me feel _______”
If you come up with several emotions, select the one that has the most impact on you. If you can’t differentiate, just choose one to work with one for now.
3. Without thinking too much about the “why” of this next step, just say to yourself one of the following statements (depending on the emotion you come up with, one will work better than the other. Try both to discover which one works best):
“If I had to be THIS EMOTION at myself for my behavior in this situation, I’d be THIS EMOTION because _______”
“If I had to be THIS EMOTION about something I do in this situation, I’d be THIS EMOTION because I _______”
4. Now ask yourself one of the following questions (use the one that works best, depending on the emotion you are working with):
“What can I do differently so that I am not THIS EMOTION at myself?”
“What can I do differently so that I am not THIS EMOTION about something I do?”
In order to get through some of the challenges in your life, you may need to show up differently. Focusing all your energy on the other person changing will lead to a depressing life full of unmet expectations.
But if you choose to take responsibility for your role in the challenges, you will find that you don’t have to give up your power. You may even learn others don’t have as much control over you as you thought.
The next time you think “That person made me feel this way!” remember you give yourself more options when you focus on what you can do for yourself instead of wanting others to change.
If you experienced a shift or not, feel free to comment below. I would love to hear how this benefited you or if you came up with better questions to ask yourself.
*There is an auditory walk-through on this process in this episode of The Overwhelmed Brain.
I have a hard time with this because in most cases I can see both sides of a story. I’ve spent over 30 years watching how and why people act the way they do. I have no judgment on what they do, but I’ve always been curious as to why people act the way they do.
When I come upon a situation that doesn’t affect me I can actually pose revealing and yet non-threatening questions. When it comes to personal interactions, however, I have a hard time separating my logical mind from my emotional mind. For instance if I am conversing with someone who has specific biases, I don’t quite know what to do.
In my case it would be biases against age and/or college degrees. I can try to talk my best way through it, but I can’t actually put myself in a position to understand their thinking. Sometimes I think these are the situations best left alone and to move onto something else.
Sometimes that is the very best course of action! This technique is best when used with an upset you have toward someone else that, when you turn that upset against yourself (a very unusual thing to do) and find SOME or ANY reason you’d be upset at yourself for the situation, you dig deep enough to find a truth that may help you walk away without holding a grudge.
For example, if you were upset that someone didn’t stack the dishes right, you might think: I am very angry at that person for not stacking the dishes correctly!
But inversing the emotion onto yourself, you might say, “I am angry at myself when he stacks the dishes that way because (thinking that if I had no choice but to find anger toward myself, what would I come up with…)… … Because I continue to torture myself thinking he will one day stack the dishes correctly!
What you come up with is a way to take responsibility of the emotion and take your focus off the other person. Sure, he may stack dishes to annoy you. He may do it purposefully to make you angry. But if you see it in another way (I torture myself), at least you have SOME control over how much you torture yourself.
This may not work in every situation, but it can be quite useful in exploring ways you can gain control of your emotional state and stop being bothered by what other people do to trigger you.
Can you give an example of how #3 works? I am getting confused by the sentence structure. Am I pretending I am the person I am upset with, or am I trying to identify what I did wrong in the situation?
This is the tricky part. You are putting yourself in the position of being THIS EMOTION. I’ll update the article to emphasize *myself* in:
If I had to be THIS EMOTION at *myself* for my behavior in this situation, I’d be THIS EMOTION because _______”
“If I had to be THIS EMOTION about something *I* do in this situation, I’d be THIS EMOTION because I _______”
Great question. It’s not that you’re identifying what you did wrong the situation, it’s helping you connect to the emotion inside you where you can actually do something about it. A good example is when someone gets angry at their boss for always disrespecting them. i.e. “Every day my boss yells at me and I get so angry”.
Inverting that sentence so that I play the role with the emotion, I would say,
“If I had to be angry at myself for something that I do or don’t do, or say or don’t say when my boss yells at me, I would be angry at myself because _____.”
When you really try and dig for that answer inside you, sometimes you find a solution that you may not like or want to use, but you may learn that the negativity you direct at someone else really point at something that you feel incapable or unable to do for yourself.
Let me know if you need more than that, or if you have any other questions. Thanks again.