What do you feel when someone explodes into emotion? What happens inside you when another person bursts into tears, flies into a rage, or collapses into a writhing heap of formless anxiety? Do you feel frightened and want to run away? Do you feel concerned and want to help? Or do you feel irritated and wish the whole situation would just go away and leave you alone? If you're like most people, you feel all of the above. And more.
The world is full of walking time bombs who explode into sadness, anger and fear. Fragile as they seem, they can still drag you into the middle of their outbursts, whether you want to be there or not. Getting enmeshed is the psychological term. You try things that would help a reasonable person calm down, only to discover that reasoning just adds fuel to the explosion.
This is the blast zone. You've been there before, and you will be again.
Next time someone's emotions blow up in your face, it can be different. This book will teach you how to stay calm, to think clearly amidst the sound and fury, and to understand the psychology of emotional explosions well enough to exert a little productive influence.
For almost 30 years as a clinician working with intense emotions, I've helped people gain control over explosive fear, anger and sadness in themselves and others. The techniques I use are not particularly difficult - when you stop yourself from reacting and try to understand what's going on. That first step is the hardest. Once you've mastered it, the rest is easy.
What Are Emotional Explosions?
The term emotional explosion as used here covers a wide array of events that occur at all levels of intensity and for hundreds of different reasons. They can be dangerous, frightening, painful or merely annoying. But despite the diversity of causes and effects, emotional explosions have several elements in common.
DISORDERS MAY BE DIFFERENT, BUT EXPLOSIONS ARE THE SAME. People are accustomed to thinking of explosions into anxiety, depression and anger as different entities, falling into different diagnostic categories and requiring different responses. The closer you look, however, the more illusory the differences become. Perhaps the most significant difference is our reaction. We want to help people who are frightened or sad; angry people make us want to fight or run away.
All explosions, regardless of which emotion is being expressed, are caused by rapidly escalating physiological arousal. The arousal is the problem, not the content. There are times when it is beneficial to listen to what people have to say about what they're feeling and why, but the middle of an explosion is not one of them.
Our first goal is to calm people down. There will be time for talking things through later.
(How to Deal with Emotionally Explosive People - Albert J. Bernstein)