Marina Gomberg: Let’s make space for ‘big emotions’

As adults, managing our feelings might be tough — but it’s better than ‘full-on dillweedery.’

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Marina Gomberg.

Both my wife, Elenor, and I do public relations work. We enjoy the opportunity to field questions, comments and critique from the general public — and this work offers us the chance to sort of take the temperature of the community at any given moment.

And, dear public, you’re breaking our thermometers right now. So hot and somehow also so cold — both very severe.

The stress is palpable, and the collective capacity for bologna is low. (We feel it too.) We’re all having big emotions right now, and I don’t need to list all the reasons why yours are valid. Existing is already a lot at the best of times, and we’re trying to do it during a pandemic. Suffice it to say, your feels are warranted, and I genuinely wish you well.

Here’s a gentle reminder, though: Being an unabashed dill weed to others is still, under most circumstances, unacceptable. Yes, some situations call for full-on dillweedery (new word), but most don’t.

Let’s look at a couple of scenarios:

  • Suggesting that a person who made a mere typographical error should be fired? A bit much.

  • Suggesting that a building’s architect, because you don’t like the layout, should be killed? And then also describing how? Both unnecessary and really over the top.

  • And don’t even get me started on the lack of chill to be found in comments sections across the internet.

The thing is: Big, bad reactions to smaller things don’t help the dill weed in question nor the person they’re trying to pickle.

It occurs to me — especially as a parent of a young person — that we do a great job of teaching our children these days how to recognize and productively deal with big emotions. It’s part of the curriculum at our little Harvey’s school.

We also have anger management courses for adults, but we seem to mostly mandate those only after bad behavior. We don’t spend much time thinking about healthy emotional regulation as a skill we all could benefit from keeping sharp. (If this suggestion ticks you off or makes you roll your eyes, please do keep reading.)

What they teach the kidlets (at least at my son’s school) and the bulk of online resources I found have a couple of basic steps in common. I’ll list them here and we can pretend this is A Layperson’s Continuing Education Course for Adults, or Marina’s Guide to How to Act Reasonably in an Unreasonable World. (For real professional advice, however, I would suggest seeking out a real professional.)

  1. Notice and name the emotions. Our bodies can clue us into what we’re feeling far before our minds do. Take note, because when we’re overcome with emotions, it’s good to be able to decipher which we’re feeling since the strategies for dealing with them might be different. Ice cream and a sad movie might work for some instances and screaming into the pillow might be better for others. Even naming them can be calming in its own way. (Who else felt super validated by The New York Times piece on languishing giving our communal blahness a formal name?)

  2. Try not to judge feelings — perhaps especially our own. Having feelings about our feelings can become a bit cyclical and thus a tougher momentum to slow. We don’t have to love our emotions, but maybe we could try not to hate them, experts say. They’re happening, and it might be annoying or disappointing, but the feelings themselves aren’t right or wrong. I often picture mine, when I’m succeeding at mindfulness, as passing by on a conveyor belt, and I’m trying to train my brain’s response to be, “Oh, that’s interesting.” This is a big improvement from my former immediate response of jumping to conclusions about my own inadequacy (“You’re nuts, Gom!”).

  3. Ask ourselves what we need. Knowing ahead of time what we can do for ourselves in a moment of passion (deep breathing, being in nature, taking a boxing or yoga class, etc.) is huge. I don’t know many who make their wisest or sanest decisions under extreme duress, so having a sort of escape plan before the mud even starts sliding can increase the likelihood of employing one of those strategies.

  4. Pause before reacting. Experts might suggest we practice restraint and control the impulse to immediately react. I’d add, don’t take to the keyboard! Our problem-solving prowess is a bit demented when we’re bowled over by feelings. If we can handle our emotions before trying to handle what caused them, we can save ourselves rash decisions and future apologies. Time is our friend.

So, go forth and feel bigly. And let’s relegate the dillweedery to the compost bin, OK?

Marina Gomberg is a professional communicator, a practicing optimist and a lover of love. She lives in Salt Lake City with her wife, Elenor Gomberg, and their son, Harvey. You can reach Marina at mgomberg@sltrib.com.