Client Story #1
A long time ago, I asked a question of a client during an already tense morning for him. The question tipped his anger into rage. He threw a paperweight at me. Fortunately, I dodged it, and no one was hurt. He stormed out of the room. I began to pray for him.
My client was redlining, meaning, his emotions had surpassed his ability to manage them.
Dog trainers understand this concept. When a dog has too much cortisol in its system, you cannot train it. Cortisol keeps the dog from being able to think clearly and act rationally. It can take up to three days for the cortisol levels to drop and normalize, permitting effective training again.
As executive leaders, when we are under strain for long periods we can reach a point where our cortisol levels make it impossible for us to think clearly. This leads to rage or depression (some say this can be anger turned inward). Too often, when executives are operating in this state of continued high levels of stress, behaviors become more erratic, and they turn to self-destructive stress-relieving measures such as alcohol or drugs to self-medicate a way out of the turmoil.
Emotional Red Lining
The most dangerous part of this whole process is that an executive becomes so accustomed to living under unhealthy levels of stress, compensating with coping mechanisms like extreme workouts, isolation, and such, that they don’t realize they are close to the tipping point of what I call emotional red lining (similar to the idea of driving with a car engine at or above its rated maximum rpm as in “both his engines were redlined now”).
This is what happened to my client. The stress finally brought him to the end of himself at that moment and he exploded.
He came back into the room and sheepishly muttered an apology.
He slumped in the chair and admitted that he hated the question I was asking because he didn’t want to face the issues that the question was bringing up.
He was scared. And the fear pushed him over the red line.
Now, we were getting somewhere!
In the end, those few days spent with this client were the turning point not just for the business (saving him millions of dollars for the business) but also for his marriage. He faced the “thing” that was pushing him towards the red line. The undercurrent of agitation created by the avoidance was released.
Client Story #2
Here’s a second story for you – very different, but same idea.
A client is on the verge of tears. His face is slightly contorted as he pushes back the waves of emotions that want to take hold of him.
Each time he pushes the emotions back, he strains his body more. He came to the call feeling very weary and uncomfortable.
It takes a ton of energy to fight off strong emotions. In this executive’s case, it wasn’t fear he was fighting. Instead, it was profound sadness that he just didn’t feel equipped to deal with.
I believe that two of the most challenging emotions for an executive to work with honestly and healthily are fear and sadness. If not expressed or time taken to sit with them and feel them, these emotions can push the executive to the red line, and all that will be seen and experienced by others is anger, fury, and rage. But under the anger that boils over, is something that is far less intimidating and far more intimate – possibly fear or sadness among other intense and discomforting emotions we experience as humans.
Where can an executive go to sit with and sort through these intricate aspects of their human psyche?
Without a trusted confidante, the executive must continue to come up with more and more creative ways to try and manage, typically to the detriment of their own mental, emotional, and physical health.
When this second client permitted himself to begin to dance with sadness, his body relaxed a bit. It’s just the beginning of his journey with sadness, but it is a good journey. A journey, that in the end, will bring health and life to his soul in ways he has not known yet. I’m grateful for his courage to become vulnerable with himself within the context of another relationship. I truly believe that deep healing cannot happen outside the context of community. God designed us for that.
Does anyone remember phrases such as “use your feeling words rather than hitting Johnny” when you were young? Or maybe you are coaching, caregiving, or parenting children and teenagers to identify their feelings, use their words to express these emotions and process them while providing support as they solve their problems.
As you reflect on the Emotions Wheel, do you notice how these emotions span across every age, race, socioeconomic status, etc. since this is an important part of humankind? We are emotional beings, whether we admit it or not. It’s a matter of whether we are in touch with our emotions.
When emotions are buried, they are buried alive.
Plus, if we ignore or numb intense and uncomfortable emotions, they may also short-circuit the wonderful feelings of love, joy, or surprise. How would we know joy without sorrow, security without fear, peace without anger? The spectrum of emotions is a full package. Pursuing emotional health over a lifetime is beneficial since we do not ever really “arrive” on this side of heaven. However, we can grow, heal, and change.
The key is learning to recognize and manage our emotions. For example, what is the difference between anxiety, fear, and stress? All three may illicit an icky feeling in the pit of our stomach, although what is really going on inside with each one?
- Anxiety means a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminentevent or something with an uncertain outcome.
- Fear means an unpleasantemotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain or a threat.
- Stress means a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.
Knowing the difference may help deploy the most fitting, and healthy, self-regulation tools in the moment, which takes practice, of course!
Have you Considered the Effects of Trauma in Your Life?
A groundbreaking study was conducted in 1995 by the Centers for Disease Control and the Kaiser Permanente healthcare organization in California. In that study, “ACEs” referred to three specific kinds of adversity children faced in the home environment—various forms of physical and emotional abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction. The key findings of dozens of studies using the original ACEs data are: (1) ACEs are quite common, even among a middle-class population: more than two-thirds of the population report experiencing one ACE, and nearly a quarter have experienced three or more. (2) There is a powerful, persistent correlation between the more ACEs experienced and the greater the chance of poor outcomes later in life, including dramatically increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, depression, substance abuse, smoking, poor academic achievement, time out of work, and early death.
Author, Bessel VanderKolk, MD, writes in The Body Keeps the Score, about research-based ways to free trauma survivors from haunting past experiences by growing one’s ability to “know what you know and feel what you feel.” However, long after a traumatic experience is over, various triggers like hints of danger can set off the brain circuits which release huge amounts of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline causing agitation since neurons that fire together, wire together. Often, people may not remember the trauma but rather experience overwhelming post-traumatic reactions that can get our attention such as rageful outbursts (often from physical abuse as a child), flashbacks, panic attacks, etc. sometimes followed by blaming others for these hijacking and disabling emotional storms. Or numbing (often from child sexual abuse) may occur instead.
For example, when we are young when we feel safe and loved, our brain becomes specialized in exploration, planning, and cooperation; if you are frightened and unwanted, it specializes in managing feelings of fear and abandonment while coping in survival mode. The emotional brain initiates preprogrammed escape plans or fight or flight from the amygdala, rendering our frontal lobe or thinking brain out of commission. Constantly fighting unseen dangers is exhausting and leaves us fatigued, depressed, and weary.
Gratefully there is hope. The brain has its natural neuroplasticity to help survivors heal, regain self-mastery, live fully and securely in the present as well move forward, namely: top-down or talking, connecting with others while knowing, feeling, and processing memories, and bottom-up or allowing the body to have deeply visceral contrary experiences to helplessness, rage or collapse. When we ignore these facets of humanity, we deprive ourselves and others of ways to heal, which separates suffering people from the community and alienates them from an inner sense of self (referencing Bessel VanderKolk, MD, writes in The Body the Keeps Score).
A few questions to consider if you could identify with either of my clients’ journeys:
- How close do you think you are to your red line?
- Which emotion is rooted underneath the safe front of anger?
- What are your current coping mechanisms for it?
- Who is your trusted confidante?
Most everything we do at C3Advantage goes back to executive health.
If you are healthy, your business can get healthy. But if you are not healthy, your business will never be healthy. One CEO I know was kicked out of his own business by his family because of his lack of emotional health. I’m prayerful that this will be a wake-up call for him to do the deeper work, but sadly, that’s not the outcome I’m seeing.
There is a whole world of deep inner healing and shalom that awaits our leaders who run the businesses that put food on the table for so many people. All of us have the opportunity for deeper healing. Maybe we will write an article on shalom in the future.
In the meantime, we like to say, “Take care of your people and the business will take care of itself.” There is another component to that equation which is to take proper care of yourself so that you can take care of your people appropriately.
Where do you need to spend a bit of time on this? Whom can you call to share this healing journey?
Happy to talk further if you’d like. But if not me, then find someone. Don’t do this alone. You weren’t meant to do so. God has designed us for relationships with Him and others.
You don’t have to wait until you hit the red line.
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