Day in and day out, all kinds of feelings can rise up — while you try your best just to to do your job. Undervalued. Marginalized. Overwhelmed. Ignored. Overlooked. Made to feel terrible about yourself in all kinds of ways.
And yet you say nothing. You just suck it in, stuffing your feelings at work into an “emotional box”. And because these boxes don’t have any exit doors or automatic release valves, they just grow and grow. Ready to reinforce and feed any new hurts happening in the moment.
The art of stuffing your feelings at work
A strange thing happens to people when they feel trapped by their work circumstances. They start to manufacture even more emotions. Anger. Frustration. Envy. Jealousy. Annoyance. Resentment. Hatred. Sadness. Hurt.
At first, these emotions may only make a guest appearance. And so they can be easily forgotten as other things fill your day. But, if you start to focus on the negatives, like what you don’t have or aren’t getting from the job, these emotions start to grow bigger.
Soon these negative emotions take up more and more of your day. And the more you feed negative emotions, the hungrier they get. You may be feeding them internally all by yourself. Or you may be spending lots of time talking about them with your co-workers, friends, or spouses.
Building those emotional boxes one emotion at a time
So what’s really going on? Essentially, you’re building emotional boxes in response to your feelings of helplessness or being trapped. And after a while, the boxes of emotions start to have more and more of an influence. All those stuffed feelings combine to color your entire work experience.
Things that used to feel pleasant, or at least neutral, actually start to diminish in number. Instead they are overwritten by those darker emotions from the box. In the moment, it’s hard to see yourself reacting to external stimuli. But when jobs start to feel bad, we are adding to our own negative experiences. Sometimes as much or more than the actual events taking place!
For example, suppose you’re in a meeting with someone you find especially annoying. And that person says something totally stupid or off the subject — as usual. They never listen! You can feel your anger rising as you think:
“What a total moron. He’s just like all the other idiots I have to work with here. What am I doing in this stupid job anyway?”
And now you’re letting the boxes take control
If you look at this situation from an objective perspective, you can almost see yourself adding more to the situation than is really there. They aren’t really all idiots. But in the moment it sure feels that way. You’re actually adding things from one of the boxes to the moment.
Your coworker may well be an idiot. But you’re not fully present in the meeting with all your energy focused on accomplishing what needs to be done. Instead, you’re taking a trip into one of those boxes and playing with the anger and frustration you stored there. Giving the emotions (which have no substance in reality) actual power. While you lose yours.
And what did all that accomplish for you? It removed you from the meeting and let the box take you over. Also, you got to feed the anger & frustration box yet again. Stuffing your latest feelings at work into the very same box you just used to enlarge whatever you were feeling in the moment.
What’s really going on?
Rather than concentrating on the business at hand as you should have been doing, you choose to get caught up in emotions superfluous to the situation. In effect, you add more anger time to your already negative feelings about the job. And the box grows even bigger.
Although I know this is not a satisfying thought, it’s important to understand how much of what you feel has been fed by your own thoughts. Even if things at the job suck. Even if there are nasty, rotten people you have to deal with every day. You can still choose what you are going to focus on.
For many of us, the real problem is that we focus on what’s not there and miss what is. And if we continue focusing on all the awfulness, we’ll miss out on all the possibilities. That last point is critical to take in.
Another way to look at things
Feeding emotions in the moment, with stored up memories of other times when this same person or situation made you angry, only makes everything feel worse. And if you do this often enough, you’re not getting to see (or be invited to join) opportunities that you might actually enjoy.
Let’s face it. People are going to be annoying. Jobs are going to be annoying. But how much of your time is spent stuck in that thought? And what are you doing for yourself to make an actual difference in your own experiences?
A few final thoughts
Taking more of your own work experience on as a personal project is a theme I talk about often on this site. So if it doesn’t quite feel true to you yet, or if you can’t see what to do about it, don’t worry. Just be open to the idea that the boxes you create, you can also un-create.
Instead, you can redirect that same energy and creativity you used to build the emotional boxes, to improve your job. And when you take action, you will also start to feel less helpless. Luckily, the less helpless you feel, the less time you will want to spend in the boxes.
When you feel yourself accomplish things that you set out to accomplish, work and life are a lot more fun. And when you come from a positive, solution-oriented mindset (rather than spending so much time reviewing hurts), you’ll find that people react differently to you. And when that happens, situations you never imagined can open up.
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