THE EMO­TIONAL WAKE

It’s the aura-like after-ef­fect that can al­ter your state of mind and re­la­tion­ships – here’s how to take charge of it like a boss

Women's Health Australia - - LIFE ETC - By Ada Cal­houn

A friend and I re­cently ran into a woman I’ve known for years. I re­spect her and yet, when­ever we in­ter­act, I de­part un­der an anx­i­ety cloud, think­ing, ‘Why do I feel so flat now? Does she not like me?’ As we talked, she gos­siped about some­one I didn’t know and seemed to vi­brate with neg­a­tive en­ergy. After we left her, my friend turned to me and said, “Why do I sud­denly feel like crap?”

Every hu­man in­ter­ac­tion im­parts some feel­ings for either side to process. While it’s ob­vi­ous that you’ll walk away stung if some­one in­sults you, con­ver­sa­tions of­ten pack more sub­tle un­der­cur­rents. It could be a mat­ter of dis­con­cert­ing words, an odd look, an eye­browrais­ing text or just a mood that de­scends like a fog when a person de­parts. This after-ef­fect is called an emo­tional wake – the feel­ings churn­ing be­hind a con­ver­sa­tion like the waves be­hind a speed­boat.

Some­times the wake is an up­lift­ing one, but walk­ing away from a neg­a­tive ex­change can leave us feel­ing some­where be­tween vaguely anx­ious and down­right de­stroyed. And of­ten peo­ple aren’t aware of the ef­fect they’re hav­ing, says lead­er­ship ex­pert Su­san Scott, who be­lieves it’s key for all of us to ex­am­ine the wake we leave.

The aura we cre­ate

Think of the phe­nom­e­non as ‘catch­ing’ some­one else’s feel­ings, which our brains are wired to do. When we see some­one mak­ing a face, for ex­am­ple, it’s enough to trig­ger our brain to make that same ex­pres­sion our­selves. This mir­ror­ing lets us dis­play em­pa­thy, but it can also make it hard to tell where our emo­tions end and an­other’s be­gin.

That’s all good when you’re com­ing from a happy in­ter­ac­tion, such as crack­ing up with your bestie or get­ting praised at work. But when a bit­ter mate eats up your break with her rants, or a boss doles out only crit­i­cism, you wind up feel­ing like garbage. In the same way peo­ple go into fight-or-flight mode when phys­i­cally threat­ened, when you per­ceive an emo­tional threat (‘My friend seems bored by me,’ ‘My boss never thinks my work is good enough,’), your think­ing brain gets hi­jacked by your emo­tional brain. You snap into de­fen­sive mode and be­come closed off and fear­ful, or you strug­gle to feel com­pas­sion for the person who’s bum­ming you out.

Worse still, the blow­back can im­pact both mind and body. When some­one fre­quently leaves a toxic wake and you don’t do any­thing to ad­dress it, a sort of emo­tional sed­i­ment forms, which can lead you to feel de­pressed, anx­ious or even sick. Re­search by Ohio

State Univer­sity, US, shows our im­mune sys­tems are af­fected by the re­la­tion­ships we have. Mean­while in a 12-year study of more than 9000 sub­jects, Univer­sity Col­lege Lon­don sci­en­tists dis­cov­ered that peo­ple in neg­a­tive re­la­tion­ships had a greater risk of de­vel­op­ing heart prob­lems

than those whose close re­la­tion­ships were mostly pos­i­tive. Fas­ci­nat­ing!

Own your wake

The up­side? Sim­ply be­ing con­scious and own­ing your aura can vastly im­prove your re­la­tion­ships. Easy ways to leave peo­ple feel­ing good: make eye con­tact, ask thought­ful ques­tions, lis­ten to the re­sponses. “Think, ‘What has their day been like?’“says mar­riage and fam­ily ther­a­pist Jen­nifer Uhrlass. “If you take a real in­ter­est in peo­ple, that can have a huge im­pact on how they feel about … and around you.”

An­other key is recog­nis­ing and spell­ing out your own feel­ings. “If you come home from a tough day and yell at your part­ner, he thinks it’s about him,” says psy­chol­o­gist Dr Arielle Schwartz. “In­stead, how about say­ing, ‘I had a rough day at work … but it’s not your fault.’” Shar­ing a laugh helps a lot, too.

Some­times your wake has less to do with how you feel about a par­tic­u­lar person and more to do with what’s go­ing on in­ter­nally. When you’re con­stantly feel­ing run down, chances are slim that you’re boost­ing any­one else around you.

And if you’re get­ting feed­back, es­pe­cially from more than one person, that you seem an­gry, un­kind or gen­er­ally a downer, pay at­ten­tion. “This doesn’t mean that ev­ery­thing you hear from a fam­ily mem­ber, co-worker or friend is true,” says Schwartz. It may be about their per­cep­tions or pro­jec­tions. That said, if the re­ports are unan­i­mous, it could be time to change things up.

Process their wake

When you’re on the re­ceiv­ing end of some­one’s nego ’tude, your first in­stinct might be to bolt. “But re­mem­ber … it’s not your dis­tress,” says Dr Sylvia Morelli, di­rec­tor of the Em­pa­thy & So­cial Con­nec­tion Lab at the Univer­sity of Illi­nois at Chicago. “The key is to see what they’re feel­ing but not take it on.”

One clin­i­cally proven strat­egy, she says, is vis­ual dis­tanc­ing. This means you lis­ten but imag­ine your­self phys­i­cally far­ther away from the person than you are. That doesn’t mean check­ing out emo­tion­ally; just fo­cus­ing on the broader pic­ture. An­other is to cut in with kind­ness. One men­tal health pro­fes­sional, who asked to re­main anony­mous, has a client with a strong neg­a­tive wake. “I … point out the things she does well, which takes some of the steam out of her tox­i­c­ity and makes me bet­ter able to deal with her,” she says.

Hav­ing a person like this in your life raises the ques­tion: when do you speak up, and when do you just let it go? “If there’s a mu­tual long-term com­mit­ment to the re­la­tion­ship – a spouse, a friend, a boss – then it’s worth your while to bring up how they make you feel, even if it’s un­com­fort­able,” says Schwartz. Deal­ing with it can be good for both of you (if they’re will­ing to en­gage). Noth­ing can get bet­ter if we just ac­cept things as they are, right? Good vibes only, please!

0.5 Come up for air, mate. When you’re chat­ting, a half-sec­ond is the per­fect pause be­tween sen­tences for some­one to take in what you’re say­ing, reckon sci­en­tists. Source: Univer­sity of Gothen­burg

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