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Is your heart emotionally healthy?

Posted: February 10, 2015 9:59 a.m.
Updated: February 10, 2015 9:59 a.m.
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Question:

I have trouble with my emotions getting out of control. I can get angry and blow up at people. I also get offended sometimes and hold onto it for weeks. I am a good person, and I care deeply about my family and friends, but I admit that sometimes I don’t really care about other people. I’ve been told I have a hard heart, and it hurts to hear that because I don’t mean to. I think I inherited these tendencies from my dad and they are deeply ingrained. Is there a way to change them?

Answer:

Yes, you can change your inherited programming, but it will take some time and work. You may even want some professional help with it. It would make the process faster, but you can learn to use conscious choice to soften your heart and get it more emotionally healthy.

Since it is Heart Health Month (February) I’d like to give you some advice on developing a more emotionally healthy heart.

We read a great deal about how emotions can affect our health, but did you know that people who are emotionally heart healthy (compassionate, calm and balanced) have better relationships, more success and generally live longer? They do.

Here are six steps to improve your emotional heart health:

  1. Learn mindfulness (the ability to experience emotions objectively). It is important to deal with emotions instead of stuffing or denying them, but most people think they only have two options. They either let the emotions run wild, which means blowing up or falling apart or they stuff them and try to pretend they aren't there. There is a third option, a way to process emotions without letting them affect you in a negative way. It is called mindfulness. Mindfulness is about learning to be both the observer and the observed. It is about learning to step back and experience what you are feeling and watch how your feelings are affecting your body without reacting. In this place, you can see that being upset is one option, but it is never your only option. Being upset is a choice. You can access two great articles about mindfulness when upset by clicking here. I also recommend learning to meditate. It is a powerful way to increase your mindfulness, wisdom and peace. It is good for your heart, your stress level and your emotions on every level.

  2. Choose gratitude. In every moment of your life, you can focus on what’s wrong, what you don’t have and what you wish you didn’t have. You can complain and be disappointed and generally miserable because of these factors. Or, you can focus on what’s right in your life, what you do have and what you are grateful you don’t have. In every single moment of your life you could be grateful and happy, or you could be disappointed and angry. Both states are possible all the time. People who have emotionally healthy hearts know that it makes no sense to create unnecessary suffering by focusing on the negative. Choosing gratitude is the fastest way to self-generate positive energy, and you have the power to choose it, in any moment. An emotionally healthy heart always focuses on blessings.

  3. Be flexible. When I talk about being flexible most people think about yoga or stretching. These are important to your physical health because flexible muscles mean less pain and more strength. But emotional flexibility may be even more important. Being emotionally or mentally flexible means you can flow with whatever happens. If situations or events disappoint you, you don’t get bent out of shape. Instead you bend your expectations and flow around the obstacle. When you are attached to an expectation, you are setting yourself up for unnecessary suffering. You can practice being emotionally flexible every day. The next time you are stuck in traffic and late for an appointment ask yourself “How attached am I to my expectation of being there on time?" If you can’t bend that expectation you will create misery. Your other option is to say, “This is out of my control. I might as well roll with it, relax into being late and not suffer over it.” You will still do what you can to be on time, but you will decide not to suffer over things you can’t control. Buddha said every time you get offended you get to decide if the offense is a cut through water which heals instantly, a cut through sand that will be gone by tomorrow, or cut through stone which will be there for decades. Choose water and you will live much longer and happier. An emotionally healthy heart is flexible like water and flows with life.

  1. Choose tolerance. Bigotry is defined as an obstinate belief in the superiority of one’s own options or way of being over another’s. Tolerance is the willingness to honor and respect those who are different, even if you don’t agree with their way of being. A tolerant heart comes from choosing to see all people as having the same intrinsic value. It is about a fundamental belief that no person has more intrinsic worth than another. Choosing this basic philosophy around people means you never see yourself as better (or worse) than anyone else. This will change the way you interact with every person in your life. It will help you to treat others with respect and kindness, the same way you wish to be treated. Lloyd Shearer, who wrote "Walter Scott’s Personality Parade," said “Resolve to be tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of the weak and the wrong. Sometime in life you will have been all of these.” Choose to see all people as the same as you. People with tolerant hearts are happier and have better self-esteem, because in honoring the value of all beings, they affirm their own worth too.

  2. Be compassionate. The Dalai Lama once said, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy… practice compassion.” It is just a fact that caring for others makes us feel better. Clinical psychologist Lisa Firestone, Ph.D., says. "We all think we want to be loved, but what actually feels good to us is feeling loving -- and part of what makes us feel more love for other people is doing kind, compassionate things for them." People with an emotionally healthy heart understand that kindness creates joy for them, so they look for opportunities to give everywhere they go.

  3. Take care of yourself. Take time to refresh, renew yourself and play, or you won’t be able to give gifts of love without strings attached. You will be giving them from an empty bucket and in that there is inherent neediness. You can’t love authentically until you have filled your bucket, and you must do this yourself. You cannot expect others to do this for you. You must make sure your needs own needs are met. If you don’t do this, you will subconsciously resent the people in your life for not doing it, even though it's your job. It may feel selfish to leave your family and go to a meditation retreat, for example, but in the end, you are doing it for them because they will benefit from your new found ability to give love. Self-care leads to a healthy heart.

Anthony J. D’Angelo says, “Have a strong mind, and a soft heart.” Have a mind capable of observing and accurately understanding situations and controlling your responses, but have a tender heart full of wisdom and compassion toward all beings.

You can literally practice being mindful, grateful, flexible, tolerate and compassionate. Just set an intention to work on one each day. You will be amazed at the happiness they create.

You can do this.

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