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by Maddie Lukens, MA

Have you ever been a backseat driver? Or perhaps you’ve been on the receiving end of someone else’s backseat-driving?

You’re cruising down the street you take every day and hear someone in the passenger or back seat pipe up and say: “you’re going to miss it – TURN RIGHT HERE!” You might find yourself in shock at the sudden outburst, or perhaps somewhat grateful someone spoke up to inform you that you were indeed going to miss the turn. Or maybe you feel frustrated that someone is trying to direct your decision-making (“who does my 12-year-old think they are anyway?!”).

I think emotions can look a lot like this in our lives, too.

As counselors we spend a lot of time talking about emotions – labeling them, figuring out how they impact us, and learning how to cope with the difficult ones. However, emotions are only one small piece to the puzzle of human experience, and at times we let our emotions sit in the driver’s seat of our lives, instead of the passenger seat.

Emotions are helpful and informative; they require our attention, and if left unattended for an extended period of time, we are often left to fend for ourselves, fighting against feelings of depression or rage, to name a few.

The biggest take away from this post is: “Don’t let your emotions be in the driver’s seat of your ‘decision-making car.’”

There are some consequences to emotion-based decision making, those times when we let emotions sit in the driver’s seat of our lives:

  1. We can say or do something we don’t mean.
  2. We are reactive instead of proactive.
  3. We tend to blame instead of taking responsibility.

I’m sure you can relate to some of the consequences listed above. I know I can. When we are angry and arguing, we often say things we don’t mean and the things we say can be hurtful towards someone. When we find ourselves stuck, feeling pressure to make a decision, perhaps we make a choice based on how we feel, instead of being able to think ahead, proactively, to make a logical decision. One of the most damaging consequences when we let our emotions sit in the driver’s seat, is we minimize our role in the conflict. When we are angry or frustrated we usually turn to blame, instead of pausing to ask ourselves: “what might my responsibility be in this situation?”

Here are a few tips to allow your emotions to inform, and be the helpful, invisible backseat drivers in your life:

  1. Notice when you might be feeling an emotion, especially frustration, anger, and bitterness.
  2. If you are feeling a strong emotion, try to create space for yourself to decompress.

· This can sound like: “Can you excuse me for a few minutes?”

· If you have the ability to pause what you’re doing, take 3 deep breaths.

· You can also say something like: “I am feeling a lot of pressure to decide and I don’t think I have all the information. Can you give me some more time so I can get what I need?”

3. If you’ve reacted out of a highly emotional state, take responsibility and apologize if necessary. We’re all human and no doubt the person who you interacted with has also let their emotions drive their responses at some point in their life.

When our emotions are big, loud, constant, or overwhelming they can do a lot of the driving in our lives. It’s important to learn ways to manage your emotions, listen to how they are informing you, and then keep them in the backseat. This way, you can be an effective driver in your own life, not constantly responding based on what some pestering person might be telling you from two rows back.

Begin Online Counseling in Pennsylvania

Our team of experienced therapists at Lime Tree Counseling would love to help you navigate difficult emotions. We offer online counseling through a secure, HIPAA-compliant telehealth platform. Our counselors specialize in anxiety therapy, PTSD and trauma treatment, marriage counseling, cross-cultural counseling, and addictions therapy. Please contact us today to schedule an appointment or a free, 15-minute phone consultation. Let us help you thrive in life!