How Can You Manage Unruly Emotions? The Same Way You Treat Snake Bite

A few weeks ago I got an email via the “Ask a Question” button on my website. (Please use it! I do respond.)

My correspondent asked,

“During confrontation (sometimes not even intense confrontation), I blush. Even if I know I am right, or do not instigate confrontation, I find myself blushing while stating the facts. Is there a way to suppress this?”

After asking around among my doctor chums, I learned there is no physical way to keep this from happening so I offered him the following advice:

“As for what to do, I am going to recommend allowing whatever emotions seem to need to surface to surface, because pushing them down only exacerbates them.

In a weird way, it’s like the advice they give people who have been bitten by a snake (my husband does wildlife rescue….) which is to stay as calm as possible because getting agitated only gets the venom to travel further, faster. Attempting to suck the venom out or putting a tourniquet above the affected area are not recommended as either of these choices can lead to disfigurement or even death.”

What real life examples can I offer you that might help you to believe me? One of my favorites is this clip of Spike Lee from “Inside the Actor’s Studio” explaining how he financed Malcolm X once the studios reneged on the deal. As you see, he never apologies as tears roll down his face– he never even brushes them away. He remains calm and feels his feelings. It’s a powerful lesson.

Another, more heartbreaking current example can be seen in this clip of the Mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulin Cruz, asking for aid for Puerto Rico on September 26th. As you can see, she remains calm and stays on message – and because she doesn’t allow her emotions to distract her, they don’t distract us.

So the next time your feelings kick in as the result of a “bite” from a colleague, friend or family member, don’t try to suck them out of yourself or contain them. Remaining calm about whatever physical reaction you have will help that reaction pass more quickly.


To learn more about how to respond— not react— when someone bites you, take a look at “I Don’t Accept Your Premise” AKA “Strategies for Responding, Not Reacting”