I feel I have done my job well when I look at a photo I made and say – there they are! That’s my friend, Tiffany, that’s my friend Kim… And I see them there on the screen. Not a likeness of them, but who they are coming through the image. It’s something you can actually feel, it resonates when it’s the real thing, and it falls flat when it isn’t. That’s why you can have the most visually spectacular image, but it leave you cold and flat – because the person in that image didn’t show up, who they are didn’t come through. But wether we know it or not, we are all searching for that resonance, that recognition in one another. We just might not be familiar with it when we find that resonance, and we don’t know how to find it again.
The frustrating part is how very clearly we are told to hold back that part of us – the part that resonates with others. We are told to hold back, tamp it down, don’t overwhelm people, don’t be too much. So we retreat into an internal place we believe is safe, and perhaps it is. Perhaps you have experienced the same thing I have – the horrible pain of people mishandling your heart. And ugh – it’s just the worst. It hurts so badly when you decide to be vulnerable to someone and they respond — poorly. That safe internal dwelling we have all carved out for ourselves sometimes is the very reason we survived. But it’s no life. It’s no way to live long term. So when it’s time, when you are ready, gather up your courage and your luggage and move out of there. Permanently.
I laugh thinking about this because if someone had said this to me four years ago my response would have been to laugh in their face, and then turn and walk away. Because I knew better. I lived in my skin and I knew the world around me wasn’t a safe place to be. They were the crazy ones for telling me to believe it was. But they were right, and they were wrong. Let me explain.
We are conditioned to not trust ourselves. We are told – your emotions lie to you, your heart is deceitful, push past those feelings, don’t be so sensitive, what you feel is not reality. My heart rate went up when I typed that last one… what overt gaslighting and absolute bull hockey thing to tell someone – that what they feel is not reality. How on earth are we supposed to trust ourselves when we are told we are out of touch with reality? That we are supposed to accept that there is a separate reality that exists, made of logic and reason that we are not a part of because we have strong feelings? It’s categorically damaging. It is utterly untrue.
The truth is not that we can’t trust our emotions. On the contrary, they were given to us as a gift to know how to navigate the world around us, and to navigate our internal landscape. What, you’ve not heard this before? Well keep reading.
Emotions are a sign post. They are a flashing neon sign at times, pointing us to what is true. The problem is when we don’t understand the function of emotions beyond enjoying the warm fuzzy feeling when something nice happens. We are sold the shite that “good” emotions are acceptable, and “bad” emotions must be shut down and bypassed. When we accept this we never learn how emotions operate. We have misunderstood, and believed that emotions are nothing more than fleeting visitors that arrive at the most inconvenient times, and like unwelcome house guests, just need to be escorted out.
To be honest. Feelings can be a tad messy and inconvenient.
Have you ever felt such strong anger that you were afraid you would lose control? Or maybe you did lose control and felt such shame and horror at your behavior that you determined to never behave that way again? Or have you experienced such devastating disappointment, or loss that you felt you might lay down and die if you had to keep feeling that way?
Strong, overpowering emotion is scary. I ain’t gonna lie – it’s hard to deal with feeling like your head is about to explode and all your thoughts scatter to the wind, and yeah, maybe you look a little unhinged when that happens. So people draw conclusions about how to mitigate this undesirable occurance. Tamp that mess down. Disconnect from those feelings and “let it go” and “give it to God” and “move on”… The problem with this conclusion is that we don’t just “let it go” and sweep off into a flurry of snow and ice and live happily ever after. That thing that caused the undesirable reaction? It’s still in there. It didn’t go away just because you stopped focusing on it. It just went down deeper inside you.
And one day when you’re tired and feeling weak, that thing that lives hidden down in the dark places, will come back up, only this time with more strength and vengeance than ever. It will be heard, that pain will be dealt with. So what then? Well, (if you believe strong emotions are bad) then you take more progressive steps to numb that pain – to silence that undesirable feeling. Maybe you eat more, drink more, take more substances to stop the reaction you’re having in your body – the shaking hands, sweating, increased heart rate, racing thoughts – that feeling like you’re gonna climb right out of your own skin. I’m telling you – that thing that lives down there – that’s not the emotion. The emotion was given to you so you could locate, categorize, understand, and deal with that thing.
But because we are told to ignore our emotions, that they can’t be trusted, then we effectively cut off our ability to see what’s happening and move through it. When we cut off our emotions, we are being handicapped. We are effictively trying to operate in a coded world without the decoder key.
When you feel angry, what is happening? Your emotion is saying – Hey you! Something is off here! Something isn’t right! Pay attention! Take action!!!! Maybe a car just cut you off on the highway going 90mph – and in that case it’s pretty easy to determine the problem that anger is trying to show you – that jackleg just put you in danger – your life is valuable and they don’t get to endanger you that way. Take action – get away! But maybe we don’t listen so well, and our anger makes us feel powerful, so we think instead about running the creep off the road to teach him a lesson. Not the most awesome conclusion. Because then you’re perpetuating the danger your anger was trying to warn you about. But if we learn how to listen – then that moment could look very different.
You feel a spike of anger at being cut off, your heart rate bursts, sweat suddenly beads, and the adrenaline surges causing your hands to shake and maybe you yell at the creep that cut you off. But then you remember to take a breath and listen. As the seconds pass you become aware that under that anger, just a little quieter, is shock and fear. And maybe when you allow yourself to feel that shock wave move through you, you begin to understand in your mind that what just happened was dangerous and the correct response is to slow down and put distance between you and the maniac weaving in and out of traffic. Anger served his purpose by getting your attention, initiating physical responses, all to make sure you heard him. Heart rate rises, hands sweat, body trembles… but what do we normally do when we have that kind of reaction?
We do our very best to push it aside. We don’t listen. If we believe intense emotional responses are bad, then we will use everything in our tool belt to stop that reaction. Maybe you crack a joke to diminish how scary it was, maybe you change the subject to divert your attention, perhaps you yell at your kids in the back seat and then feel like crap afterward. But what we are NOT taught to do is listen to what you feel, that your emotion holds valuable keys for you. And that’s probably because it’s super uncomfortable and hard to feel all the feels.
A little road rage is pretty easy to pinpoint and move through. But what about when you have no idea why you’re upset? You are confounded by how anxious you suddenly feel and it feels so bad you just want to run away, so you go to your acceptable coping mechanisms, to make the feeling stop. It can be so scary and overwhelming to actually feel your feelings. Especially when you believe they are bad and not ok to feel. Understanding what emotions are telling you is not so cut and dry all the time. This is why we have to stop believing that emotions lie to us, and begin developing the emotional intelligence to know what they are saying.
Are you suddenly feeling anxious? What just happened? What were you just thinking about? Did someone just say something to you, or did you just remember something you need to take care of? That anxious feeling is there to point to an issue. Sometimes it’s external, sometimes it’s an internal mindset or perspective that needs to change that is repeatedly having a domino effect in your mind and body. When we are beginning to develop emotional intelligence after a lifetime of practice in shutting it down, it’s helpful to have someone to walk with – out of the practice of shutting down, into the rhythm of listening, allowing the feeling to move through you, and into understanding.
This is the work of developing emotional intelligence I have had to do in my life – and it took over 15 years to walk it out alone. It’s hard work. There’s no way to sugar coat it or make it not be hard. We just have to do the work. Well, we don’t HAVE TO do anything. But if we want to live full, whole hearted lives, free from dissociating from those around us, free from the cave-life we have lived to cope, we have to do the work.
Are you tired of just coping with life? Do you want a fully alive life, not numbing and dissociating from the world around you? Then I’m talking to you – The wild at Heart. The disenfranchised. The hopeful. The fierce. The ones who want to be seen, known, and loved.
Until next time my friends. One step at a time.