On the way to work you find yourself in traffic and realize you will be late, again. Suddenly someone pushes their way in front of you nearly causing an accident. Many of us would probably react to this with a well-placed “F-bomb” and a one finger salute. Afterwards we find ourselves struggling to contain the anger and resentment. If left unaddressed the anger and resentment carry with us throughout the day.
Consider another scenario that while getting the news of the day you come across a story that demonstrates a tragic miscarriage of justice and you absorb the horror that someone went through. You find yourself becoming upset to a point of feeling nauseous and maybe even tearful. Chastising yourself to “pull it together” because isn’t fair you come back to your reality but find yourself down the rest of the day.
Sound familiar? For many of us our emotions are the part of ourselves we wish we did not have to deal with daily. We find ourselves wishing we could “be different” in our response to the world but find ourselves powerless to make the change. This post will offer a different point of view. This post will suggest that emotions are energy and that energy is ours to do with what we will. This post will also suggest that since emotions are energy, our identity is not “I am (insert the emotion)” rather “I am experiencing (the emotion) and I do not know what to do about it.”
Consider the above situations. Depending on what you have experienced in your life so far you may be responding to the situation based off your current emotional state, your history, or your expectations about what others should be doing and not what you know to be really happening. For example, we all have had days where we are late for work and every light and every driver is seemingly out to get us. We know this is not true but feel as though it is. The key is to act from what we know – not what we feel. Feelings are not facts. They are energy to give us motivation to respond to the facts.
Humans have a built in “warning system” called the limbic system. When it gets activated the “fight or flight” response part of us kicks into gear. Over the last 20 years the research in neuropsychology has shown us that when activated the limbic system floods the body with adrenaline and hormones that help us be ready to fight or to run. Much like the idle of our car, if the body is left at this heightened state too long this becomes the “new normal.” We find ourselves “stuck” in this heightened awareness.
It is well documented that soldiers coming home from war can and often do have a really hard time adjusting to civilian life. The same is true for anyone who experiences a situation where they felt unsafe and at risk of being hurt for a long period of time. This mentality causes us to see the world as unsafe and to act in unknown situations in the same way we would in situations where we could be harmed.
But what do we do about this? The first step is acknowledging that who we are as people is separate from what we experience emotionally. Our actions, not our emotions, become the important measure of how we handle a tough situation. If we can see suffering in the world and say, “I feel bad about this and want to do something to help,” then we can act and not get sucked into the whirlwind of emotion. For example, if we see animals being abused online and then decide to make a monthly donation to the local animal shelter we have decided to act. This action allows us to feel the feelings without being lost in them. Emotions are the fuel for our actions not the road map of what we will do.
A critical point here is that we cannot deny feelings. We cannot get rid of them because they are uncomfortable. In basic science principles we all learned that energy cannot be destroyed merely transformed. If we deny feelings today, they come back up later in other ways that can make life very difficult. The only way to deal with feelings is to feel them and then let the energy fade. Emotions are part of being human. Our next discussion will center on mindfulness and the use of breath as a tool to re-center ourselves when we get caught in waves of emotion.
Join the conversation and tell us what you think.