When I was a very little child, I cried when I was upset. My mom tended to respond with comments like, ‘You’re too sensitive!” and “You are making a mountain out of a molehill.” Often —way too often for my liking, I got “If you don’t stop crying, I’ll give you something to cry about.” As a young person, I felt confused and desperate every time my Dad said that to me. I already had something to cry about. Didn’t he get how hard it was to stop crying when I was already sad and now my Dad was threatening me? It was crazy-making. Eventually I received the label in my family as ‘hypersensitive’.
For many years I was in a bind. I had such strong emotions, yet expressing them certainly didn’t bring me more understanding or the connection I deeply yearned for. So I learned how to reign in my tears. In my family, anger was welcome, so at least I had that. [On a side note, I got very good at expressing my anger over the years. I can’t remember a time that the way I shared my anger served anyone’s needs getting met.]
As I matured into an adult, successful in life (meaning I supported myself financially and every other way), I would often get the message either directly or in some kind of sideways comment, that my emotions were too much. Not so much from my family members – it was already a given with them. From others: colleagues, friends, boyfriends and the like.
Why are emotions – especially grief so unappreciated?
There are many answers to this question. And it is something I hope to change.
Why? Because I want it to be different. I think it is dangerous to limit ourselves to just a few ‘acceptable’ emotions. For a number of reasons we must become emotionally literate in order to make effective decisions in life.
Emotions are the bodymind’s way of telling us what we want to do next. We tend to label our emotions as ‘positive’ or ‘negative’. Instead of labeling the emotion itself, I encourage you to become aware of what it is pointing to, and decide if you want more of less of that [needs!]. That is exactly what emotions are designed to do. They are designed to get your attention to focus inward. They invite the question, what do I want more or (or less of) right now?
Anger and rage bring our attention outside of ourselves (mostly). Our immediate thought associated with anger is ‘you’ did something wrong. Rather than what’s important to me? And, we can argue all day (week/month/years and years) about right and wrong, never approaching what is actually important. It is a great way to lose friendships/spouses/business partners and family members—except at the holidays, when we go because we should.
Pure emotions, spoken about with ownership and honesty is a way to be authentic. Truly heard. It seems to be a meme these days that people want to be authentic. And they want to be heard. I think they usually mean ‘I want to tell my opinion and I want you to agree with me’. Even if you get the agreement you think you want, I don’t think you will actually have the experience of being heard. Your sense of being important will be soothed for a moment. Only for a moment.
Share your emotions —first. Once you understand what emotions are, it will happen fast (5 seconds 3 minutes). And how you feel is what is actually true for you. If you share that with someone and they say, ‘I get it’, or ‘I understand’. Possibly connecting to the need, and not necessary. Sitting together in the feelings. That is being heard.
The hard part about sharing how you feel is owning them as something that is unique to you, rather than caused by someone else’s input – or life’s input. Emotions —even the super intense ones, in a way invite someone into our softness, what’s real, raw and just so.
So I repeat the question here, why do so many people want to talk us out of them?
I think one reason is because as a culture, we find it difficult to just be.
We like to do stuff. We like to fix things.
If you tell me how life (or someone in particular) did you wrong, then I get to do something about it. I can be mad with you. I can offer you advice. I can assess how bad it is and suggest how you deal with it. I can tell you how you misinterpreted the situation. I can fix it for you.
If you tell me you are sad, then I just get to sit with it. And appreciate you for your depth of feeling. And since I know you are the cause of your own feelings…meaning there is something that is very important to you that you are losing touch with, I can either help you connect to that, or I can just sit with you. No need (or possibility) for me to fix anything in this moment. We both can just be present to the ‘what is’. You are sad. It is exquisite. It just goes against everything we are taught —meaning be happy all the time, and I should be the one to fix it.
It is kind of like the check engine light in a car. I may wish the light doesn’t go on, and when it does, getting mad at the light, or unplugging it doesn’t actually make the problem go away. I must acknowledge the light, and look deeper.
When my dog dies, or my hair looks like crap, or my friend yells at me because she misunderstood my intentions, aren’t these all great reasons to feel grief. I don’t want to be talked out of my feeling. I will connect to myself, the precious needs all these things point to and trust that the feeling will pass, when something else shows up. I want to ‘enjoy’ the experience I am having. I want to trust it, trust myself. This is good grief.
Say This, Not That.
Practice: Next time you are with someone who is feeling something…Let’s say they are crying. Before saying anything to them, check inside yourself. Notice what you are feeling. What’s important to you ~ meaning what is the cause of your own feelings? Perhaps you care deeply for this person and you wish they have a happy life. Is it possible that they can have a deeply happy and satisfying life even if in this moment they are grieving the loss of something important? Is it possible that feeling their grief is the perfect response to what is happening?
Consider these things before you say or do something. Then, in an effort to meet your own and what you think their needs might be, respond.