It’s time for Quest2015 prompt six from super-awesome visionary Todd Kashdan. What’s Todd’s deal? Oh, he’s just “a central figure in positive psychology,” and author of The Upside of Your Dark Side: Why being your whole self – not just your good self – drives success and fulfillment. Below is Todd’s grit-inducing prompt, followed by my response which wholeheartedly attempts to avoid the core meaning in the prompt to the best of my ability:
Which emotions do you feel most guilty about having? Afraid that others might find out? How could you spend this year trying to be open to the emotional window that allows you to be courageous? It rarely feels good right before we do something courageous, but these moments are the most meaningful and treasured.
Here’s the thing…
Maybe it’s semantics. Maybe I am tired from all this introspection, and therefore feeling a bit lazy. Or maybe I just want to keep this one simple. I don’t know if it’s an excuse or avoidance, but… I don’t feel guilt toward my emotions. My actual emotions and feelings. (What is the difference, is there a difference, between emotions and feelings?) Emotions are just the road maps, blinkers, the big signs that say, “bridge out ahead” or “construction” or “detour” right? The emotional versions at least. We can’t control our emotions, can we? Don’t they just arise, whether we like it or not?
And thank god they do make themselves known, sometimes out of thin air. How else would I know what I value, what holds meaning, where my attention should focus? That tightening in my heart that indicates looming conflict, probably meaning I care about the topic at hand, that it’s worth fighting for. The sweet fog of melancholy that settles in over my soul, the saudade indicating that loss and sadness and remembering and gentleness are near, and can all mingle in harmony, often heeding a few tears. The roller coaster of exhilaration in my entire body among heart leaps and new things and freshness. These are just the emotions. The firing of synapses and sensation brought on by what I see and hear and smell and remember, knotted into the mysteries of my brain and nervous system, a sensation.
So we have this natural Thomas Guide Map Book granted to us through our emotions. That’s step one, recognize that the emotions are just instructions. The work comes after that. The work comes from listening to the directions, letting the feelings seep in with substantial weight until understood. Sit with them, even when they are uncomfortable or make me cry or make me want to scream at someone (or more likely walk away and ignore them). It’s about experiencing emotion, and following it with action. Interpret and decide how to act on those emotions. Choosing how to respond.
All right, so now that I have successfully debunked Todd Kashdan’s question (sarcasm), I will flail in emotional ditterings. And here’s where we get to the good stuff. I don’t get guilty about the emotions; the guilt kills me on my response to the emotions. This is where things get messy.
Here’s a list of Things That May or May Not Be Emotions That Make Me Feel Guilty:
- Feelings of guilt when my actions are not in accordance with my emotions. Of course, I am the only one who knows this. I am the only one who experiences both my guttural emotion and my response. So I am the only one who knows when I am selling myself short by acting in discordance with my emotions. It’s an emotional and personal dishonesty. A lying to myself. I feel it as a disappointment, letting myself down. Not standing up to myself, my heart, what I truly want. This happens more often than I would like to admit. It makes me feel like shit.
- Letting anger get the best of me. To most people who know me this may sound ridiculous. I am usually as tempestual as a daisy. But sometimes the feeling of anger wells up hotly like an impatient, panicked force. My inner dialog veers to the inhospitable in response. In my head I am lobbing angry insults and comebacks, and even worse, I have likely stopped listening to the person in front of me. Just throwing mental darts. I feel mean. Real mean. But most often, the anger doesn’t come out. It just stays locked up because I don’t know how to bundle it into compassionate honesty and share my feelings with the person who is making me so angry. I am afraid of doing it wrong. Then we slip into Guilty Point #1 above.
On the handful of occasions when my anger did jump the firebreak and explode into the world as unbridled actions, whether fourteen years ago or eight months ago, I still cringe at that version of my angry self in this world.
I’ve been sitting with so much anger in the last year and a half of my life, without recognizing it. Now the experience of anger, since most of the actual anger has melted, provides me the opportunity to dwell in it and on it. Mostly, I am recognizing how out of touch I am with anger itself, as a feeling. It wasn’t until the past month or so that I realized I was so angry. It’s the last emotion I am likely to notice in myself. I am too nice to be angry. Right? [That’s so not true, by the way. Everyone gets angry. It’s a matter of what you do with it.] If I were a doctor, I’d have been charged with malpractice for missing the diagnosis of anger. My patients would have all died from anger or its side effects. I am lucky it did not do me in, but it did dose me a hefty wallop. In mistaking nice for compassion, I tried to squish down my anger or make it into something agreeable, or mostly just continue to let it go undiagnosed. My prescription for 2015: tap into anger. Identify, validate, productively accept, channel, and address.
I’ve also reckoned that the cause of my anger is, 99% of the time, apt to be unheardedness. I just made up a word, do you like it? It means, the feeling of being so unheard and unrecognized and invalidated over a long period of time that you feel like the universe pushes the mute button when you open your mouth and that you just want to hit your head against the wall, repeatedly. A chronic sensation of not being heard, validated or accepted by the people who I want most to understand me. The feeling of invisibility and unimportance that comes with not being truly heard and understood. That makes me feel angry.
- My Impatience as of late.
- My actions, as a response to my emotion, especially those stronger emotions. Are my actions right? Was that the correct response? Would it hold up in the court of law, karma, Dear Abby, or the eyes of my yoga teacher, my parents? Is it a well thought response to my emotion? Did I think it all through thoroughly enough, or did I miss an angle? Will I regret my action? Will my response make the other person mad or angry? How much do I have to justify my response, will the rest of the world understand?
- I am afraid of conflict. For me, that starts with a heavy feeling that lurches into my heart. It’s both a tightening and a clinging. The tightening signifies the conflict is coming, that a difference of opinion is in the air, that disagreement lingers. My hairs set on edge, and I get nervous. Anxious is a better word for it. The tightening in my heart crawls to my lungs, shortening my breath. When persistent, it extends to my belly, gnawing on my appetite and knotting my guts into a pretzel.
All of this tightening either comes from, or is holding hands with, the clinging. The clinging is the tight grasping to some idea, answer, emotion or reason that I feel so strongly about. The thing I think the other person will disagree with. And maybe that feeling comes hurling out and I have to justify it, or so afraid of rejection that it stays put deep inside my throat. If I shove it deep down and don’t let it come up for air to avoid the conflict…we arrive back at Guilty Point #1.
- I feel guilty when my actions, in response to my emotions, (which are usually in response to other people’s actions) hurt people.
So what’s at the heart of it?
The more I can accept my emotions as they are, when they show up at my altar, my door step, my heart – raging or crying or withdrawing or hungry or wanting to throw books at people…I can welcome those feelings in and sit with them. Take the time to understand. Help them unpack a suitcase or two. Maybe the answer is that in understanding my emotions more fully, I will be able to meet them with more mindful responses. But, possibly, the better prescription for Quest2015 is to throw caution to the wind, act with more spontaneity and less self-judgment, and not be afraid to let some of the dark side out. Practice more compassionate honesty, and not be so fearful if it’s too heavy on honesty, and too light on compassion. Sometimes the gut responses to emotions are the most raw, true and meaningful.
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And because I am finding it helpful to share my raw writing notes, here is a list of things I feel guilty about as identified in musing on this prompt. I decided these things aren’t really emotions, so they don’t count for the prompt:
- Deception, the way I can dance around what I really want. Why can’t I just be up front? (Often, it’s because I am afraid what I really want will hurt someone else, or is asking too much. I am a people please after all. A recovering people pleaser.)
- Getting cry-y. It doesn’t take much for me to get all teared up when having an emotional conversation. Any kind of emotional conversation. I tend to think that if I get teary, it’s probably an indication that I am speaking the truth, and that I am probably only speaking about 10% of the truth, and the other 90% of the truth comes out as tears. It’s likely genetic. I remember, as a kid, sitting at the kitchen table in the evenings. The TV was on, my Mom was clipping coupons and I was finishing homework. A whoppingly sentimental Hallmark Card or Kleenex commercial would come on, and my Mom would get all teary. Retrospectively, I conclude it’s from all the things she felt like she couldn’t say. (Hi Mom, I love you. I know you’re reading this.) Emotions are big things, and sometimes the pressure of them backs up inside your sinuses and just crashes like a tsunami. I’m getting teary just thinking about this.
- I feel guilt about my introvert nature. I assume that to a partner or friends I am no fun at all. Not at parties, dinners, social events. I am easily exhausted by small talk and a room full of noise and stimulation and activity. I’m more of a have-a-quiet-chat-on-the-porch kind of person. Oh, and I’m a task oriented introvert, so most times I’d rather be checking stuff off my to-do list, organizing my desk or snuggling with the dog to clear out my head. I feel guilty for the resentment I feel toward the people who don’t understand this about me, and urge me to go out, have fun, let loose. I hate those words. FYI, that’s not fun for me. It’s boring and exhausting and it makes me hate you. So there.
- WANTING WHAT I WANT
- Sometimes I don’t let myself feel my feelings. The good ones or the bad ones. I just try to power through them. That’s happening less and less now. The problem is, when I don’t let myself feel them, I can’t learn from them and respond appropriately.
- My desire to avoid conflict at any cost. Does it come from a fear of fighting for something that others will see as wrong? Do I devalue myself so much that I don’t feel I deserve to get what I want? Why am I so apt to feel like my opinion isn’t valid or I won’t be able to justify it thoroughly enough?