Saturday, November 7, 2015
Emotions: Leaning In
Several months ago, I confided to Chris that I didn't even know how to take responsibility for my own emotions. In some ways, I was an emotional toddler. Unconsciously, I was still blaming my moods on other people or circumstances, or at least looking to those close to me to help me manage my emotions, as if my emotional state was their problem, too.
It's been years since my therapist introduced me to the term "differentiation", the process by which we become autonomous individuals, separating from our parents and caretakers to stand as our unique and independent selves. When she brought it up, I was struggling to differentiate from my family of origin. I was emotionally enmeshed with them far longer than I should have been.
Practicing new yoga balance poses lately has gotten me thinking again about differentiation and "supporting" myself. I feel strong when I can support the weight of my own body unaided. I want to be able to do the same with my emotions.
When we married, I thought emotional co-dependence was a healthy state. Couples were supposed to merge into "one", right? I was fully prepared to become my husband's emotional conjoined twin. And, indeed, it worked for us for a while. But as Chris and I differentiate more and more, I'm proud when I can share my emotions without making him "carry" them.
Now, when I recognize my children naturally differentiating from Chris and me, I feel both unsettled and proud. As a mom, I've tried to help "contain" their feelings for them until they could learn to do it for themselves. But learning to do it for myself is another skill entirely!
When I was younger, I put a lot of energy into repressing "negative" emotions or transforming them into more acceptable ones. As I become more self-aware, I'm trying to own my feelings, whatever they are, and lean in to them.
Last year I found myself in an extremely angry stage. I didn't want to stuff or deny it, but I still didn't know what to do with it, besides writing it out. Since holding emotion inside eventually makes me sick or gives me panic attacks, I needed some new strategies!
Most of the time, leaning into a strong feeling, like kneading a knotted muscle, allows me to work it out until I find emotional equilibrium again. Fitting an action to a feeling helps to ground me and keep me from getting "stuck in my head" or stressed to the point of panic. Below are some of the solo strategies I've since come up with to both acknowledge a strong emotion and allow my body to feel it in a constructive way.
Angry: Chop vegetables. Pull weeds or dig roots. Pound something. Break something (throwing china at concrete feels great; tie it up in a plastic grocery bag first and you won't even have a mess). Run or work out. Listen to angry music and sing along loudly. Ruthlessly clean out a drawer. Write a letter you'll never send. Drive with the windows down. Shout into the wind.
Sad: Sit in a quiet corner and cry. Listen to melancholy music. Watch an emotional movie. Read a sad memoir. Ask someone for a hug. Drink hot tea. Wear black.
Anxious: Wrap up in a sweater, a scarf, or a quilt. Talk to someone--by phone or text or face-to-face. Practice yoga and observe your ragged breath. Take a walk and listen to your thoughts. Are you afraid of being with people? Of being alone? Name your fear and speak it aloud to someone else. Color a picture.
Glad: Listen to music. Sing. Dance! Watch comedy. Bake a cake. Give someone a hug. Fly a kite. Skip. Pick flowers. Buy yourself a treat. Post a selfie.
Disgusted: Close Facebook. Unfollow or unfriend, if necessary. Go for a walk and observe nature in all its violence, decay, and beauty. Write in a journal. Weed a flowerbed or plant something, imposing your own arbitrary sense of order and beauty on your world. Create art.
Sensual: Wear something sexy. Photograph yourself nude. Masturbate! Flirt. Listen to Madonna hits. Go dancing. Offer a kiss to someone special.
Lonely: Sit on a bench by yourself. Cuddle a stuffed animal. Snack on something you'd usually share. Watch a romantic movie alone. Pull out a memento of someone you miss. Take a solitary walk. Look at the stars.
Drained: Change into comfy clothes. Watch Netflix or play a game. Drink a beer. Take a bath, or a nap.
Content: Sit by a fire. Sip a glass of wine. Flip through a photo album. Kick off your shoes.
Of course, these are all things that help me. Your list will probably look completely different.
When I felt sad this week, I got out a jigsaw puzzle--a surprise from Chris last winter on a day when I was feeling down. Sitting down with a puzzle in the middle of the day is an acknowledgement that I need cheering. As I connected the pieces, I let my sadness move through my body and dissipate on its own.
More than ever before, I am aware of how much I need other people in my life. Some emotional waves and triggers are big enough to knock me off balance and I need support from friends to stay upright. But I hope I'm learning how to stay grounded through the everyday emotional breezes that sometimes used to overwhelm me.
Stronger and stronger every day!