Wednesday, May 29, 2013

On dealing with emotions

I want to take a moment to talk about emotions in the abstract. It's a thing for me.

People like to compartmentalize emotions.
like this
And it's kind of detrimental to the experience of being human, because sooner or later that whole shame thing pops up and you think, "I shouldn't be feeling this way, I should be feeling the emotions from the good box." The use of the should-word compounds what you're feeling already, and then you start to feel worse, then you feel more shame, and on and on and on, until you write a chart-topping album*.

Of course, shame is just another emotion, and most people would put it into the Bad Emotion Box, but there are some people who would put it into the Good Emotion Box**, but the fact of the matter is it's just another emotion and not an actual coping strategy.

So here's my strategy and it works for all emotions "good" and "bad". 


Step 1: Acknowledge the feeling is real and valid. If you can't do it yourself, talk to someone who will tell you that it's okay to feel that way. Do not accept shame, blame, or shift the subject to something else. You has a feels. You must feel your feels in order to move on to the next level in the feelings game. If you do not acknowledge your feelings you will remain stunted forever, and experience the same thing I do trying to get past the first level of Mario.
Helpful verbiage: "I am human, this is a human emotion. It is perfectly normal and natural for me to feel this way."

It can stop there if you're satisfied with feeling this emotion. If you're not satisfied with this, proceed to

Step 2: Ask yourself why you feel that way. Underneath every emotion (even the good ones) there is pain. It's a fact of life. If you've gotten to this step, chances are you're not comfortable with your emotion and are an evolved human being who wants to know where it came from. Every emotional squick is rooted in pain and the only way to deal with it is to find out what that painful experience is, because the fear related to the discomfort you're experiencing is of returning to that painful thing. If you can't process this part by yourself, please talk to a therapist and not the person who has triggered these emotions. This is especially the case for negative emotions in relationships (like jealousy), you run the risk of making things a helluva lot worse.
Helpful verbiage: "What am I feeling? What does it feel like?" (Metaphors are good here.) "What pain is underneath this feeling?" "How can I prevent this feeling from damaging me?" "What do I want that will help to mitigate the damage done by this feeling?"

Step 3: If you are dealing with an emotion brought up because of conflict in an interpersonal relationship, this might be a good time to talk to your partner about your feels. Avoid using shaming language ("should" and "need"), because as much as you don't want to shame yourself, you don't want to shame your partner. This will cause more conflict, and this is the kind of damage you can't undo in a relationship. If you don't have it all worked out yet, say so. You're not perfect, your partner isn't perfect, and I firmly believe that expecting perfection is a symptom of a mental illness***.
Helpful verbiage: "I feel...", "I want...", "My expectation was... and instead ... happened, and it makes me feel...", "These are my feelings, they aren't your fault, I just want the opportunity to discuss with you what I've learned while exploring them."; "I am afraid of..."

Step 4: If you are feeling bold, ask your partner if the thing you're afraid is happening is actually happening. You'll be astonished how much trust can be built with a conversation that goes thusly:

Empress: "Are you going to sleep with that person while you're visiting them on the other side of the country?"
Ten: "No."
Empress: "Oh, okay, I feel better now."

By directly addressing the thing I was afraid of (and the hurt that caused me to be afraid that I would be cheated on), I gave jealousy the slip, built trust with my partner, and avoided a huge fight that would have been precipitated by pretending that I wasn't having these feelings. Since then, so much trust has been built (along with other things), that I no longer worry what Ten will do on his travels around the world*'.

Step 5: If you don't feel better yet, seek comfort. Cuddles, ice cream, cheese, (and I can think of at least two other things that start with C that make a person feel better), are all good outlets for being overwhelmed by allowing yourself to feel your feelings. It's okay to escape for a little while, in fact, it's perfectly normal. Sometimes you're just overwhelmed and you have to have some cookies (still a couple other c-words...), and start back at the beginning of How to Deal with Your Shit. 

So, the thing is, this process never ends. You're always feeling things, and a healthy, wholehearted person will always give themselves the opportunity to feel, even if what they feel is numb or overwhelmed or whatever you call that feeling you get when you're tired of being sad and want to just be happy but can't because of ALLTHETHINGS. 

I'm not going to tell you this is a cure-all, because it's a cure-nothing. All this strategy is is a method of accepting and talking about feelings. Emotions don't just go away, and some people need more help to process their emotions; others still are not actually in control of their emotions and require medication in order to function. There's no shame in any of that. If this method doesn't help you to deal, that's okay, try something else. Just keep trying and keep feeling. It's all okay.
*That was a NIN joke.
**And those people deserve what they get.
***Not being glib or ablist. I'm fucking serious.
*'Well, now I root for him to get some, but that's because we're in a way different part of our relationship that we were when this happened.

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