Emotions are not mis-firing neural networks, nor are they part of our imagination. Emotions serve a much larger role, and this role is to connect the body, mind, and spirit. The purpose of emotions is to alert us to what is happening in our environment; it also alerts us to what is happening in a deeper, less “accepted” region of the psyche. Negative emotions in particular are large indicators that something is askew; however, people often react to negative emotions by shaming these emotions, by trying to shove them aside and hide from them. You can work with negative emotions, and when you work with them and understand the message behind these emotions, they dissipate on their own.
How do you work with negative emotions? This is a much harder question to address. First you need to understand what exactly emotions are and the role they play in your body, mind, and soul. As a connector to each, emotions have a very intense impact on an individual. Often, the person will feel frightened by the emotions, troubled by them, and wish to avoid their implications. However, avoidance of emotions is extremely unhealthy. When emotions are not tended to, they build up into a complex storm, making it extremely hard to decipher and dissipate.
Dr. Peter Savory, a psychologist at Yale, coined the term Emotion Intelligence. This term focuses on four cognitive skills:
Now lately, society has misunderstood this term as being related to intuition. This is not quite correct, because these cognitive skills can be learned over time. This short article explains how the general public has a slightly misguided view on this idea: Emotional Ignorance. The point here is that managing your emotions and understanding your emotions isn’t an intuitive – you either have it or don’t – gift. You can learn techniques that will greatly increase your ability to identify, understand, apply, regulate, and manage your emotions properly.
The hardest part is identifying your emotions. This is where some people start to avoid emotions, especially negative emotions, because identifying them makes them more real. However, hiding away an emotion only adds a layer of shame and fear to the already negative emotion, causing the maelstrom to grow, which, of course, makes it harder to decipher. There is a multitude of techniques involved in identifying emotions. One way is try to isolate the emotion and seek its message – this can be done through therapy or meditation or even guided imagery. For example, the emotion of anger – from what does this emotion stem? What area of your life is causing this anger? Is the anger situated on an outside event? Or an action you did? Or an action your friend/partner/family member/stranger did? Sometimes you may not be able to fully find the source of the anger or any other negative emotion, because the action or event may be so deeply buried in you that it is hard to retrieve; in such cases, it may be best to seek therapy. A therapist has methods that can help a person identify and manage a particular emotion, especially if the negative emotion is harshly impacting your life.
Once you obtain the message inherent in the emotion, you can then move forward and seek to understand and manage that emotion. Understanding the emotion is the key to managing it, for without a proper understanding of why you feel the way you do, it makes it harder to create a battle plan on easing this emotion and finding a peaceful equilibrium in your spirit again.
I won’t go into details with techniques, because I don’t know them all. However, I can say this: breathing deeply is one of the most valuable and necessary reactions to any extreme emotion. Breathing deeply helps calm the body, slows down the fight or flight response, so that you have a better chance of thinking clearly – clearly enough to identify that emotion and manage it properly. This skill can be learned, and although some people may be better at it than others, it is not impossible to learn.
Another important point is how you react and deal with the emotions of other people. Identifying if the negative emotion stems from yourself or is a reflection from someone else is also helpful in determining a way to react in a healthy manner. Here is an insightful article in regards to this: Disengaging from others’ negative emotions.
I, myself, am still practicing these four skills: identifying, understanding, using, and managing emotions. I may be good in some areas in regards to emotions, but in order to be a truly person, I need to be able to do reasonably well in all of the skills. It is perhaps a lifetime goal, but over time, the more I practice and seek to understand, the better I will become at each of these skills. There is no need to hide from one’s emotions, and to do so may cause far greater harm in the long run. Yes, it is a bit more challenging and harder to face one’s emotions and process them in a healthy manner, but I think in the end, it is worth the effort. You are healthier and more whole because of it.
Each of us has a story to tell. The way in which we tell our stories is crucial to who we are; for those who have experienced a great many sad and painful events, telling their story can be extremely hard. Our culture is not very welcoming to those who experience suffering. Often our culture seeks to hide suffering underneath a false facade, an illusion that the suffering isn’t happening and that the world is good. This is a false and damaging way to face suffering.
Everyone experiences some suffering in life, the degree of suffering isn’t something that is easily calculated, for how we react to suffering depends entirely on the individual. We all have a different set of tolerances to suffering as well as different personalities, world-views, spirituality or no spirituality, genetics, and hormonal balances. Each of these plays a role in our we react and deal with suffering.
When another person is suffering, our culture often avoids that person, deals with them sparingly, and does not offer help or consolation. It is far rarer to see someone reach out to those in pain – whether it be physical injuries due to abuse or an accident or emotional pain from various types of trauma or even pain from discrimination and hate – than it is to see someone turn and walk away. Hiding one’s suffering is often a way for an individual to feel protected, less vulnerable, but it also can create a feeling of being alone, increasing the likelihood of depression and possibly even suicide.
Suffering isn’t something to be ignored or discounted, for to do so is to leave vulnerable individuals in a downward spiral. Some may cope reasonably well with suffering, others may fall into a deep depression, and still others may even go so far as to consider a way to end their suffering permanently. Each of these are viable reactions to the various types of suffering.
It is my hope that someday we will live in a culture that does not run from the hard topics in life such as suffering. Dealing and coping with our own suffering can be a challenge, but help from others often increases the health and well-being of that individual as well as providing support in a time of need.
How can you help someone who is suffering? First be reaching out. By being a friend, and letting that person know that you are there for them. Ask them what kind of support they may need, and let them know that they can talk with you in private with the confidence that you will be confidential about their suffering. If needed and if the person is open to this, offer them other resources depending on their needs.
Sometimes a person may need a hug or just someone to listen to them without giving advice or criticism. Other times they may wish to just have a fun time doing an activity both of you enjoy. Offering this support will greatly help your friend in need and give them a boost of hope as well as the knowledge that they are not alone in their suffering and people do care for them. Such truths are essential to those who suffer, for it helps them pass through this suffering, to heal, and regain their confidence and/or happiness in life and themselves.
In my links page, I included some resources for those in need.
If asked, I may write a more detailed article on how to offer support. I also hope to update my resources page with more links on providing support for those in need and how to obtain support if you are suffering for any reason. Feel free to check regularly!
Life took an unexpected and painful turn and so updates to this blog was stalled for a few weeks. My grandmother died, and this effected me deeply. I am still grieving her.
I’ve also come to some harsh realizations. It doesn’t matter how much I love someone; that love is never enough. If a person can change their mind about their own feelings for another person, then who is to say it won’t happen again and again? Wishing to be with such a person would be disastrous for my heart. I am already fragile, and I love far too deeply. Love isn’t enough to conquer this currently, yet ceasing to love someone, who is often nice and kind despite changing their mind here and there, is something I just can’t do. Love isn’t something I fully control; it is just there; it exists. It has faded somewhat, but it doesn’t go away. So the pain that accompanies it still exists as well, just to a slightly lesser degree since one can process pain to some extent.
How one interprets love is different for every person. There is no right or wrong way to interpret our feelings for another person, but at the same time, it isn’t healthy to not try to discern what feelings we do have for another person. Our emotions do influence us, no matter how hard some of us may wish to dispose of them or push them further inside of ourselves. However, the degree to which we feel them is different for each person. Some feel emotions intensely, some are a bit more detached from their emotions, but in either case, the emotions are still felt to some degree – whether it is intensely or detached. You cannot separate emotions from humanity, and if you try, you cease to have expression, you cease to have personality, and you cease to be truly human.
Emotions isn’t the only trait that makes us human. Our logic and reasoning also gives us our humanity, but it is our emotions, and our ability to love deeply or hate deeply or even fear deeply that gives us an edge, a stronger personality, a more definite complexity that animals and plants cannot ever truly have. Our logic and reasoning allows us to process our feelings, to exert some control over them, and to not be bound by our emotions. Animals do not have such a luxury, and so they are not like us in that degree.
Emotions can be quite powerful, and so some people may try to hide from them to avoid dealing with what emotions they have and what those emotions mean. Why? Because sometimes emotions, especially negative ones, force us to face harsh and painful truths about ourselves, our world, and/or those around us. Sometimes we don’t want to face such truths, but we cannot fully avoid the emotions that bring it to our attention, even if we have developed concise control over them. Yet, the more we put this off, the stronger and more painful such things often become until we cannot face them at all, for if we do, we are destroyed by it. Does that mean we should try anyway? To walk through that fire? Not necessarily. Sometimes its better to just let go and move forward, letting the past be the past, and embracing the moment. Sometimes, that’s all you can do in life.
I’ve written of empathy before in this blog. Lately, I’ve reflected on how important empathy is in our lives, and how it can be misused. All emotions can be misused to some extent, but empathy misused can often be more disastrous. Why? Because empathy requires you to not just listen with sympathy; it requires you to understand another person on a deeper level. You have to dig deeply to understand a person’s thoughts, motivations, hopes, desires, and empathy does this.
How can it be misused? Take for example a transgender girl, who is brutally raped. The jury empathizes not with the victim, but with the attacker, and thus the attacker walks away with only a minor fine as the victim is in fear, knowing her attacker is still on the streets. This misuse of empathy, where the jury seeks to understand why the attacker brutalized this girl, is horribly destructive because it destroys the hope and spirit of the girl, who was victimized. Instead of trying to empathize with the girl and seeking to help her recover and stop this man from doing this terrible deed to someone else, the jury instead, using empathy, comes to understand the twisted reasoning of the attacker, and rallies against the girl. The girl, having lost her allies in the courtroom, is now alienated and ridiculed. She is left even more broken than before, but now her wounds aren’t just physical but also a deep wound on her spirit and mental wellness.
That is empathy gone horribly, horribly wrong, and in all honesty, one may say that empathy twisted to such a horrendous extreme has ceased to be true empathy, and has become instead a tool for destruction. Why empathize with someone different from you when it is easier to instead turn against them and destroy them so they no longer cause discomfort for you, making you rethink your thoughts on issues? There are many in our society today who have no wish to think anymore than they have to and so resent any who upset their carefully constructed view of reality. They have carefully fit what they see of the world into categories, but the world is too complex to be held within the confines of a box. There will be many a moment where a person’s rigid view of reality will be challenged. If you cannot let go of your old worldview, grow and create a new view of reality, then you become trapped and susceptible to warping emotions like empathy in order to destroy anything that challenges your rigid worldview.
In order to grow, you must be willing to change, and changing often involves letting go of ideas that entrap you and restrict growth. When your worldview begins to destroy others, then your worldview needs to be scrapped and created a new.
Life is precious; it does not last forever. To seek to destroy others and/or allow or urge others to do the same in order for you to live in what you consider a “safe reality,” that is when you cease to love. Love cannot exist with destruction, because when those two are coupled together, that is when love is twisted into a monstrous form that has no relation to its pure counterpart. In such an instance, love becomes fear and destruction and so ceases to be love.
Love cannot exist without empathy, but at the same time, it is far more than just empathy. Love requires you to seek to understand your partner on the most intimate level possible, and to continue to love them with kindness and gentleness, even when you and your partner have gone that deep. Love requires maintenance in order for it to stay healthy and continue to grow, and empathy is a tool in that maintenance. Love is a mode of attachment to another person at your most intimate level, but to maintain that attachment and build room for growth, you need empathy, honesty, and good communication.
This truth is often forgotten in our society today, where empathy is downplayed because it requires a certain amount of vulnerability, honesty, and work.
When you create a universe, you need to make a set of rules, and those rules must make logical sense within that universe. They cannot be a hodge-podge of ideas that do not relate to each other. They must relate to one another and be consistent. From those basic sets of rules, you can then utilize your imagination to create all sorts of planets, stars, galaxies, cultures, or whatever as long as they follow the basic sets of rules you determined at the onset. These rules do not have to be complex, and there doesn’t need to be a lot of them. Just enough to help guide your imagination and keep the universe you build consistent.
That’s one of the number one rules for world-building for any sort of novel, whether it be fantasy, science fiction, or literary.
On another note, what is reality? Having just watched the movie Inception, I am forced to wonder what exactly reality is. This movie did an excellent job suspending my belief and drawing into their version of the future. The idea that someone could be trained to slip into your subconscious, walk with you in your dreams, and extract information from you without you even realizing you are in a dream – now that is a fascinating and scary idea. There is clues to give away these extractors, as they call themselves, but the idea of being able to fully experience such a dream world, to have that be your job, is mind-boggling. Anything can go in a dream. You can alter the physics of the world in a variety of ways. Reality seems to pale in comparison, and what this movie tackled was far more than just planting an idea in someone’s subconscious. No, that is part of the themes it tackles, but it also tackles the idea of reality itself and what exactly is reality to a person.
That is why I am left with the question: what is reality?
Is there a way to alter our reality? To change our fortunes in life? To somehow achieve what we always dreamed of without having to do it the hard way all the time? Can we somehow twist our reality so it favors us?
If so, then it would be nothing but a fantastical dream.
I’ve sought for a long time to believe that love is the fabric of reality; that our empathy is what separates us from the rest of creation. The fact that we can empathize and love one another is coupled with our intelligence, our ability to reason, because it is with that ability to reason that we are able to understand empathy and able to seek to understand others. They are united.
Yet there are times in life when I wonder if this is just my optimistic view of reality. That perhaps love is not the fabric of reality. If it is not, then what is? Is reality rooted in mindless chaos? Is reality rooted in this unfeeling and nihilistic concept that everything is nothing and our lives don’t truly matter? That our intelligence will only resort in more ways of destroying one another because, although empathy exists, empathy and love isn’t strong enough to battle and defeat the overriding notion that “The Other” needs to be destroyed or subjugated at all costs?
In the colonist era, this idea of subjugating or destroying to take what we need from those we came across is still rooted in our culture today. Especially those who speak English, a colonist language that was forced on a multitude of areas. In America, we have fought a great many battle to obtain equal rights for everyone regardless of race, ethnicity, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, and religion, but it is a fight we still seek to win. We fight against this notion that “the other” is evil and must be destroyed or subjugated and never allowed to reach the same level as “the us.” This notion that the majority, who in American is often white, Protestant, and Republican (not always this, but most are), is the “us” and all the minorities that seek equal rights throughout the ages (African Americans, women, gays and lesbians, transgender people,intersex individuals) are the “other.”
Can love and empathy overcome that? For African Americans and Women it has legalistically to some degree but there is still a lot of work to be done culturally and socially still. LGBT and intersex people are still struggling to reach the legal side of the battle at the same time they fight the cultural and social battle with Women and African Americans.
I ask myself these questions because in my reality we would all be equal and at peace. We would be able to respect our differences and rejoice in our diversity. We would seek to understand one another and not seek to destroy or undercut each other. We would work together to build a brighter, cleaner, and happier future for ourselves and our future generation; a future that would clean our world and nurture it, that would give all humanity an equal chance at a joyful existence. But my reality is not the world’s reality.
My reality is nothing but a hopeful and impossible dream.
Reality is so much more than our mere five senses can analyze, and so many people restrict themselves to just those five senses. When they do, they lose sight of the more spiritual side of life. The more complex and connected side. There is more to life than just what our physical senses can see/hear/taste/smell/touch. As humans, we are complex – we have a physical (and/or sexual) side, a spiritual side, an emotional side, an intellectual side. All need to be tended to in order to be a whole person.
Often people become hung up on the spiritual and emotional side of humanity. Some would try to live without their spiritual side, but then they restrict their lives and they miss crucial aspects of reality and life.
Is spirituality the same thing as religion?
No, it is not.
What is spirituality then?
It is discovering the center of your being. Your inner most self, and from there, understanding yourself as you are in the present. Not what you hope to be tomorrow or what you were yesterday, but what and who you are in that present moment. That is the heart of spirituality. Understanding yourself and your spirit, and from there accepting your past and embracing your future. Spirituality involves loving yourself, and through that love, you can understand yourself and be able to step outside of yourself in order to empathize with and love others. Some may expand their spirituality to things outside of themselves, such as nature or other people or even a higher power of some sort.
Religion is dogma; it is rules; it is doctrine. It is concerned with the inner being, yes, but it is not necessarily about finding your inner center or understanding yourself in the present moment or even accepting yourself; either of those could be a part of the religion or they may be barely mentioned. Generally, religion is more concerned with following the will of something above yourself – the will of a higher power, and that will imprints rules on your life that you should follow in order to live a good and healthy life. Sometimes this is good for a person, and sometimes it is bad, especially when religion is taken to an extreme.
Anything taken to an extreme is usually bad for one’s well-being.
The emotional side of humanity is often neglected in cultures that view an outward display of emotion as wrong. Emotion taken to an extreme can be unhealthy for anyone, but expressing emotion is necessary for one’s health as well. It is through the expression of emotion that we are able to process traumatic/tragic/painful events. There is a multitude of ways to express emotions in a healthy manner, and one of the most poignant and captivating way is to do it through art, writing, or music. Creativity often involves emotion, and if you tried to rid yourself of emotion, you would find the well of creativity within yourself start to run dry.
There is always a balance to such things, and it is that balance that is often disrupted and may cause unhappiness or confusion or a feeling of “being lost” or even anger and pain in a person who is unbalanced and whose needs aren’t fully met.
Humans are complex beings, and in order to be healthy and whole, we need to balance all aspects of ourselves and meet our basic needs. Finding out what our basic needs are often involves spirituality to some degree as well as introspective intellectualism – that reasoning capability we all share.
To try to simplify humanity to just black and white is to lose sight of who we are as a people. We are complex; we are beautiful; and most of all, we are a spectrum of diversity. To simplify that and try to ignore it is to choose to be unhealthy and stupid.
How do you handle pain? Such a negative and stark emotion. It leaves you bare and vulnerable, and to be vulnerable means you are no longer protected behind your mask. For do we not all wear masks? These masks that hide our true selves. For some, the masks become so entrenched that they can no longer see their own self. They lose touch with their emotions and inner desires, and confusion may reign, but what to do then? Why not put on another mask? Create an identity and live on the surface, never digging too deep. Constantly running from your own inner pain. You hope that the faster you run, the more masks you were, that in the end you will escape your pain and be free.
But that is not how life works. Pain and suffering catches up to us soon enough, and if we are ever able to grow and thrive as a healthy human being, we must face that inner pain and walk through it to the other side. In this age, who is willing to go through such a hardship? Is it not easier to just tuck the pain away and forget about it?
Pain doesn’t go away, it manifests itself in different ways, affecting your life in ways you may not expect. Like a deep wound to your side, if left forgotten, hidden by clothes and sanitized cloths, hoping against hope that if it is ignored, the pain shoved far from your mind, you can forget the deep side wound, but it is still there, blood is lost and infection takes root. You begin to notice your vision is spotted on occasion, that you are weaker than you normally are, that what you used to be able to handle is a hardship, and so you withdraw, seeking new ways to avoid the truth. Another mask to keep people from drifting too close and smelling the stench of death on your body. The infection begins to take root in not just your side wound, but also your inner organs. You are weaker and more frail, and it is then that you realize, as you now lie close to death, that because you did not care for that wound, because you did not seek to heal it, it has taken your life from you. Your masks cannot save you.
Only you can save yourself. Healing will require pain as well as hope. This is a lesson I have learned years ago, and so I fight through my pain again and again, but it is far too often that I stand on the sidelines and watch this happen to someone I love. It doesn’t matter what I do, for in the end, I cannot save them. I can only reach out a hand of support as they save themselves, and I can only hope and pray that they will come to the realization and seek to save themselves before they die on the inside.
It is not the outward death that most experience. It is not suicide of which I speak. It is the death of the soul. Far too many draw close to such a death, and some escape, healing with time and energy and determination. Others never make it, and there is a death inside of them, one from which they never truly recover. It is heart-breaking to watch.
There is far too many in my life right now that are near that edge. I hope and pray for them, reaching out my hand in support, but it is not enough. If they do not wish to save themselves, there is nothing I can do. Until they realize this truth themselves, I can only watch. This is the true pain of empathy, understanding someone else to the point of understanding and watching helplessly the pain and suffering another must face.
This is why it is best we cannot see the future. For if we saw the suffering we may experience, who would wish to live? Would any of us be strong enough? I would like to believe we would be, but often I am left wondering that if I knew what would happen to me, knowing that I could not avoid such a fate, how would I respond? Would I try to live the best I could anyway? I’d like to think I would. It the same mind exercise I put myself through when I contemplate the idea if a friend of mine was about to die – would I seek to save their life but lose my own? This is the ultimate love, giving of yourself so another may live. I would like to believe I would. That is the kind of person I have sought hard to be.
That is not what others have decided to be. Not all make the same decisions and not all of us deal with the pain and suffering of the world in the same way. To seek to understand these differences is the most we can do, and accept that dealing with suffering involves many different paths, but it is up to the person experiencing it to understand what paths are healthy for them and what are not. Otherwise, they too will fall down the dark path of masks and running from the truth.