Thursday, February 26, 2015

Using the Gift of Emotions

We are never taught about feelings, about what they mean or how to listen to them. The world inside is lost in shadow, and our attention is fixated on the outside.

When feelings become insistent, they just feel problematic to us - something to be fixed or eased. We never get right to the heart of them, to try and understand what they are trying to tell us.

We don't know how to use their energy, or how to respond to their call.

For HSPs, the rip-tide of emotions can be extremely strong. So, getting acquainted with our feelings - our longings, frustrations, or sadness - can help us immensely. Maybe we can build a boat to help take us safely through the waters, instead of getting swept under the waves.

Last week, I talked about Karla McLaren's wonderful book The Language of Emotions, and how to look at anger in a different way. McLaren tells us that anger, channeled properly, is a very useful emotion. It helps us build boundaries that keep out what doesn't work for us. It helps us say, only this far and no more.

In this fabulous video, McLaren tells us more about relating to our emotions, about having empathy, and the reason why boundary-work can be such challenge for some of us. As we know, anger is the emotion we use to set limits and guard our personal space.

But for some people, some other emotion can becomes their dominant feeling. For them, anger never quite comes up, and this feeling dominates the landscape. Unconsciously, they respond to situations that need anger with either fear or sadness.

Why does this happen? For people who have suffered through any kind of physical abuse, fear can become their dominating emotion. For an HSP who has gone through trauma, this means that not only do they have the heightened sensitivity of other HSPs, but that they are also hyper-vigilant to any kind of potential threat.

Fear of what might happen, of all the things that might go wrong colors how they see the world. They might avoid even minimally risky situations because of what they have experienced before.

This is normal for anyone who has suffered through any kind of trauma. The world becomes a dangerous place, and now we respond to it with fear and mistrust.

Unconsciously, without understanding or meaning it, we use fear to set boundaries. McLaren talks about this in the video, how that can keep us running here and there, feeling shaky and out-of-control. In a similar way, if our predominant emotion is sadness, an emotion that helps us let go, we will just keep on dropping things that are important to us. Anger, used neither expressively nor repressed, actually helps us contain, helps keep things in. When anger has gone underground, we can be left less than fully functional.

The way McLaren talks about emotions is novel. It is something we have never learnt, not in school, not anywhere else. She gives us a map to get to the heart of every emotion. It is challenging to learn, but trying to figure this out and getting reacquainted with the language of our feelings is something we need so much.

Maybe once we know and understand that emotions are actually part of cognition, that they inform us, that they have specific functions, maybe then we can build our rafts and coast on them. Maybe then our sensitivity can start yielding its gifts, gifts that lie hidden in the shadow.

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