Unpacking Difficult Emotions
“You can keep difficult emotions at bay for a very long time, even for a lifetime…but for most of us, at some point in our lives, they will demand to be heard.”
– Sally Brampton
Remember my “Not This – Pay Attention to Difficult Emotions” blog from a few weeks ago?
Well, I sure got a lot of mileage out of that puppy! I heard back from quite a few readers and was asked to give two on-line workshops. I guess I hit a chord with the old boundaries issue ☹
In that blog, “Not This – Pay Attention to Difficult Emotions,” I wrote rather candidly about how a friend’s callous remark (actually, there were two callous remarks, delivered back to back, like a one-two punch that only the most skilled boundary-pushers are capable of delivering) in early January brought a surge of anger to the surface. Okay…more like a tsunami. And the emotional and psychological after-effects lasted two weeks.
Okay…more like two months.
BUT the anger did start to subside after two weeks…once I’d calmed down enough to look at what was really going on inside this old heart.
So that’s what this blog is about: unpacking difficult emotions.
For it is all fine and dandy (and, if we’re being honest, even feels kinda good…for awhile) to be livid at someone because of what they said or did…or didn’t say or do, as the case may be. But at some point, we have to let that anger go – or live with the internal repercussions and external manifestations of letting it stay ☹
However, as you may have perhaps discovered yourself, just magically “letting go” of anger doesn’t seem to work for the average (non-Buddha) bear. If it did, we’d all just toss our pissy feelings into the wind and return to our cheery selves.
Alas, letting go of a difficult emotion – such as anger – seems to requires WORK. Sigh…
Here’s a thought…What if we perceived difficult emotions as signals to take action? Click To Tweet
In his book, “Awaken the Giant Within,” author Anthony Robbins suggests that “The emotions you once thought of as negative are merely a call to action.”
“In fact, instead of calling them negative emotions,” Robbins goes on to say, “call them action signals. Get curious about the message this emotion is offering you. Be thankful that there’s a part of your brain that is sending you a signal of support, a call to action to make a change in either your perception of some aspect of your life or in your actions.”
And so, to try and get to the bottom of my 60-day grudge, I asked myself these questions:
#1. What am I really angry at here?
#2. Who am I really angry at here?
#4. How can I fix this, so I am not angry anymore?
#5. What do I want my happier future to look like?
I will spare you the personal details but at the end of this line of questioning – the bottom of the suitcase, if you will – I finally figured out that in the wake of my friend’s remarks, it was myself I was angry at.
Yes, I was also angry at her for what she said and how it made me feel. But the more I thought about it (and as time passed and I was able to cool down and reflect), the more I realized she had given me a tremendous gift: the right to say no to anything and anyone for the rest of my life.
Although I was angry at myself for waiting until the age of fifty-two (seriously?) AND the lock-down restrictions placed upon me due to a global pandemic (you have got to be kidding!) to finally realize that I do not have to spend time with people I do not feel like spending time with…be that an hour on the phone or an entire long weekend.
What a concept!
I am allowed to say no when people want more from me than I am willing, or able, to give. I am allowed to say “no more” when people say things to me that are mean-spirited and disrespectful. And I am allowed to give myself the time and space I need – to do what I need and want to do.
“Every time you’re given a choice between disappointing someone else and disappointing yourself, your duty is to disappoint that someone else. Your job, throughout your entire life, is to disappoint as many people as it takes to avoid disappointing yourself.”
– Glennon Doyle, “Untamed”
Whoa…reading that quote for the first time truly boggled my mind.
In one of the two on-line workshops I gave about boundaries this winter (which is rather comical since I have struggled so much with setting and enforcing the damn things myself…but maybe that’s WHY I was asked to share? We teach what we need to learn 😊), the facilitator – a social worker – gave this brilliant tip to the group, in terms of deciding whether to say yes or no to a request for one’s time:
“If I say yes to this, then what am I saying no to?”
She then gave the example of being asked to counsel young people on the phone in the evenings. By saying yes to her job and helping other people’s kids, she was saying no to spending time with her own children.
For me, the anger that surfaced in the wake of my friend’s remarks back in January made me realize that by always saying yes to spending time with her (and others) in the past, I had inadvertently said no to spending time on other things that I could have been doing – should have been doing – such as my writing and business, making an effort to meet and date different guys, going through the mountain of boxes full of stuff I had accumulated, etc.
In other words, what I found buried near the bottom of my suitcase was this gem of insight:We need to figure out what we really want in our lives – then say yes to everything that supports that and (when possible) no to pretty much everything else. Click To Tweet
What difficult emotion might you be stuffing back into your suitcase?
If you are experiencing a difficult emotion that keeps popping (damn it!) to the surface, my challenge to you is…perhaps don’t stuff it back down again. Maybe pull the stinky, ratty old thing out, hold it up to the light and examine it (from a safe distance).
Maybe Tony Robbins is right…maybe our difficult emotions are there for good reason? And if we take the time to feel them, then examine and learn from them, then maybe we can use them to propel us forward to a better future.
Because here’s a rather dirty piece of laundry I also found buried at the bottom of my suitcase:
My over-the-top anger at my friend’s remark in January helped me remember what it feels like to not be understood…or heard. When I found the courage to hold up a mirror to her behaviour and take a good look at my own, I realized that what she had done to me – bulldozed right through my boundaries – I was doing to someone else in my life.This realization was an extremely uncomfortable but powerful reminder that just as we must set and enforce our own boundaries, we must also accept and respect the boundaries of others. Click To Tweet
Take care and thanks for reading!
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Maryanne Pope is the author of “A Widow’s Awakening.” She also writes screenplays, playscripts and blogs. Maryanne is the CEO of Pink Gazelle Productions and a Director with the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund. To receive her blog, “Weekly Words of Wisdom,” please subscribe here.