Remember that book I was reading, The Art of Empathy? I haven’t picked it up in several weeks and I will tell you why. I came to a section that confused me and I needed to think about. The section was on emotions.
Now, I may have posted about this a before ; however I think that I have finally had an eureka moment regarding this subject. I had already learned that there are no “bad” emotions and that there are multiple complex ways to have and deal with them, but I was still baffled by a lot of the mechanics of the whole thing.
I have seen a few friends/acquaintances go through some emotional turmoil (some IRL and some online) and I have wanted to reach out to some them, but I honestly don’t know what to say to them or if its even my place to do so. The empathy is there and the want to help is there, but the understanding of emotions is still kind of a roadblock; however I think that I have made an observation that helps me understand a little more.
Here’s what hit me:
In the book, the premise of emotions being “action-requiring neurological programs” is introduced. So, if this is true then an emotion requires an action. The book goes on to give some ideas on how to look at emotions and how to channel them. One of the emotions that I see is sadness:
Sadness arises when it’s time to let go of something that isn’t working anyway
Let me say this clearly: People are allowed to be sad. You are allowed to cry. You don’t have to “man up”, big girls can cry, and there is nothing to apologize for or be ashamed of if you are sad and you express it. My advice is to let it out, don’t be ashamed of it, make sure you breathe and don’t tense up and just cry and let it out; however you have to let go of what you are sad about. That is what your brain is telling you: “This isn’t working, so let it go”. Is it easy? Nope. Can it be done? It sure can.
Now, sadness is not grief and I think grief maybe another issue that I am seeing.
Grief is a lot different and doesn’t always relate to death. It relates to loss. The loss of a job, a treasured possession, a relationship, or your health. Those can all be something that you can lose and that can cause grief.
Grief arises when something has been lost irretrievably…
Now, unlike sadness, there is a mourning process to grief and that is the action that is required. We have all probably heard of the “5 Stages of Grief” and it encompasses multiple emotions (FYI: Not everyone goes through these exactly in order and stages can be repeated). This is how I now have started to view these:
Denial – You will try to convince yourself that what has/is happening isn’t really happening and that you can “make a comeback”. You will deny the current reality of the situation and substitute your own to rationalize the overwhelming emotional state that you are in. Don’t worry, this is, for lack of better terminology, “normal”. It is our fear throwing us into a mental feedback loop and we just have to work to get ourselves re-oriented. Once we recognize that this is our fear working, and our brain panicking, we can start to come back to reality.
Anger – When the reality of the loss does set in, anger will soon follow. Anger is the best emotion we have. It’s real and it tells us where we are. Anger tells us what is broken and what needs to be restored. It also helps us set boundaries. In the case of mourning, anger helps us start to restore reality. It gives us the energy and strength to set boundaries with people and to keep on going during this entire process. It’s OK to be angry, just be sure you are channeling that anger and using it wisely throughout this process.
Bargaining – This is where we play the what if game. Sometimes it’s with g-d, sometimes it’s with the past (G-d, if you will <insert impossible/improbable thing here> for me/my loved one; then I will do <insert thing that you probably will not do here> or If we had only done X this wouldn’t have happened). Another thing that is done here is people “should’ve” all over themselves (We should’ve <insert act or task here> or I should’ve <insert act or task here> and then <loved one’s name> wouldn’t have <insert horrible event here>). The root of this stage is shame. As the book mentions there are no bad emotions and shame can actually be healing. Shame shows us what is unauthentic within our emotions and can save us from being hurt, from being dehumanized, destabilized and embarrassed by ourselves and others. Through that shame we finally realize that no amount of bargaining is going to make this right, and we must continue to let go.
Depression – This is the tough one. Depression is anger turned inward like an implosion. Depression is almost all of your emotions hitting you at once and then putting the boots to you while you’re on the ground; however there is a phrase that, once you master it, puts depression on its ass. DEPRESSION LIES. When you are depressed, the depression itself will try to use your emotions against you. DEPRESSION LIES. You may not feel like it, but getting up and moving around will help. A hug will help and something that I do that helps me is I find something that will bring me “instant joy” and I run to that stronghold. At this point self-care is very important; you have to take care of yourself. Friends and family are also important, don’t isolate and lean on them for support and remember: DEPRESSION LIES.
Acceptance – This does not mean that you are suddenly going to start walking with a bounce in your step and start smiling and whistling. You aren’t going to start high-fiving people when you accept the loss that has occurred in your life. You will just notice that you have a little more peace regarding the loss than you previously did. You may start to open up about it more. You may start to move forward with a sense of closure and contentment. You may still feel sad or angry when that memory comes up, but you will know that whatever it was is now gone and you have accepted it. Acceptance is different for everyone.
My PSA: There is no time limit on how long it takes this cycle to complete and sometimes grief doesn’t end. If that happens, you will need to seek psychiatric treatment, be it a therapist or a psychiatrist ( or both). Again, you have to take care of yourself and that means getting mental health care. Sometimes, you just need help getting through these stages and through all of these emotions. It’s not a sign of weakness, and if you feel shame then use it to see that something is trying to keep you from being hurt further. Knowing you need help and getting it is a sign of bravery and intelligence. So, if you are stuck in the grief cycle, go get help.
So, there it is. I had this eureka moment, and now I will be reading this book again. Whether I say something or not is still unknown. Part of me has the notion that I am just seeing something broken and I want to try and fix it, yet another part of me sees people that are going through situation that I have gone through and can empathize with. Maybe there’s a part of me that is hoping that they will stumble onto this blog post and find some solace. However it works out, I feel that I have grown emotionally and if I do ever reach out to someone, I feel that I could actually make a difference. Now, I feel that I can continue and begin to learn more and be a better human.
Hey, at least I am not just offering up my “thoughts and prayers”, right?