[This article continues the line of thought started in Exclusion, Lies, and Emotional Escape, and developed in the Unconscious Mind, which basically argues that emotions are not real, and the unconscious is a place we hide stuff rather than an entity in itself. It can be seen as completing that cycle.
These themes inter alia are all fleshed out in Birthing the New Consciousness.]
Too often our emotional self esteem, which of course is very important, is suffused with a barrage of feelings that threatens to drown us in their sea of overwhelm.
Every day we are fed a staple diet of drama, be it in the programmes we watch on television, books we read, or music we listen to. Hot on the heels of this is the subtext that says we ought to ‘engage’ in the portmanteau emotions that accompany these insidious little dramas.
Society places a high value on having us express our feelings. One way we can do this is by supporting our tribe. We saw this in the recent world cup euphoria. This is in marked contrast to previous generations who were counselled to repress their feelings, girls were supposed to be ‘ladylike’ and boys not to cry. That society created people unable to express their feelings, today’s people unable to discern them. Now feelings have almost become a convenience, ‘a prop to occupy our time’ to paraphrase REM. Among the dance and emotional play it’s become difficult to know what feelings mean any more. Sincerity is harder to read. We now suffer from emotional incontinence.
Today we are encouraged to express our feelings, while never knowing how to feel them.
A lot of our conversation reflects this emotional play. Topical items are the state of our health, (we love talking about our illnesses), our families, personal betrayal, ‘Joan said she’d call but didn’t, I don’t think she likes me anymore’, ‘Michael told me that he heard John was back in rehab’. Pretty much in every conversation we gossip, we triangulate, we get the juice. This can send the adrenalin glands into overdrive emitting all kinds of chemical secretions into the blood stream. We get addicted to these chemicals as much as to any drug we buy over the counter or from illegal highs. We love the ‘hit’, when we need another fix we just go to the emotional chem store. These conversations are emotional milestones that make up many people’s day. When emotional self esteem is compromised in this way our feelings become unconscious, just as thoughts or actions do. ‘I didn’t mean to do it judge, I couldn’t help myself’.
I tend to regard the unconscious as stuff we are
hiding, deliberately, not some unreachable domain, although I respect others
have a different interpretation of it.
Emotions are signifiers that tell us where we are in relation to our
environment, that includes the people who are present at any given time as well
as what might be going on in our heads. When we see emotions in this way we can
engage with them again. Then when someone genuinely needs to talk we are
available for them. But if we’re so bottled up by feelings, our emotional self
esteem so obtuse, then we’re not able to listen, to hear. We either make
personal drama real for others by swelling it, being a buddy to someone’s pain
- this is called enabling although that term has wider implications - or we
take their stuff martyr-like onto ourselves. But if someone were lying injured
on the ground we don’t go ‘I’m feeling your pain pal’ (cos we’re not) or injure
ourselves and fall down beside them. However, when it comes to emotional pain
this is exactly what people do.
Instead look on their emotional pain as you would their physical suffering, with compassion. Deal with it without engaging, there’s a dexterity in this that comes with treating our emotions with sincerity. Emotional self esteem is about respecting our feelings, being aware of them. It’s certainly not about being cold and numbing ourselves. Neither is it about gushing. We don’t have to be a tap that will agreeably turn on every time someone wants to bathe in the luxuriance of their own drama.
We are not our feelings and feelings are never real.
This can be a hard thing for some to grasp because of the high premium society puts on feelings today, as painted above. There are triggers all around of which we are often unaware. A stranger’s face, a headline that catches your eye, a voice that recalls an unpleasant event from, say, when you were five. And suddenly you’re feeling bad but you don’t know why.
The reason you don’t know why is because you
have no emotional discernment, cos we’re pumped up so much.
people use physical or verbal violence to express a feeling they become that
feeling. How often have you heard people say, ‘I’m angry’, when in fact what
they mean is they are feeling anger. Justified anger is so popular
today, and the bad news is it’s on the rise. We live in a world outraged.
Everything is ‘shocking’, or it is ‘awful’. There are so many signifiers that
cry out for our reaction, almost demand it, right across from the Horizon oil
disaster to Raul Moat. If you’re not feeling angry you’re made to feel there’s
something wrong with you. ‘Anger is the spur that motivates us to change things
for the better’, the new gospel of progressive thinking tells us.
It can also lead to more anger . . . and violence.
When all this anger is unconscious (meaning we’re hiding it from ourselves) the person or persons who gets hurt may not be the ones intended. There’s a huge anger bubbling, simmering beneath the surface around the world now. The economic downturn and corrupt politicians and financiers may seem to be the cause, but watch what’s happening. When people can’t take their revenge on those they hold accountable they often take it elsewhere.
If I see an injustice in the world, or if someone does one to me I may experience anger. Is it justified? A better question to ask is it real?
Had I not seen this injustice would I feel angry? No, even though it would still have happened. So my anger, my feeling has no correlation whatsoever to the actual event. Only when I become conscious of these things do I become angry. It’s my consciousness of it that makes it happen, that makes it real for me. It’s here, in our consciousness, our awareness, that everything happens. If it is an automatic, a conditioned response then it’s arising from an unconscious place. But the conscious one can choose her responses.
I keep coming back to mindfulness and the importance of practicing same,
whether it’s to do with thoughts or feelings. We spend so much time living in
our heads communing with ghosts, the ghosts that populate the pastscape (this
is a phrase I coined in Birthing,
meaning escape to the past, which sadly, too many do).We carry
on conversations that have long since ended with these ghosts who have long
We are like inhabitants of a mental asylum winning victories at Trafalgar or battling the foe at the Somme. All of the drama is just made up, whether it’s something we observe on the street or on television, it’s still made up. The paradoxical thing about ‘feeling too much’ is that people really don’t feel their feelings at all. Instead what we have are an astonishing amount of illegitimate thoughts (such as ‘can’t’, ‘not good enough’, etc., illegitimate because they’re not true, therefore they’re not really ours), running around in our heads, producing superficial emotional outbursts that lead us on a rollercoaster of dizzy highs and depressing lows.
Emotional self esteem is about noticing your feelings. If you have a feeling that you don’t like that’s making you uncomfortable, pay attention. Feelings are a gauge of what’s happening in our minds, in our bodies. They are a temperature of things. Our immediate reaction is often to try and make them go away, reach for a drink, distract ourselves. Try not to do this. When an uncomfortable feeling comes up sit with it until you are able to feel it fully. I don’t mean analyse it to death. Don’t bury it either.
Your feelings are not you. They are an aid to show you what’s going on. They are a communication tool. Don’t abuse them. You do have emotional integrity, emotional self esteem. Respect it.
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