I’m doing this piece as a series of 3 articles, because it’s something I hold as greatly important to our health as a human race, and because it can’t be said in a blip. And sometimes that’s all the attention of a reader I’ve got access to… a nanosecond. It’s the speed-driven, multi-tasking, get-it-all-done-before-my-day’s-end-kind-of-world we live in. So I’ve split the totality of what I want to say into three parts. I hope you get to read them all.
I’m going to begin first with how we have formulated our responses to our own emotions, as these responses – emotions as well – directly affect our health. We begin here, at the foundation, to discover first how we relate to our emotions, and to uncover how important this relationship is to who and how we are in the world. It is our denial or acceptance of ourselves that impacts our health greatest.
To see clearly how we have formulated our responses to our emotions, we must return to where we begin. The beginning of anything always sheds light on how something came to be. Our lives begin with those that have raised us ’cause we weren’t babies on our own. Some of us won’t want to look at our beginnings, mostly because we call them our “past” and have such negative connotations about the past. But your brain that is responsible for most of your functioning – including how you respond emotionally to life – began its journey in the womb. So acting like you got some other brain when you reached the age of 21, instead of the brain you were born with is just ludicrous. A little cray, cray… But if you really aren’t interested, remember this, Take what resonates with you and leave the rest.
I’ll speak from my life to ground what we’re talking about in reality. Very early on, I was taught to forgo my emotions; in the normal ways that most of us are as human beings, when I was just 3 and 4 years old. You know. Your mother says, “Don’t cry. It makes you look ugly,” or something unconscious like that, to stop you from some emotion that either makes her uncomfortable or she thinks is unnecessary at that time and place. All of us do it; we learn to hide what makes us uncomfortable. Americans, in particular, have a hard time with crying and tears. And though this is not intentional on the part of our parents to cut us off from our emotions, this unconscious act is a direct instruction to “not feel.” And once it’s begun, there is a pattern that is set into motion – whether you see it best in the physical pattern of your brain’s synapses, or the mental/emotional pattern of your mind/personality – that will determine your mental and physical health over the period of your lifetime. This pattern is not set in stone, but until you become aware of it, it will “run the show,” so to speak. After all, your brain is responsible for your nervous system, and your nervous system is responsible for all functions of your body. And there’s not just one pattern. You are a truckload of patterns running each and every day as you live and breathe.
Now remember as we look back, a child’s point of view is from a limited capacity – at 3 and 4, we’re in the early stages of a brain that is nowhere yet fully developed. A child’s brain, in its infantile stages of development, does not and cannot have the same capacities as a fully developed adult brain. It is physically impossible. That, however, does not exclude children from saying the most profound things, or adults from saying the most asinine things. It just means that the thought formulation and processing capabilities are distinctly different.
I say this to point out that at ages 3, 4, or 5, we’re not able to make the same judgments as an adult about the “usefulness” of our emotions in that moment. We just are emotion. Full-blown, fully drawn emotion. However, as adults, we have a tendency to use our very adult “hindsight” to analyze or rationalize what a child’s actions are predicated on. So all the times we try to figure out why we did what we did, or make some judgment like, “I shouldn’t have done that” is pretty nebulous.
Now, I’ll share with you a time later in my childhood where I experienced very overt impressions upon me of how to forgo my emotions. Keep in mind, my brain is still in formation and not a done deal as it will be by my 21st birthday.
My parents divorced when I was 5, and by all accounts, I was well-adjusted. I missed my dad, but saw him on the weekends. My mom moved on after their divorce, and into a wonderful relationship with a man I liked very much. As I look back upon it, I don’t have the experience of loving him, mostly because I didn’t know him but I was fond of him. Their relationship did not work out though, to the despair of my mother. She truly loved him.
Then she began hanging out with a new man. It was comforting to see her happy again. Eventually, almost immediately, they got married. I’m guessing a surprise to me, a child aged 11 at the time. This new man became my stepfather. I called him by his first name after their wedding, and for many years later. He didn’t feel like the man I was fond of, and he didn’t feel like my father. He felt like a stranger, formal and distant.
My family pushed me to accept him as my new father, and… call him Dad. They were persistent too. It felt like too much. They wanted to see my stepfather accepted. It was well-meaning, but probably a compensation for their own fear of not being accepted. They pushed harder and harder. The memory of it now, once healed and accepted exactly as it happened, has allowed me to see where I began to co-opt my own internal guidance for the approval of others. I loved my family and wanted them to be happy with me and what I did, as does any child that feels an affinity for their family or wants to feel an affinity for their family.
What was happening in this situation? My family weren’t taking into account where I was emotionally. Adults often assume that kids don’t know their own emotions and in their assumptions, they decide – the adults, that is – that they must “guide” them. Adults, less now than historically, decide that they must tell children how to be and how they should feel. Just because children are children, does not mean that they do not, or cannot know their own emotions. Certain parts of our brain process language and rationale, while other completely different parts process emotion and emotional attachment to events, circumstances and people. Parts of our brains develop at different times as we grow up for particular biological reasons and that timing works perfectly with our emotional and mental development as human beings getting to know ourselves in the world. Hence children have more of a propensity for emotion, and a child’s take on life is simplistic. It is magical. And it is purely about emotion. Emotion guides a child’s choices. Whereas a child is about emotion, an adult is foremost about thought. An adult regards thought as the pinnacle of reasoning, and regards that reasoning is the best basis for any decision.
The difference between the desires of our childhood and the desires of our adulthood are amplified in my story of my family. A child wants to do things that make them feel good. It made me feel good to think of my father. It made me feel bad to be pressured by my family. An adult has been taught to forgo feeling good for appeasing others. (My family thought of my stepfather, and appeasing him so that he would feel accepted by his new family.) So where a child will be guided by their internal guidance, remain in the present moment, and be about themselves and how they feel, an adult will be thinking/analyzing what’s coming or what’s been for how it will impact how they respond in the moment. Nothing wrong with the latter, and for the record, I am not suggesting the former is better. The possibility for full self-expression is just more available in a child than in an adult thinking, thinking, thinking her/his way into decisions that are based on how his/her outer appearances to the world, or to the person right in front of them.
When you forgo your own emotions and your own internal guidance system for what you think other people want, you forgo yourself. Let me say it better. You forgo your self. For those of us that are becoming more and more self-aware, this may be something we’ve already come to learn about ourselves. But I hope I have illuminated something not yet discovered, and that I’ve illuminated the way in which this particular “going against ourselves” comes into being. It happens innocuously but surely through this patterning from one generation to the next, which is our inheritance of the human condition. And though it is inherent in our growing up, it does not mean that it is healthy for any of us emotionally, mentally or physically.
Our emotions exist for good reason. We forget that. We preempt our emotions because we are taught to, but emotions are a part of our design for good reason. There is an intelligent design to being human. There is an intelligent design to the human body. If there is all this intelligence, why would it be stupidity that created emotions? It is not. To make peace with our emotions and begin to discover their intelligence and what they have to give us and to our lives is what keeps us healthy. Blocking our emotions and forgoing ourselves in the process is what has us go against ourselves. This is as easy as simple math: addition leads to abundance, subtraction leads to lack. Abundance is what the Universe is. When we see any being, human or otherwise, go against themselves, we see it doesn’t work. Why then do we continue to go against ourselves when we can see so clearly it’s a losing proposition?
That’s all. Not bad, not good. Just so.
But all of it can be transcended. Always.
Our emotions, or our response to our emotions – emotions themselves, directly impact our health.
That’s why we need help. Our emotions are that help. They are trustworthy, and they amplify what we want. They have an innate duty to return us to our well-being. What if we allowed them to do what they do best? What if we allowed our intelligent design to work at its best in our best interest?
It would be a magical life, eh?
(Find out how our emotions are a guidance system in the next part of this series, Emotions As Guides For Personal Power, published next Sunday.)