So That Is What Emotional Upset Feels Like

I’ve talked before about the disconnect between events in my life and my emotional/physiological responses. I am oftentimes left confounded as to why I feel (emotionally and/or physiologically) a certain way at any given time.

From a young age I tried to be perfect. No, not perfect, PERFECT. I learned quickly that emotions seemed to confound my endeavors. I also learned that people confounded my endeavors – but I decided I shouldn’t isolate myself from people – so I’d just have to master my every thought and feeling.

I became quite good at it…I still am. Put me in a high pressure, high conflict situation and I’ll (almost) always maintain my cool. Need a mediator in a conflict? I can do that. Need to have someone who can handle someone being nasty to them without reacting? I can do that.

The funny thing is that we can DO the right things without BEING the right way. The way I respond is oftentimes good and useful and makes me, in some ways, a good leader. I can handle the crap people throw at me. But the underlying foundation is dysfunction – and so while the results look good, the underlying mechanism is faulty.

Anne Wilson Schaef has written the best book I have ever read on the nature of sin and exposing the subtle ways in which how when we are DOING good we are oftentimes BEING bad (and not even conscious of it). Schaef didn’t set out to write a expose on sin – it is actually a book on co-dependence entitled: Co-Dependence: Misunderstood-Mistreated. If you haven’t read it – go grab a copy. It is an easy read yet extremely thought provoking read – and it clocks in at under 130 pages.

Yesterday we had a very difficult meeting and I maintained my calm throughout (I did cry, but this is a neutral expression of emotion in most cases, IMHO, though it can be turned into a weapon for emotional manipulation of others in some cases). When I went home later that day I didn’t take a nap – in spite of my exhausting day. The absence or present of naps can both be indicators of emotional distress. I watched two movies – media consumption is oftentimes a sign of my emotional distress. I felt distressed, bored, lazy, and lonely – these are usually signs of my emotional distress.

I fell asleep a little after 10 pm. Going to bed before 11 pm is almost due to emotional unrest. I woke up at 12 am and didn’t go back to sleep until 5 am.

Ohh – and I ate. Sugar and salt (not by themselves, in foods). Both sugar and salt can be used to manage emotional distress (though, usually, these substances have a short-term positive effect followed by longer-term [though still relatively brief] negative effects).

Looking back now I can say, “Hey, I was pretty emotionally upset…and probably still am.” But in the moment I didn’t know why I was doing / not doing. Okay, that isn’t quite true. I knew that sugar/salt was a mood modifier and that watching TV was a mood modifier – but while I knew these were mood modifiers I didn’t know why I was trying to modify my mood.

The fact that I was upset was expressing itself emotionally and physiologically – but I have stomped down the perception of connection between event and emotional/physiological expression for so long it takes intentional thought to join the two and recognize that they are associated.

This was a fairly major occurrence in my life, so it wasn’t particularly difficult to see cause/effect – it becomes much more difficult in complex daily life. The interaction I had this morning may set off my interaction this afternoon. The way I felt yesterday may set the tone for how I feel today. The positive experience earlier may cause a positive interpretation of a neutral event later – or a negative experience may causes a negative interpretation of a neutral event later.

I’ve been working on this for a number of years now…but it is still a fairly intensive and intentional process…

So today, even though I don’t quite feel the connect between event and effect – I’m recognizing that I am upset and taking it easy. I might even call it a day off.

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