Emotional Awareness: I Think it’s Working

Normally, I think of emotions, especially strong ones, as “bad.” They lead to yelling and crying and children learning new swear words. My usual method for dealing with strong emotions is to put a lid on them, deny that they exist, and just try to get through my day. That’s not been working so well for me, so I’m trying this “breathing” awareness-of-emotions thing I blogged about a while ago.

The situation kind of reminds me of the Simpsons episode when the hurricane hits Springfield. I don’t want to ruin it for everyone, but Springfield suffers no damage at all except for Ned Flanders’s house, which is totally demolished. Ned ends up losing it and telling off everyone in town. We learn as the story unfolds that Ned is the son of beatniks who refused to discipline him. As a result, little Ned was full of rage and violence. He was put under the care of a psychiatrist who employed an experimental technique called the “Spankalogical Protocol.” It worked to curb little Ned’s aggression, but it also left him unable to express any anger at all. By the end of the episode, he realizes he hates his parents and is cured.

I don’t hate my parents. I don’t know if this means I’m not cured or if I’ve been misled by The Simpsons.

Either way, I’m happy to report that, after some pretty significant challenges, my particular treatment seems to be working. (knock wood, knock wood, knock wood)

In general, I’m feeling happier. Part of this is, I think, because I’m making it a point to actually feel happy when I feel happy. I think the other part is that I’m no longer seething with pent-up rage. It’s a win-win.

Just the other night, we had a great test of the new system. My husband wanted some quiet time to work on the computer. Because he doesn’t want to put the office upstairs, I get to have my own room, and he has to do all of his office work in the hallway between the stairs and the kitchen, where our “office” is. In order for him to have quiet time for office work, the kids and I either need to be away from the house or I need to work very hard to keep them out of the office. Or, in the case of the other night, I need to do both.

Thursday’s our busy day. We go straight from flute (where I try to keep my son from putting snacks into the grand piano or climbing on the organ) to gymnastics (where I try to keep my son from falling into the foam pit or climbing the balance beam). We get home around 4:30. This Thursday, my husband got home before us, but he still had more than an hour of work to do after we’d arrived home.

We were doing OK until about an hour into his “quiet amid the chaos” time. The kids were getting hungry, and I couldn’t make dinner because that requires the children occupying themselves, which, when Daddy’s home, involves bothering Daddy.

My children reliably find messy activities engaging enough to give me a couple of minutes to cook. So, I let my son pour rice milk from one cup to another while I was prepping asparagus. He spilled, of course. As I was wiping it up, he spilled again. As he was helping me wipe up the second spill, he kicked over the cup and spilled again. I only gave him a couple of ounces of rice milk, but I swear, it was like the miracle of the loaves and fishes.

I wanted to yell at my husband, but instead I took a deep breath.

“I’m feeling angry,” I told myself through clenched teeth, taking a breath and wiping up rice milk with a soggy dishtowel.

“I’m feeling frustrated.” I breathed again and relaxed my jaw.

“I’m feeling hungry.” I breathed and admitted that hunger isn’t really an emotion.

It worked. We survived. My husband, after I explained calmly to him that the children were too hungry to proceed without dinner and that making dinner would require his involvement, compromised and agreed to return to his work after supper. Our love for one another remained intact, he ended up getting his work done, and I did not scream at anyone, nor did I develop a twitch in my eye, which has been known to happen.

Noticing my emotions is a lot of work and uses a lot of energy, but I’m surprised to find that it’s not nearly so tiring as losing it and the guilt and shame that results from losing it.

I wonder if I can do without the cathartic rush of emotion, though. It’s such a part of how I do things, I’m not sure what I’ll do without it. It’s probably premature to bid it farewell just yet, anyway.

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