19 Jan The Truth About Emotion: Exploring the Negative with Alice & Emma
Alice & Emma: an interactive sample scenario.
Emma slams the invitation onto the table so hard, the spoon in your hand jumps and dribbles bits of oatmeal down your arm. Your jaw tightens, heart races, and the breakfast you were enjoying moments before is now a hard lump somewhere between throat and stomach.
“You will attend the luncheon, Alice,” your sister says, “and you will use that fanciful mind of yours to fancy yourself a lady and act as such.”
You grip the spoon and fancy it’s her neck.
“I am not opposed to attending,” you say for what feels like the hundredth time, “but I may be fashionably late. I promised Clarence I would speak to his gardener. He’s having issues with rabbits in his rose garden again.”
She steps closer, rests one fist on the table, and leans in. You can feel her breath hot on your face. Capers. She must have eaten something with capers.
“You will not speak with Clarence nor his gardener. You will attend the luncheon, you will attend promptly, and you will not cause me further embarrassment.”
Which choice would you make?
A. Fling the spoon of oatmeal at Emma.
B. Swallow your anger and pretend everything’s fine.
C. Make an excuse for her behavior, apologize and blame yourself.
D. Confront her behavior, ask questions, and try to get to the root issue.
Emotions, negative and positive, are more than simple feelings. Emotions are reactions to experiences, interpreted by our thoughts, shown in our physical responses, leading to action. They’re personal; we don’t all share the same emotional response to the same situation. Our interpretation of the situation plays a large role in determining that response.
In the scenario above, Alice is confronted by a demanding sister and interprets the situation through her Emma & Others Experience Glasses. Emma frequently criticizes Alice’s “fanciful nature”, attempts to control her, and worries about her social standing. Alice immediately perceives this situation as another attack on her Self, her values and priorities.
Her body reacts to the negative emotions. Jaw’s tight. Heart’s racing. Stomach’s upset. She has a death grip on her spoon. She’s probably sitting rather upright and rigid. As much as we’d sometimes like to hide our emotions, our bodies portray what we’re feeling. Our tone of voice, the way we hold ourselves, our facial expressions- we’re more emotionally exposed than we’d like to admit.Her body reacts to the negative emotions. Jaw’s tight. Heart’s racing. Stomach’s upset. Click To Tweet
The situation with Alice escalates. Her sister is in her face, telling her what she will and will not do. Alice interprets this as Emma attacking who she is once again, her fight or flight’s been activated, she’s on edge, and rational thought is washed out by anger and shame. She reacts.
Which choice would you make?
Some of us give in to anger, allowing it to overcome all the other emotions we’d rather not feel. Some of us try not to feel the negative emotions at all, pushing them away or swallowing them like a spoonful of nasty medicine. Or we blame ourselves and take responsibility for everything, and then are surprised when resentment grows toward those we feel are judging us too harshly. Some of us confront the situation, practicing empathy without excusing hurtful behavior, and try to get to the root of the issue. (Probably not enough of us, enough of the time.)
Which would Alice have done?
Although she’s full of questions and curiosity, her world is filtered through her dysfunctional relationship with her sister. Repeated negative experiences and/or interpretations lead to repeated negative experiences and/or interpretations, coloring her Emma lenses with negativity. She’s not always able to access rational thought on a good day, so flooded with negative emotions… hot caper breath up her nose…
She’d give Emma a face full of oatmeal.
Although warm, sticky oatmeal in the face tends to be a negative, emotional response is not. Negative emotions can serve as warnings and protect us from harmful experiences. Positive experiences and/or interpretations can add positive color to the lenses we use to look at the world. And although our brains are wired to more easily recognize the negative, we can train ourselves to look for the positive and build on that as well.
Whether we’re “feelers” or “thinkers”, we’re emotional beings whose thoughts, interpretations, bodies, and actions are all affected by emotion. In her Coursera course on Positive Psychology, Dr. Barbara Fredrickson puts it this way: “From a scientific perspective we don’t think of emotions as just a feeling state, it’s an embodied feeling state that comes with action urges, that comes with responses, that get us to change the situation or change our thoughts.”
Emotions cause change in our circumstances, our thoughts, our lives, and eventually the world. Learning to process negative emotions and recognize positive ones is vital to our health as a whole and affects more than we may know. It’s time to take our mental health as seriously as our physical, especially as they’re all wrapped up in each other.
Be aware of your emotions throughout the day. What are you feeling? What are the circumstances? How do you feel physically? What type of “glasses” are you wearing? Do the lenses change based on the people involved, locations, or types of experiences? How did you react? Make a note of your answers and see if you discover any patterns.
In the above scenario, which choice would you have made? Can you see through Alice’s glasses and understand her reaction? I’d love to hear from you in the comment section.