One time I was standing in line at Whole Foods with my then BF and I said I was frustrated with how long it was taking. He lost the plot on me, suddenly extremely triggered by my frustration thinking I was acting completely out of line and that I needed to reel it back in. Keep in mind I said frustrated with the casual sense of most Americans and was definitely not that upset. However, he was not American and the word frustrated in his native language essentially translated to pissed the fck off. It took hours of communicating to get him to understand my expression of my experience, and honestly, that moment in time started making me really think about what people may hear when I am talking and begin thinking about ways that I can communicate clearer.
Emotions are one of the stickiest fuckin topics out there. It is sticky because they are both valid and also not easily understood, which leaves us in a grey area somewhere between reality and fantasy. Often times when we express ourselves we are looking to be understood, or at the very least, listened too. But because each of our emotions are dependent upon prior experience it can be murky waters for both parties speaking and listening. This is largely why we dumb our emotions down: happy, sad, mad, good, & glad. Because on the simplest level, those really work for us and can be basically understood. However, by not acknowledging the spectrum of our emotions we are failing to understand ourself and our triggers.
Let's take a look at each of these simplified version above and understand the complexities of them.
HAPPY, GLAD, & GOOD
Though their expression indicates a feeling of lightness, they still have nuances. Joy could replace either of them and indicate an overwhelming feeling that we have had about a recent experience. Content could mean that we feel quite satisfied with the way things are and that leaves us feeling happier. Satisfied itself is another way of being in a lighter mood. Confident. Loved. Peaceful. Excited. Blessed. Intoxicated. Blissful. These all individually come from experiences that have altered our mood and become expressions of to which degree our mood has been altered. When used these expressions can better help people understand the level of celebration and acknowledgement you are experiencing and could even help trigger more questions to create deeper understanding.
There are varying degrees of sadness, from having hurt feelings about an interaction to missing a loved one that has passed on. As you read these take a moment on each word and think about a situation in your life that each word could apply to. This will help you make the connection to understand how you individually gauge experiences. Unhappy. Devastated. Grieving. Depressed. Anxious. Exhausted could even fit in this category. Bitter. Sorry. Morose. Pensive. Heart broken. Can you see how each word provides its own definitive experience, or even several experiences?
Now take a moment to sit back and just ponder the idea that your interpretations might not be the same as anyone else around you, but that you can connect the words together to describe your own personal experience.
Jealous. Envy. Rage. Pissed off. Frustrated. Angry. Resentful. Indignant. Frantic. Embarrassed. Unsafe. Betrayed. Anxious can also fit in here. Deep inside each and every one of us is a vast reservoir of emotion. Perhaps we are familiar enough with it that we can articulate our experiences which makes communicating through the darker spectrum of emotions a bit easier. But these "mad" emotions are the ones that destroy relationships, opportunities, and our ability to step back and understand the landscape of emotions and how they differ for each person. If the only word that we can come up with is mad, how do we honestly expect someone else to help us out? How do we stop non-violent communication if we fail to understand how our own violent emotions discourage interaction, either with ourself or others?
If you do not have solid communication skills than this could all be making you feel a little more overwhelmed with the idea of communication. But that is ok, because overwhelming yourself with this kind of information will force you to pay attention to it. There are some things that you cannot unlearn or unread, and this is one of them. Whether you start taking action now or later, the idea of varying emotions and experiences has been seeded and will grow over time.
Understanding emotions takes imagination and some time to daydream about different scenarios and different reactions. BUT, because people are fearful of their own emotions, they often do not sit still long enough to go through this process. This is the exact reason that I use short breath work practices with my clients... to first regulate the nervous system so that they can spend time being still and looking at how their action vary through out the challenges of each practice. Believe it or not, the simplicity of this technique has massive after effects. If this sounds tedious to you I encourage you to go to the practices page on my site and set aside 5-7 minutes to sit with yourself under guided instruction. I promise it is a lot less scary than you may originally think.
As we begin to understand and improve the communication of our own emotions, we will find that we become less triggered by other peoples emotions. And even if we do become triggered by them, we have more tools to step back and articulate why we may have been triggered. There is no short term fix for this, there is only the continual work of self reflection and growth to become good at the things that our society values less, communication, relationships, stress management, and self worth.
One of my exes he gifted me the greatest advice about the permission to communicate. In the middle of an argument I was finding it difficult to communicate to him my frustrations. When I expressed this to him he replied with this:
"It's ok. Just try. If you say the wrong words we will keep talking until I understand you and you understand me."
Though not verbatim, it is the gist. Although this should be an obvious piece of advice about communication, I do not believe it is. If we are anything alike it is that we want to be heard, and we get stuck in the idea of being heard, easily forgetting that the person we are communicating with would also like to be heard.
THIS IS WHY COMMUNICATION IS ESSENTIAL.
I have worked my ass off at communication, and here is the only thing I try to focus on.
ASK FUCKING QUESTIONS.
The hardest thing to do when we are upset is step outside of our thought cycle and try to see the situation differently. However, if you began to ask questions and engage in a dialogue about feelings, it lessens the load you are carrying. It helps you see and hear different perceptions and not just get caught up in your own personal story but recognize that your story may to be as valid as you think it is.
Now isn't that a dose of humility?
Recently I had an instance in which someone very close to me told me that I had let them down in a variety of ways. Ouch. I mean, I can hear that kind of thing and survive BUT the thing that hurt me, is that they never inquired about any of my experience. Now, my experience wasn't feeling hurt or let down so it may be a little less important than their feelings. However, inquiring about why I let them down would have led to an understanding of my own personal headspace and perhaps could have lessened the blow to their feelings by seeing that it wasn't personal to them and I would have done better had I known how my actions were coming across.
But if we don't ask, then we don't know.
So I try to use this technique when I am hurt. I ask the person I am hurt by questions about their headspace. Or if I am hurt by my own faults I ask people that I trust to be truthful with me on how I could improve and not repeat the process.
When my ex essentially said to me "we will talk until we work it out" he gave me permission to be myself and created space in our relationship to have dialogue. It helped me to see that when miscommunications happen no ONE party is at fault.
" It's critical: Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Seeking real understanding affirms the other person and what they have to say. That's what they want." - Stephen Covey, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
Ever notice how when fear about something creeps in you develop a distraction?