My Emotions Make Me Do Crazy Things
One day I remember I was working a job with some teenagers who were in the legal system when one of them said to the whole group at the residential “Hey everyone I want you to know that I am upset today so if I am a jerk to you it is not my fault.” This kid went on to treat most of the people in the residential really poorly throughout that day and blamed it on being upset about something else in his life. It struck me as such an interesting idea that this client viewed his emotions as something attacking him. He truly believed that he should not be held accountable for his actions when he is upset because his emotions make him do crazy things. I think he had a massive misunderstanding of how emotions work. You could say that he believed that his emotions were evil. This belief in his emotions and their ability to lead him to doing something he had no desire to do resulted in him treating people poorly while attempting to avoid responsibility. How are we then to handle these emotions in a way that doesn’t result in us doing things we didn’t want to do? Is the best way to handle emotions to avoid them because emotions lead to us doing crazy things?
How Emotions Work
Emotions are a very hard thing to understand which often leads us to believe that they are something to be combated because if we can’t understand them then we should just tame or control them. But there is a healthier way to view emotions. As a tool to inform us of what is happening and how to behave. If we develop a better understanding of our emotions then we will be able to act accordingly to avoid the negative action that often comes from strong emotions. Robert Augustus Masters talks about emotions in his book Emotional Intimacy and describes the relationship with emotions this way
“Many of us are inclined to view emotions as being lower or more primitive-less trustworthy- than reason. We may think of emotions as clouding the skies of rational though or muddying our objectivity. And we often blame our emotions for this, saying for example, ‘my emotions got the better of me.’ The metaphor here is that of emotions as an opponent. When we “fight” or “wrestle with our emotions, we are far from cultivating intimacy with them. Intimacy implies friendliness- and it is only be befriending our emotions that we can work with them in ways that allow us to benefit from what they offer”. (1)
Living in a state of fear about what our emotions are going to “make” us do results in us having to attempt to keep emotions at a distance which prevents us from having a healthy understanding of how to respond when are emotions “take control.”
I remember once, for a short while, I was working on a ranch and had the privilege to go horseback riding. The person in charge of the horses gave me the oldest horse saying “Billy is a good horse for first time riders because he calm most of the time.” So, I jumped on to the horse and started to ride but it became very apparent very quickly that this horse responded very quickly to any moments of fear or indecision on my part and would start to head where he wanted to. As we rode more that day I started to become more relaxed and confident that I wasn’t going to die which help Billy (the horse) to calm down and allow me to lead him because he felt he could trust me. This is often how the relationship with our emotions work. If we are willing to listen to them and feel them fully we will start to be able to take leadership over them and control our behavior but if we avoid the emotions they will start to carry us away to a place we do not want to go.
How to Develop Intimacy with Emotions
Much like Billy the horse our emotions are much easier to manage and lead if we develop a strong, intimate, relationship with them. In the case of Billy the horse I had been feeding him and working around him for weeks before that ride and we quickly developed a working relationship. We need to do the same with our emotions.
In part two we will look at ways to develop a more intimate relationship with our emotions in order to be able to live healthier lives.