This is the first in a six-part series on How to Become an Emotional Detective.
The Emotional Detective is a metaphor for investigating your own emotional processes, especially those that pass under the radar of your awareness. Focussing your attention on your emotions allows you get to know your true self and start playing with a full emotional deck. The artist Elsa Mora drew an image of what emotional introspection and investigation might look like.
Understanding how emotions operate, and what purpose they serve makes introspection much more constructive. For example, it helps to know that unanticipated frustration leads to anger, even if you aren't accustomed to seeing yourself as someone who gets angry. Research has increasingly shown the pervasive influence of emotions on motivations, behavior, and perception, regardless of our level of awareness (check out book suggestions in Resources).
For example, you may have learned to hide your anger long ago, even from yourself. Knowing that you are unexpectedly thwarted you are probably angry, even when you don't "feel" it, can be very useful. It can clarify a situation that might otherwise remain quite muddled.
It is now abundantly clear that emotions are the underlying motivators of our lives: they guide much of our outlook and experience of the world. Understanding emotions helps you chart your course in life more effectively. The next five posts will briefly discuss your attitude to your inner world, techniques for getting started, and overcoming common obstacles.
Becoming an Emotional Detective means acquiring accurate information about your inner world. Specifically, it entails paying attention to your emotions and feelings and learning to make sense of them -- especially those that occur beneath the surface.
Approach your inner life as if it were a crime scene in which you are both the victim and the perpetrator (as well as the detective).
Certain of your emotional reactions have been forbidden expression, disguised, or misunderstood. Some were originally hidden when you were very little, often without your knowing it. Babies and children mask their emotions to accommodate others, to keep loved ones close. They instinctively defer to their caregivers because of their dependency. This type of emotional accommodation happens automatically, as part of human nature.
Changing yourself to suit others without knowing it is confusing. Unfortunately, this emotional subterfuge can lead to problems if it becomes habitual. Emotional masking can cause mental problems both large and small. It causes problems that restrict your options in life. These problems can be uncovered, investigated, and understood.
Unlike most crimes, you already know the broad outline of what has transpired. The purpose of this investigation is to uncover hidden truths, not to find anyone guilty of a real crime.
How to begin a process of self-discovery, while avoiding self-blame?
Developing the appropriate mindset is critical to becoming a successful Emotional Detective. Here are some suggestions to get you started:
- Accept that you are unaware of most of your own emotional responses, just like the rest of us.
- Adopt a nonjudgmental and curious attitude toward uncovering your emotional reactions.
- Remember you didn't get to choose your emotions - they are yours by nature.
- Approach yourself with a loving heart.
- Study yourself as you would research anything: pay attention to your emotions, write them down, discuss them with friends, think about them when you are alone in the shower, exercising, or in transit.
Understanding more about human nature, including how emotions work, makes it easier to apply this approach to yourself -- to gain control, become freer, and grow. Becoming an Emotional Detective is about unmasking who you really; discovering your true self will most easily happen by developing the habit of investigating your emotional life.