This is the second segment in a three-part series on Tidying Up Emotions
When thinking about going through your emotional past, it may be tempting to push everything back in the closet, unexamined. Try to resist this impulse -- it will leave you right where you started. Instead, toss aside the mothballs and jump in.
As you size up your past emotions with the situations that inspired them, keep in mind the predictable triggers that naturally -- and appropriately -- inspire our five basic emotions:
- Frustration of needs, desires, or ideals about justice inspires Anger
- Loss of material goods, relationships, or hope inspires Sadness
- Satisfaction of basic needs, desires or purpose inspires Joy
- Threats to safety, relationships, or meaning inspires Fear
- Danger to health or a sense of fairness inspires Disgust
Try to see your old experiences with careful, curious, and open eyes - like an Emotional Detective.
You may notice that some of your emotions don’t fit the situations that elicited them. Although emotions are meant to be rapid automatic responses to change, some develop into mismatched and unhealthy emotional complexes that keep showing up in your closet, even though they don’t really suit you.
Looking at your timeline, consider:
- What made these moments/events important to you?
- Are there both happy and sad moments? Moments of achievement? If not, why not?
- Who else was present? Was there anyone “present” in spirit or in your thoughts at that time even if they weren’t literally there? What was their role?
- Is there a dominant figure or character? If so, what emotions do they typically inspire in you?
- How central are you to what’s happening – not just to yourself, but to others?
- Is there a persistent feeling or pattern to the events, moments, images?
- Does this feeling or pattern have bearing on how you feel currently?
What can your past tell you about your present, and offer you for your future?
- Think about the events you have lived through and notice if your responses were typical or atypical. For example, did you respond to a loss with indifference? Or did you respond to frustration with good cheer? How do you understand your unusual responses? Is it possible that you covered over your authentic emotional response and replaced it with a reaction that seemed (or was hoped to be) more socially or “family culture” acceptable? Becoming aware of these tendencies and how they have affected you can allow a new response -- create a bit of time and room for a more healthy “correction.”
- Examine the pictures in your time line. What do your expressions, body language and demeanor suggest about how you felt at the time? These unconscious clues hold important truths. (For example, in one friend’s family photos, she is never touching the other family members as they stand, grouped together – indicative of how disconnected she felt from her family from a young age.) Are these photos consistent with your current impression of these emotional experiences/moments?
- Think about any stories you may have been told over the years about these moments and your reactions – how do those stories seem now? Is there a new narrative that more accurately reflects your inner experience?
- Read old journals or letters to look for emotional clues to what was happening or what you really might have felt at the time.
Straightening out twisted emotions from your past is the best way I know to discard old feelings and create space for new ones that are more in keeping with the current circumstances of your life. It might just be time for a new look and feeling for the new season.