New Leaves on Old Trees: Emotional Intention

I have bad emotional habits.  Perhaps we all do, but I’m not going to concern myself with those of others just now.  Mine are rooted in my love of patterns–I may enjoy tasting a variety of foods, but I am quite content to eat the same four dishes in rotation for quite some time.  Behavior, I think, is a part of this.  Lately, I’ve had good cause to examine my own responses, my states of mind, and my patterns of behavior.  What I found was not heartening, but by my own rules, I’m not allowed to hide behind emotional or intellectual dishonesty once I’m aware of a problem.

 

Consciously Refusing Emotional Repetition

While there are a number of things I should fix, what I’m going to focus on for this entry is Anger.  Events in my life, both internal and external are a bit of a soupy maelstrom, with few aspects I can readily define, although they’re obviously interconnected.  My anger response is an easy target.  I have a tendency to respond to critique or rejection of any variety with anger in varying shades.  Some are laughable and resemble nothing so much as one of those tiny poppers that you throw at the ground.  Others live at the opposite end of the spectrum and fall into the category of Planet Killers.

In general, the harmless fits of pique last only moments.  Long enough for me to invent some creative phrases, which will later be put to use in a humorous way, but they are swift to fade, like sparks cast off from metal on stone.  These don’t necessarily concern me as much as the other types, although they can all be tied to my ego.  As well, they often serve as a pressure valve, and regulate my internal state under emotional stress.  But let’s take a look at the Planet Killers.

Whenever I feel I’ve been rejected in the past, I’ve taken it to heart.  It’s been personal, and received as an attack on me.  The fact that this is hopelessly self-centered and childish is not lost on me, I promise.  But my emotional habit is largely reactionary, and anger has been a simple form of response.  Not a healthy one, but easy.  It follows a particular script, has memorized movements, and involves my gifts for penetrating language and character assassination.

I don’t burn bridges.  I retreat to high orbit and rain hellfire down on the entire planet.

Naturally, this is far from healthy.  But essentially, when I’m rejected by another human being, I withdraw entirely from their lives.  I expunge every shred of evidence that there was ever a connection between us.  And then I set them on fire, metaphorically speaking.  But it’s not a desire for emotional maturity that spurs my wish to change this pattern.  I wish I were so evolved.

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No, it’s because I am simply too tired to devote that kind of energy–and it is a hell of a lot of energy–to an emotion that does nothing good for me or anyone else.

In my younger days, this expense was a breeze to write off.  Now, it costs me.  I feel the drag of lethargy for days after such an event, and I cannot ignore the toll it takes upon me physically, psychologically, and emotionally.  And for what? Because someone didn’t like something I wrote or doesn’t return my feelings? Even at the terribly young age of 34, it’s too silly and pointless to contemplate anymore.  It’s a pattern I want to break badly enough that I’ll do whatever is required, even put a muzzle on my own ego.

 

Honest Appraisal of Emotional Rawness

I’m in a place where I’m consciously reevaluating everything about myself.  It’s a bit of a Spring Clean of sorts, and involves a great deal of dirty, hot, and thankless labor.  No one is going to witness my transformation into a beautiful butterfly and sing praises to my wondrous evolution.  That has never been the spur for me.  Here again, we see anger come into play, but it’s a different sort, cleaner and more closely tied to self-knowledge.  I get tired of failing myself.  I stop feeling sorry for myself.  And I forget to care whether anyone is watching me.  In this context, anger is a tool that cracks me wide open and frees me from myself.  When properly harnessed, it is the energy that helps me accomplish whatever goal I’ve set.

But back to the reactionary, rather petty rage.  This is the adult version of the toddler’s tantrum, and I don’t want to be that person anymore.  I have better things to do with my energy, my time, and my emotional focus.  Rejection is no longer about me, even when it is.  It’s something that has happened, and I can take a moment to feel disappointed or sad or whatever, but I have other needs for the energy I’m used to dumping into the act of severing ties, rehashing events in my mind or crafting hateful retorts.  I have projects I want to focus on, both of the intangible personal growth sort and of the more practical action/production types. I need every little bit of focus in order to get through those often grueling tasks I’ve set myself.  There is no time anymore for tantrums.

 

A Note of Caution

Now, I’ve made a good case for not feeling anger of this sort, but I’m not talking about apathy.  Apathy is killer, quite literally.  It’s also a huge manifestation of emotional dishonesty.  We use apathy as a shield, to protect ourselves from the world.  But all it succeeds in doing is interfering with our relationships to ourselves and to other human beings.

People don’t die of loneliness.  Everyone says the words “broken heart” like it’s a direct symptom of being lonely.  But it isn’t.  What gets you in the end, if you “die of a broken heart” isn’t emotional tragedy or prolonged loneliness.  It’s the enforced emotional brutality of apathy.  That’s what breaks your heart.  That’s what convinces you that you’re not worth caring for or nurturing.  Because you’re desperately trying to protect yourself from feelings society has taught you to consider so negative, you’re not even allowed to express them.  So you refuse to let yourself feel anything, because the emotions of Loneliness are both seductive and powerful–better to shut away every response.  In the end, the emotional stress of denying yourself that release is what kills you.  It breaks your heart.  That’s not sentimentality or insomnia of 3 of the clock talking.  It’s human physiology.  ~My journal from 3 a.m. this morning

What I’m saying is that this isn’t apathy, this refusal to invest in anger.  Rather, it’s a conscious appraisal of my emotional reaction, and an equally conscious choice to redirect that response.  I will own my feelings, and if I feel hurt or sad or lonely, happy or vexed or tire-swing giddy, I will see them.  But that is the goal, to see them, acknowledge them, and then set aside the ones that do not serve me as best I can.  It’s a process, and I think it won’t be a smooth curve of progress.  It will, however, be worth the effort.

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3 thoughts on “New Leaves on Old Trees: Emotional Intention

  1. I like this. I used to assume that anger usually stemmed from something more basic, some kind of vulnerability that needed protection. Fear. Hurt. I think mostly I still think this is often the case, at least it has been when I’ve thought about myself. But the other kind, the one that’s more directed at ourselves, actually seems positive. Kind of one of those inner Dutch Uncle kinds of things, or having a little Come to Jesus Meeting in the kitchen. Maybe at 2 a.m.

    1. I think, in some ways, the reactionary and negative anger I talk about is protective. But it is a habit–protective of my ego or sense of self. It’s also lazy and built upon a disinclination to look too closely at my own behavior.

      That’s what’s funny about the brain. When we experience trauma, whatever its nature, memory and emotional impressions are handled by different parts of the brain. Memory fades over time, but our amygdala keeps the emotional impressions nice and fresh., as “learned” combinations of neurotransmitters etc. These can then be triggered by new events with no relation to the original experiences that created them. It’s like a knee-jerk response to chemical impulses, which are similar even if the lives experience producing them is not.

      And also, there’s the neural network to consider. We are a species of pattern and habit. When we are placed in a living situation where certain behaviors and emotional states have proven to be effective, they become the auto-response. I grew up with a father who never praised my accomplishments, who only ever criticized me, and whose attacks were always personal. To this day, he still resorts to personal insult if he’s out of his depth in an argument.

      I hate to admit it, but as the first role model I had for men, he provided some pretty damaging examples. My uncritical acceptance of this has been a bit damning. And yes, I will totally blame him for warping me. But I’m now an adult and it’s my responsibility to change what I don’t like about myself. I am not obligated to remain in the psychological shape wrought by his actions. To do so is to completely invalidate any personal growth or ideas about myself of which I alone am the author.

      My interactions with the opposite sex have been unhealthy, in part due to the damage of my father’s actions, but also as a result of a sort of emotional hegemony. I believed what he told me via this behavior and hypercritical statements–I was ugly, I was a failure, I was completely unfit to be loved or praised, and nothing I would ever do would be good enough.

      Well, I’m done with that. I accept responsibility for my emotional actions, because without such acceptance, my future will simply be a repetition of everything that has already happened. I will continue to repeat the same patterns of behavior and respond in the same way. I am not that little girl anymore, but my own creation.

  2. I had typed this long comment about starting with prepared food that will satisfy hunger and ending with wild non-prepared creations that satisfy taste and fuels further exploration bit quickly realized it probably only confuses my message. That message being I enjoy your continual growth and your virtual smile 🙂

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