This weekend I had an experience with processing emotion. My made-up definition for process is a series of steps imposed upon or taken by something or someone subject to change. Usually a result is achieved that was predetermined or at least attempted in this series of steps. In this instance, I had an initial emotion and then took a series of steps to change that emotion so that I could manage the issue with as little negative impact on my life as possible.
As I have learned more about feelings that come about in our lives in reaction to what circumstances befall us, I have learned that what I feel in the immediacy of the moment is not what I am destined to feel moving forward.
When we feel an emotion, it is because our brain rapidly interprets some stimulus in the form of a thought. That thought, or series of thoughts, evokes emotion. In this particular case, I had participated in a conversation with someone who brought unexpected news to me, and the feelings surfaced rapidly. Looking back, whatever thoughts they were invited feelings of surprise, anger, shame, and betrayal.
Because I do thought work regularly and am aware of the impact my thoughts and feelings have on my actions/behavior, I wanted to efficiently process the issue to save time and precious emotional resource!
The trick is, if you suppress or ignore the issue that bothers you, it festers and can even become larger than life. On the other hand, if you fly off the handle and surrender in totality to your reactionary emotions, you’ll likely say or do something you will later regret. I know this.
So what did I do?
I verbally “downloaded” all the thoughts that were coursing through me–the good, the bad, and the ugly. I took deep breaths to offset the shallow, stressed breathing and I let myself cry. I allowed the flood of all the thoughts based in insecurity and pride and weakness and fatigue pour over me. I gave them space to surface and slosh and overrun my mind and body. I noted how my body felt tense and hot while my breathing was shallow and stressed.
I shared with a loved one what my experience was. I trust him, and he listened and allowed me to further process the issue.
Then I brainstormed several courses of action and thought of the possible outcomes of each. I sifted through all of those until I could find one that had least amount of negative impact on myself and on others I would be affecting with my actions. I separated facts from all the drama in my mind so I could more clearly see my own tendency to “awfulize” the situation and try to avoid representing that baser side of me to my peers.
My new emerging emotions were showing up to look like this: open, curious, soft-hearted, enlightened, courageous, and hopeful.
The processing continued.
I cried more.
Then, when it was time to address the issue with the people involved, I constrained myself to speak in a way that represented my process of transformation. I did not show up as the woman who reacted strongly to a conversation. I had been that woman once, but processing all of that emotion and taking charge of what it would mean for my behavior had changed me. I emerged as one who had done difficult work to make an impact in a way that would elevate the group and own my own weakness at the same time.
It’s still a bit fresh. If I’m not careful, I could still be overcome by humiliation, resentment, and anger. So I will continue to exercise self-leadership while the transformation solidifies.
I desperately want to be able to handle what comes my way in life with grace, humility, and resilience.
But I’m still human, and after all, it’s a process.