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Owning your emotions?

Controlling your emotions or not? That's the question

A while ago I was in a probably recognizable, though luckily not very frequent situation. I had to apologize for a joke that came out of my mouth very wrong. The person on the receiving end of my badly informed utterance gracefully accepted my deeply felt apology. Of course, that was a relief. And then he said something very interesting. He said: ‘Did that hurt? Yes, that hurt. I wonder why it did’. And he wandered off in a pensive state. It left me in awe of how he dealt with the things that were coming towards him.

What did he do? Why was this so special? I realized he fully owned his emotions. What does that mean? He acknowledged that he was hurt and that the hurt came from somewhere within himself. My clumsy and awful remark was only the trigger. He picked it up as something that he could use to come out better at the other end. He used it as a signal to find what painful spots he still had in his soul and used it to heal that spot. This is completely the opposite of what we’re used to. Normally someone would be offended and indignant in various forms and measures and it would be my fault he felt like this. Nothing would come of it other than him maybe avoiding me in the future.

Don’t we all recognize this? Somebody said something insensitive, often even unknowingly, and we get upset. They are not supposed or even allowed to upset us. That is just not right. It’s unkind and we are the victim. They did this to us. And how often does someone not say in an accusing manner: ‘That was offensive!’? You may accuse someone of being offensive. It’s bad to be offensive.

This is the paradigm we are cultivating in this world. We can sue anybody -even for aggravation. We try to claim insurance money, even if it was our own fault the item broke. We are not to insult anyone. Politically incorrect words change frequently. This makes sense, because it’s not about the word itself, it about the meaning we put into it. When a politically correct word has replaced a politically incorrect word, soon enough that new word turns politically incorrect itself. What really is the difference between ‘coloured people’ and ‘people of colour’? It’s the association. It’s the association we make. When you come from a different culture and you don’t know this association, you totally miss why the one is offensive and hurtful and the other one isn’t. So whether something is offensive is dependent on who says it, who receives it, on how it’s being said, and on the cultural context.

Taking this ‘you-did-this-to-me’ attitude too far turns us in seemingly helpless victims, blaming only and not becoming stronger in ourselves. Instead, we become more and more mistrusting and helpless. We give power away to others around us, anybody really. We give up control over our lives. And we may not think we do. But taking offense when someone tells us we are a *** (swearword to be filled in by yourself) or criticizes us, we give away power and control. Unnecessarily.

Now don’t get me wrong. Hurting others deliberately or even carelessly is awful. It should be prevented and stopped as much as possible. When being hurtful or offensive becomes a pattern in someone’s life, it may turn into something like racism or misogyny. (The question is: why would someone want to do something like this? But that is a whole other matter for another blog). Being under attack from these negative forces can effectively and seriously damage people. It works like commercials: the more repetition we get, the more we believe it. And that makes it about the form, not the content. So, even when it’s being repeated over and over again we don’t need to believe it. Because there is a balance too. It’s all about the balance.

We can choose to not let it touch us and leave it with the other person. Or we can choose to let it touch us and still leave it with the other person. Either way, the lesson in it is that when we feel hurt, we at least partially believe what the other person is saying. Otherwise, we would have shrugged our shoulders and said they are crazy. And that negative belief is something we can heal. When someone criticizes me, I can look at my insecurities. Do I indeed feel I am not good enough? What is the evidence for that? All in all, it’s not so bad, so I let it go. Or, all in all, there are some issues that need fixing. So I go and fix them. Are they un-fixable? Then I have to let it go anyway.

Emotions are with us. They are not always pleasant but they are a good thing. Even when they make your life difficult at times, they have something to tell you. Anger tells you to set your boundaries, sadness tells you to reach out for comfort and closeness, anxiety tells you to be careful and watch yourself, shame tells you to repair things and do them differently next time. They guide us. But they only guide us if we let them. They guide us if we don’t suppress them and if we don’t blame them on other people. And then there is a world to gain.

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