Have you ever wanted to take one of your emotions and give it a swift, hard kick in the rear? Perhaps send it flying out the window as far away as possible so you don’t need to deal with it? When it comes to some of the tougher emotions, like anger and sadness, this has often been the case for me. Typically described as laid back and easy going, I’ve used this part of my personality to avoid conflict and stray from social drama. At times, it’s difficult for me to be around people with explosive personalities or those who walk around as though “a little black rain cloud” hovers over their head. I either want to run the other direction or find a way to immediately fix the problem and bring their happiness back. I have a love-hate relationship with empathy. I’m drawn to helping others but it can be emotionally taxing, especially when these emotions originate from people close to me, or even worse–myself.
I adore the movie, “Inside Out”, which I watched with my young family today in the theater. I found the whole concept fascinating, entertaining, and–as a movie dealing with emotions goes–quite emotional. The emotions of Joy, Anger, Sadness, Disgust, and Fear are embodied by little characters inside a young girl’s brain, operating within their headquarters to guide her feelings through an upsetting new move to San Francisco. From the very beginning, Sadness is a down-in-the-dumps, depressing character who seems to make everything worse with her every touch. I wanted to kick this sluggish, mopey character in the head! I even whispered to Dan halfway through the growing conflict that the strong-willed leader, Joy, should just give a little nudge and knock Sadness into the dark abyss below. (I know, I’m horrible!) Sadness was only getting in the way and making the success of their journey more difficult. However, Dan leaned over to say, “There is no happiness without sadness.” Sheepishly, I sank back into my seat, reflecting on his answer while the story-line continued to unfold. This statement, of course, turns out to be the premise of the movie: that there is a time and place for all our emotions, and most importantly, Joy and Sadness go hand-in-hand.
I’ve learned this lesson before, time and again. When my first-born son died from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, I reverted to my natural tendencies to turn my back on some of my difficult feelings. A passage from Borrowed Angel, about six months into my loss, describes this experience.
Up to this point, I personified my grief as two malicious entities out to get me: Sorrow and Anger. I often described them in my blog as chasing close to my heels, trying to trap me in their snares. In my mind, I was always running. Sometimes I visualized myself in a dark, damp alley. Cloaked in dark, hooded capes, Sorrow and Anger faced me, blocking my path. In fear, I would turn from them, sprinting the other direction to escape their outstretched hands. They would not have me that day.
I used this imagery as a means of avoidance, afraid that only bad consequences would come from engaging with them. This chapter in Borrowed Angel walks the reader through the therapeutic events that changed my skewed beliefs. As you can see from my reaction halfway through Inside Out, I still need these reminders that embracing our feelings in healthy manners is necessary. Simply kicking our emotions to the wayside (or into an abyss) is not the best way to go! Moreover, it is through our own sadness that empathy is made possible, as exemplified by Sadness and another character, Bing Bong, from the film.
Working through strong emotions will be a continual journey for me, I’m sure. I face it on a daily basis with my three young kids, who help me explore emotions I’d rather not step into. (That’s code for, They know how to push my buttons more than anyone else and I’m often guilt-ridden for erupting in a less than ideal manner!) I’m discovering with my children the necessary ebb-and-flow of control, which sometimes means allowing them to express themselves, even when it’s not done in the best way. If I’m still learning how to cope with adult emotions, whether mine or someone else’s, they certainly are entitled to learning, too. I love this article, Helping Toddlers Understand Their Emotions.