Identity and Emotions

Emotions and Identity

“I am not my emotions.”

(Based on  information from Shalom Path: Journey of the Heart)

TMI? I hope not. It was a major “aha!” moment for me the day I discovered that my emotions were not Me.  This fact marks a narrow – but extremely deep – distinction. We have emotions, and the way we feel them and express our feelings may be uniquely ours, but they are not us.

So What?

If your response to the above is “Duh!”, then you obviously have a very healthy self image and need not read on, unless you’re just curious. Now, for the two of you who are still here, we can go on.

The distinction is, as I said, very subtle, but the difference in how we respond to our emotions is enormous. In what follows, I’m zeroing in on what we tend to view as negative emotions.  We seem to have no problem embrace feelings of happiness, contentment, and confidence; it’s the disdain, the fear, anger, and pride that we prefer to ignore.

If I am my emotions:

  • There’s nothing I can do about them; I’m subject to their ebb and flow.
  • My emotions are my actions. In a very real sense I am anger and my angry actions, my angry words, are just part and parcel of my emotions.
  • If I hate the fact that I get angry (or scared, or sad) too easily, then I am practicing a form of self-hate. If I hate my anger, then because anger is part of me, I hate myself.
  • I become afraid of myself, because I am afraid of things – like emotions – that I can’t control.
  • Unwanted emotions can be a deep source of personal shame.
  • Feelings I can’t seem to control or manage add a sense of hopelessness to the shame.

However, if I only have emotions:

  • I can hold them up and look at them, at least sometimes, a little objectively. In other words, I need not fear being emotional about my emotions 🙂
  • Because there is no shame in my anger (or my fear, or my sadness), I can embrace and own what I’m feeling.
  • Instead of shrinking back from my feelings, I can look them full in the face and show compassion to the part of me that is feeling these feelings.
  • I can look into my emotions for what caused or triggered them. Then I can accept, embrace, and love that wounded part of me. Sometimes this will lead to healing.
  • My emotions and my responses to them are two separate things
  • While I can’t help it that my feelings rise up, I can choose how I respond to them.
  • I have ultimate control over how I express my emotions. (It was a red-letter day when I was able to separate my own anger from my response to feeling angry!)

As you can see, I firmly believe the latter is true. While we can’t help the fact that a certain smell reminds us of how much we miss our mothers, we can wisely love both our mothers and ourselves by choosing to respect the feeling enough to experience it, and then choose how we will respond to it, in a way that honors Life.

Now we have come full circle, back to the idea of Choice that we were discussing in the last post.  Yes, it’s easier to just coast along, ignoring our feelings and letting them wreak havoc on our lives and our relationships. But to fully Live, the only viable option is to willingly choose to embrace our  “response ability” to shepherd this aspect of our selves.

The Examined Life Is Worth Living

Choice is a matter of responsibility: the ability to respond.  While just hearing the word may drop a heavy weight on your shoulders, that was not its original purpose. The ability to choose our responses to what life throws at us is a glorious part of being human.  Hey, we don’t have to just stand and take it; we can mount our own offensive and take Life itself for a ride!

Of course, we can always opt for the default mode, responding automatically to our moods, without taking the effort of thought. This certainly is the easiest and it appears to be the safest way to live, ahem, exist.  If our emotions are a steadily flowing river, we can just continue to float downstream, going wherever the current may take us, or we can choose to live intentionally: we can choose to pull up to the side of the stream and explore beyond its banks.

The choice I’m advocating for is the latter. I have chosen to respond to the truth that my emotions are part of this gift of one single precious shot at Living.  I’m the only one who can live it, so why not live it to the fullest? Yes, it takes more effort to live this way, but already my exertion has been repaid royally in greater purpose (i.e., I have a reason to get out of bed), greater confidence in the path I have chosen for myself, and “green hope” (as the Message puts it) for the future.

I’m able to smile at the future, even though I have no idea what it’ll bring!

Next week:

We’ll talk about practical how-tos: ways we can embrace Life. I’d love to hear what you’ve done to get yourself out of “mere existence” mode; If I like your ideas, I may even include them in the next blog 🙂

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Phyllis Hopper is a creative free spirit who loves exploring new places and getting to know new peoples and cultures. She makes her home base in Kansas.