I feel like Spock from Star Trek is a lot more like humans than we may think. We do experience emotions in a way that Spock could not, but it doesn’t mean that we understand them either. Emotions are powerful and confusing; but we can get a handle on them, without being void of emotion entirely like Spock.
When I was younger, I thought that experiencing an emotion was the ultimate truth. If I felt angry, I was meant to be really angry. If I felt sad, I was meant to be deeply sad. If I was happy, then I was meant to be extremely happy. I never questioned my emotions and I ended up shifting from one extreme to another, some times within a matter of minutes. My feelings were bruised very easily and I perceived slights from others all the time. If someone tried to talk me through what I was really upset about, it would range from one thing to another, and some of those things were contradictions.
In a conversation recently, a person I was talking to said, “you can’t use logic with emotions.” My younger self would agree but today, I know that the only way I keep myself out of the pit of depression and away from the bonfire of anger is by applying logic to what I am feeling.
When I feel my anger starting to pile up with a person or situation, I start to think about it in detail; what am I really angry or irritated about? I can pick it apart and start to categorize what I’m feeling. Maybe I feel left out of a decision. Maybe I’m worried about a potential financial impact. Maybe my ego is simply bruised because my suggestion isn’t being taken. Maybe I don’t feel appreciated. Brené Brown says that blame is a way to discharge pain and I think that applies to anger in general; when we are angry, we are usually directing that at someone – rage blame.
So then I ask myself, “Is that true?” or “Is it worth it?” and with these questions I am trying to force myself to take a step back and think about what will happen if I allow my emotion to get to full force. If I’m starting to feel the fog of depression sinking in, I will literally ask myself if its true that no one would miss me if I weren’t here. No one? Really? Even in my darkest times I had to admit that at least my parents would be really upset. If you can think of even one person who would say, “Hey, I haven’t seen him/her in a while,” then you can’t say no one would miss you. Even your regular clerk at the grocery store would notice if you stopped coming in.
Then, “Is it worth it” might apply to a different emotion. If I start yelling at my guy for not cleaning up his mess in the kitchen, what is the likely result? If I’m looking for connection, appreciation, and partnership, is yelling going to get me that result? Nope. So when he doesn’t clean up after himself, what am I really “angry” about? Its because I feel like I’m the one who does the bulk of the cleaning; when he makes his breakfast and then leaves me with the mess all day, that feels unfair. So instead of yelling, I can use those exact words instead and hope that he’ll pick up the slack. Getting angry doesn’t accomplish the goal of encouraging changed behavior and it only causes disconnection.
Because I try to regularly apply logic to the emotions I’m feeling, my interactions with people are much more measured. I also generally stay calm inside as well and can weather emotional situations with less inner turmoil – the chaos that can get stirred up tends not to last very long. People today say that I’m very even keeled, grounded, and calm. I can assure you that is not my natural or default state. People who knew me 15 or 20 years ago would had a very different impression of me. I have worked very hard, and continue to work very hard every day, to keep those emotions in check and to only blow up or melt down when I feel like it’s warranted.
For example: I went into a full blown depression last month after my dog was hit by a car. That was warranted and I would have been bottling up some important grieving if I hadn’t allowed myself to feel all of those deep feelings of regret and sadness. However, I didn’t let myself stay there for too long. I didn’t continue to wrap myself up in the sadness and stay curled in a ball on the couch. I slowly started to force myself to shift from sadness to gratitude for having him in our lives for the time that we did. It’s easy to stay in the sad place and let that become our story, and its so important that we don’t.
So the next time you feel jealous, angry, irritated, lonely, or sad, try to think like Spock and tell yourself, “that’s illogical”. Then press yourself to shift to a different way to thinking about the situation; what do you really want/need and what is the best way to get that want/need met? I promise you that 99.9% of the time, extreme emotion is not the answer. Give logic a chance.