Emotions. Can’t live with them, can’t live without them, amirite? I know INTJs have a reputation for being emotionless robots, but that’s far from the truth. And the more I talk to people, I realize everyone seems to be on some kind of emotional roller coaster or the other. I used to think I was a pretty emotionally balanced kind of person, but when I take a look at my prayer journal over the weeks and months, there seems to be an unhealthy proportion of disturbed, anxious, upset to calm, peaceful, balanced and hopeful. So of course I’m talking about negative emotions. I’ve rarely heard anyone complain that they have too many good emotions. “I’m just so joyful and excited all the time, I don’t know how to handle it!” So where do these floods of emotions come from? Why can’t we just all be calm and balanced about everything in our lives all the time?
1. Hormones, baby! Yes, those wonderful chemicals that flood our bodies, and often make some part of our month crazier than the rest (and with pregnancy and menopause it's MONTHS or even YEARS!) Somehow the circumstances may not have changed at all, but our hormones yell at our brain, “EVERYTHING IS SAD AND BAD AND OVERWHELMING! IT IS NOW THE RIGHT TIME TO EVALUATE ALL YOUR LIFE DECISIONS! ALSO PEOPLE ARE INSENSITIVE AND MEAN!”
2. Wounds and insecurities: Sometimes someone unknowingly presses a button, makes a passing comment, a mildly critical observation, and we are flooded with an overwhelming rush of anger or hurt or shame or anxiety. It feels HORRIBLE when it happens. It feels like something touching a raw, unhealed, open wound. It’s very often rejection issues, feeling unloved, unwanted and abandoned. It often connects with some childhood experience that has not yet been dealt with or even acknowledged.
How to deal with this: Make a choice not to react in the moment, no matter how tempted you are. Step back and take a little time to conduct a particular Examen. Start by thanking God for three specific ways you have experienced His love recently. Then ask the Holy Spirit to probe your inner self, and reveal your inner motives. “Why am I reacting like this? Is this based on truth? What lie am I believing that is causing me to react like this? Was there some time in my childhood I remember feeling like this? What happened? What is the truth that God speaks to me?” Then ask God for his healing. Be willing to share what God reveals to you to your spouse or a close friend so that they can speak that truth into your life especially when you are struggling to believe it. “God loves you and I love you too. You are NOT alone! You are so beautiful. You are important to ME! Your life IS making a difference. Everything is going to be okay. God’s got this!” Little by little, the truth starts seeping into the deepest parts of our heart, and healing begins. If you can, go for a healing retreat.
3. Tiredness: Somehow tiredness often puts us on edge, and everything gets a LOT more annoying and frustrating.
How to deal with this: Get some sleep! Okay, I know for you parents with young babies that’s easier said than done. But don’t be afraid to ask for help so you can catch up on sleep if that’s possible. And if it’s not babies, rearrange your life so that you get enough rest. It is not somehow holier and more hardworking and responsible to fill your life with so much activity that you are sleep-deprived and grumpy or irritable with all the people in your life. Sometimes the holiest thing to do is to take a nap.
How to deal with this: Set some boundaries. I have been reading and hearing a lot about a wonderful concept called boundaries. I haven’t read the original book yet, but plan to soon. The basic idea is that you need to clarify to yourself and sometimes to others what you are responsible for and what you are not responsible for, what you can handle and what you can’t handle, how you would like to be treated, and what you are not willing to put up with. In the non-confrontational land of India, this is huge. It means speaking up and kindly but clearly saying “Please don’t talk to me like that. I really don’t like it when you raise your voice. We can talk about it later when you’re calmer.” Or “Please don’t comment about my weight, you probably don’t mean to, but it hurts my feelings.” Or “I wish you wouldn’t compare me with others. I am not my brother/sister/cousin, I have my own set of weaknesses /struggles/desires/plans, and I have to make my own choices.” Or “I know you don’t agree with my decision, but it’s my decision to make.” It means letting yourself know that you are not responsible for everyone else’s emotions or reactions, but only for your own. If people refuse to respect your boundaries, maybe you need to find ways to spend less time with them.
5. Negative environment: Sometimes it isn’t specifically about you, but the people around you just love to keep complaining about how terrible everything is, how every silver lining has a cloud, how everything in your country is going to the dogs, and the world is spiralling to disaster and doom. Or you open your Facebook and that’s what every other post implies too, and everybody’s mad or outraged about something all the time. Emotions are contagious! Try spending a lot of time with an anxious person, and you’ll see. Then do the same with someone who is full of joy and light-hearted jokes and songs, and see what that does for you. I once lived with a bunch of Catholic volunteers and there was always some new ridiculous song that the two men were making up, and the rest of us were constantly in splits. It was a wonderful few months. But that is far from a common experience. Usually it is quite the opposite.
Okay guys, these are obviously foolproof methods to be happy all the time. Not really. Sometimes you just have to accept that negative emotions are a part of your life, a cross you have to carry, and something you can even choose to offer up. That actually makes it a little easier to bear, when you know it’s not your fault, or something that you alone suffer with. We’re all on the same roller coaster, fighting our battles, and apparently mixing our metaphors. What I’m saying is, you can do this! You can survive this minefield of emotions, and even possibly feel joy and peace and hope and excitement more often.
Anything that helps when you're struggling with crazy emotions?
P.S. Please feel free to share this with all the other emotional wrecks in your life!
When You Are in a Dark Place and Can’t Get Out
The Antidotes to Anxiety
What PMS is Really Like
A Melancholic Searches for Joy