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Using Your Emotions to Learn About Yourself

Posted May 22 2009 11:55pm

Notre Dame, Paris
You're angry. You're sad. You're jealous. You're in a rage. You're frightened. You're worried. You're feeling low. Etc. etc. Substitute whichever emotion you like, and in particular - as I have done here - make use of the negative ones, because when you are in their thrall, however briefly, you have a real opportunity to learn something about yourself, as long as you are willing to do what most of us don't like doing.

Looking at yourself.

That's it.

That's all you have to do in order to begin to make use of one of the most precious built-in psychological tools we have: our own emotions, as long as we use them to look at ourselves, instead of looking out at the other or others or the event.

Imagine you have just met someone at a cocktail or dinner party. Say you are a woman. And the person you met is another woman. Something about her makes you dislike her. You explain it to yourself by telling yourself it is because she is so overbearing. And indeed, she might very well be. But the fact that you are affected by it, tells you more about you and your inner make-up, than about her. If it were not something you need to be looking at, you would actually not be reacting to her. You would notice this characteristic of hers, but you would not pay any undue attention to it, and you would pass on by to the next person. It simply wouldn't affect you.

But if you look at yourself in order to understand this emotion of yours, it might be telling you that this overbearing characteristic of hers is actually also a part of you that you very much dislike, and because you have not yet recognized it in yourself, is why you dislike it in her...it is always easier to see something outside of oneself rather than within. Or, this characteristic of hers and your emotion in view of it, might be telling you that it is triggering something in you that stems from your childhood, when an overbearing person made you feel inferior. And there might be other explanations.

Let's look at another example. Let's say you are furious because your boss promised you a new arena of responsibility, which would eventually and potentially lead to a promotion and an increase in salary. At the last moment he tells you that he is actually handing it to another colleague of yours, and gives no explanation. So you fume. And visualize throttling your boss. And sleep poorly. And have bad dreams. And continue to be very angry. By now even your digestion has been affected.

So what is going on here? Yes, on the outer level, your boss has indeed done something that appears to merit your anger. But what have you done? You got angry. What else? You fumed. What else? You imagined doing all kinds of nefarious things to your boss. What else? Nothing. And that is the problem. What you are truly angry about, is your sense of self respect that you yourself, by not doing anything when you were informed about this new turn of events, did not respect. You may not be able to do a lot. You may, indeed, not be able to change things back to where they were . But you can stand up for your self respect. And that entails having a conversation with your boss. Stating the obvious. Asking about the change in plans, and pointing out why you were the more suitable candidate . You may not get what you want, but I guarantee you will feel much better after you have stood up for your self respect. A good portion of the anger you are experiencing has much more to do with what you neglected to do for yourself, than with your boss' behavior.

You can see by these two examples that looking at yourself in the face of strong negative emotions, will always give you clues into your inner working. Following that path, using those emotions as a guide, making choices about looking within rather than without, you will soon start chasing down some of the problem areas of your life, and in so doing, find a greater measure of self-understanding and inner freedom.

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