I was annoyed…
The whole time I was cooking dinner, my partner was on her phone.
Yeah, she was creating a beautiful image for a spiritual invocation that came to her, but still…
As we sat down to eat, she was still on her phone. (We never brought our phones to the dinner table!)
“Stop looking at your phone,” I quipped. A look of childlike guilt crossed her face as she reluctantly put down the weapon of mass distraction.
As we ate our meal in silence, annoyance brewed within me. I tried to ignore it.
“It’s not a big deal,” I said to myself. “Let go of it.”
Yet instead of letting go, I threw a few sarcastic jabs at her. Pausing, I felt that annoyance driving my behavior.
A few minutes later, I brought up how her being on her phone annoyed me. I thought it was silly to bring up, but I did. I thought it was silly to be annoyed by it too. But here’s the thing. Over the last few months, she really helped me to acknowledge my emotions, no matter how seemingly insignificant or ridiculous.
It was a big step for me to say to her, “I feel annoyed because you were on your phone during dinner.”
The old me would’ve classified it as “too small” to be brought up. The old me would have swept it under the rug, adding it to my subconscious collection of emotional garbage.
After I expressed how I felt, she looked at me and paused. “Yeah, you’re right. I’m sorry. I wasn’t being mindful.”
When she said that, it was like a weight lifted off of my shoulders. (And her ability to not be reactive helped a lot too.)
In that moment, I learned a powerful lesson… Don’t be afraid to express how you really feel.
No matter how stupid, silly or trivial you think an emotion is, acknowledge it. And express it in a healthy way.
If I didn’t truthfully express my annoyance at that moment, I would still be carrying it with me. I would’ve kept making little jabs at her. And the disharmony would be gradually piling up, as her and I would slowly create emotional distance from each other.
Yet, because of my honesty, and her ability to remain present, we were able to clear that annoyance and maintain honesty with each other.
And it’s not just about this one moment. It’s about everything. Every emotion…
Introducing: Emotional Thresholds
An emotional threshold is the level at which you believe an emotion is worth addressing.
I used to have a really high emotional threshold. This means I would only view “extreme” emotions as worth acknowledging or expressing.
This caused me to repress and ignore emotions that I judged as bad or trivial. It turns out that I thought most emotions were bad or trivial. This led to me holding a lot in, and subconsciously weighing myself down.
That moment I just described, where I expressed my annoyance, was a turning point for me. I learned how to be 100% truthful with myself and others. I learned that I was safe to authentically express emotions. And I learned that I could be loved, no matter what emotions I felt.
When Thresholds Become Walls
So many of us have built walls to protect ourselves. We came into this world innocent and unconditionally loving, yet somewhere along the way we felt like we needed to protect ourselves instead.
It makes sense. Most of us have experienced varying degrees of trauma, and building walls around our hearts is a defense mechanism in response to this.
Yet we’re adults now. We’re no longer dependent on mom and dad. We’re no longer dependent on any authority figure. This means that we can merge that childlike love with the wisdom of our experience and the strength of our character. Yes, it’s safe to fully express ourselves (in a healthy way, of course).
We no longer have to be invulnerable. We no longer have to be “the strong one” 24/7. If you allow yourself to acknowledge your imperfections and messiness, you’ll realize that this is true strength. The “strong man” or “strong woman” facade is just that, a facade. No one feels invincible 100% of the time.
We’re human. And a big part of being human is embracing limitations, seeing the silver lining in everything and finding beauty in imperfection. @SteviePThatsMe (Click to Tweet!)
Most of us, especially men, were taught to keep things in and ignore emotions. This leads to dysfunction and numbing. It can lead to outbursts of emotions that have been stuffed and festering for years. It can lead to explosions of violent behavior. Or even more insidious, it can lead to a life where you’re comfortably numb, never knowing what it’s really like to feel.
A Big Sign That Your Emotional Thresholds Are Too High
Ok, now here’s a telltale sign…
If you shut down when in an emotionally charged situation, that’s a sign that your emotional threshold is unhealthily high.
If something really sad happens and you freeze up, that’s a sign your emotional threshold is unhealthily high.
If you really feel angry but you withdraw or deflect with humor, that’s a sign your emotional threshold is unhealthily high.
If you feel ecstatic and silly, yet you maintain a stoic face, that’s a sign your emotional threshold is unhealthily high.
So, what is a healthy response to emotions?
It’s basically two steps:
- Watching the emotion
- Expressing the emotion in a healthy way
When you feel an emotion, watch it. Just watch it. Observe where in your body you feel it and what it feels like.
Then express the emotion in a healthy way. It’s not about shutting down or repressing. And it’s not about reacting and projecting onto others. It’s about having a healthy outlet for emotions.
If you’re sad, find a safe place to cry. If you’re angry, scream in your car or do an intense workout. If you’re happy, dance a little bit. Build the habit of expressing your emotions in a healthy way.
The more you watch, and express, the more emotional mastery you cultivate. There might even be a point where there is little charge to certain emotions, and just watching them is enough.
The point is, acknowledge and express how you really feel. So much disfunction comes from the misalignment of how we really feel and the act we’re putting on for the world.
Stephen Parato is a creativity wizard, world weaver, spiritual demystifier, writer & author, meditation guide, ancient wisdom keeper, pioneer of Heart-consciousness and founder of FeelinGoodFeelinGreat.com.
Image courtesy of Korney Violin.