I’m doing this piece as a series of 3 articles, because it’s something I hold as greatly important to our health as a human race, and because it can’t be said in a blip. And sometimes that’s all the attention of a reader I’ve got access to… a nanosecond. So while I don’t take that for granted, this first article is a bit longer than that. And the nanosecond is not a bad thing to feel guilty or wrong for. It’s just the speed-driven, multi-tasking, get it all done before my day’s end-kind of world we live in. I deal with what’s in front of me, not how I wish the world to be. It makes my life easier that way. (Easy like Sunday mor-or-ah-oh-or-or-nin’… okay, back to emotions and our health.)
I’m going to begin first with how we have formulated our responses to our own emotions, as these responses – they are emotions too – directly affect our health. I begin here because it’s important to see first how we relate to our emotions. That’s a beginning point to uncover how important this relationship to who and how we are is. It is our denial or acceptance of ourselves that impacts our health greatest.
To see clearly how we have formulated our responses to our emotions, we must return to where we begin. Don’t worry. We won’t dwell there, but the beginning of anything always sheds light on how something came to be. It begins with those that raised us ’cause we weren’t babies on our own. If we don’t look at our beginnings and our formative years, we can easily get caught up in minutiae and unrelated detail, and miss the bigger picture. Take what resonates with you and leave the rest.
Very early on, I was taught to forgo my emotions; in the normal ways that most of us are as human beings, when I was just 3 and 4 years old. You know. Your mother says, “Don’t cry. It makes you look ugly,” or something like that to stop you from some emotion that either makes her uncomfortable, or she thinks is unnecessary, or unworkable at that time and place (fathers do it too, so I’m not leaving them out). It’s not intentional on the part of our parents to cut us off from our emotions, or ourselves, but nevertheless it has that impact. And once it’s begun, there is a pattern that is set into motion – whether you see it best in the physical pattern of your brain’s synapses, or the mental/emotional pattern of your mind (or ego, if you prefer) – that will determine your mental and physical health over the period of your lifetime. This pattern is not set in stone, but until you become aware of it, it will run the “show,” so to speak. After all, your brain is responsible for your nervous system, and your nervous system is responsible for all functions of your body. Not some… all. And there’s not just one pattern. You are a truckload of patterns running each and every day as you live and breathe.
Now remember as we look back, a child’s point of view is from a limited capacity – at 3 and 4, we’re in the early stages of a brain that is nowhere yet fully developed. A child’s brain in its infantile stages of development does not and cannot have the same capacities as a fully developed adult brain. It is physically impossible. That, however, does not exclude children from saying the most profound things, or adults from saying the most asinine things. It just means that the thought formulation and processing capabilities are distinctly different.
I say this to point out that at ages 3, 4, or 5, we’re not able to make the same judgments as an adult about the “usefulness” of our emotions in that moment. We just are emotion. Full-blown, fully drawn emotion. And to ask us to make that judgment is inappropriate given our brain’s capacity at that stage of our development. Nevertheless, it happens. Rationale is used on the part of the adult, but not possible for the child. Whatever conclusions the child is coming to may look similar to the adult’s own conclusions, but their brain is making very different files for the case.
Now, I’ll share with you a time later in my childhood where I experienced very overt ways impressed upon me of how to forgo my emotions. Keep in mind, my brain is still in formation and not a done deal as it will be by my 21st birthday. I’ll begin with some context that leads in.
My parents divorced when I was 5, and by all accounts, I was well-adjusted. I missed my dad, but saw him every weekend and on Father’s Days. My mom moved on after their divorce, a healthy progression in her life and mine, and into a wonderful relationship with a man I liked very much. As I look back upon it, I don’t have the experience of loving him, but I was quite fond of him. That relationship did not work out though, to the great despair of my mother. She truly loved him, but they couldn’t seem to materialize a future together.
Then she began hanging out with a new man. It was comforting to see her happy again. Eventually, almost immediately, they got married. This new man, that was okay but not great, in my estimation, became my stepfather. I called him by his first name after their wedding, and for many years later. He didn’t feel like the man I was fond of, and he didn’t feel like my Daddy. He felt strange and distant.
My family pushed me to accept him, and… call him Dad. Not hard at first, but they were persistent. They wanted to see my stepfather accepted. It was well-meaning, but probably a compensation for their own fears of not being accepted by others. They pushed harder and harder. I was a rock however. I was hurt greatly by what seemed to me to be this big push for my family to replace my father. I love my father dearly. He is my heart, and then he was my laughter. A sweetheart of a man, and alive and kicking. I would not be swayed. This man would not take the place of my father. So, finally… they gave up.
What had been happening? They weren’t taking into account where I was emotionally in that moment. Adults often assume that kids don’t know their own emotions and go to telling them how to be and feel so that they’ll feel better. Just because children are children, does not mean that they do not, or cannot know their own emotions. Certain parts of our brain process language and rationale, while other completely different parts process emotion and emotional attachment to events, circumstances and people. These different parts develop at different times in our lives. At certain ages, some parts are further in their development than others. Children have more of a propensity for emotion. They are better at it than adults given natural brain development. But since in the past most of us have had no access to this information, we all do the best we can. This is our inherited human condition.
And even in this human condition, we really do want to contribute to each other. That is our generous nature. We want to make everything alright for everyone. Sometimes, our best intentions however have nothing to do with the other person and are more for ourselves. It creates a divide, when we don’t look to know what someone’s emotions are, seeking to know where they are in that moment and not as we would like them to be, or think they should be. That kind of divide doesn’t allow the other person to feel confident that they are heard or understood. And in the case of being a kid, we begin to develop ourselves in ways that either rebel against or find a way to appease the “naysayers.”
“Let’s be accepting,” became the phrase of the day within my family, except… to find true acceptance, you must deal with accepting what’s first in front of you. Once you accept what’s present, then you can move into a new acceptance of what you see possible for the future. Doing anything else creates false acceptance, which leads to facades of happiness and facades of acceptance and facades of “We’re all doing well.” In other words, the piling up of sh^* upon sh^*, and hoping the roses planted on top will cut the stench. (That was real, huh?)
Whatever our motivation for not dealing with what’s right in front of us, it does not have to be our defining moment. Instead, we can find in our own emotional awareness both a healthy attitude toward ourselves that naturally expresses our joy, and healthy expression of our negative emotions. This will allow our children, or the children around us, to see more emotionally aware individuals being far more organic, and easy with themselves as we naturally express our emotions. We are emotional beings. Emotions are amazing tools for creation. Emotions are not our enemies. Our resistance of them is what causes all the confusion, and impacts our health far more than we realize. The courageous know their emotions cannot hurt them, or anyone else. Health begins with our own alignment – to deal with who we are rather than to deny who we are. We know this intrinsically because it makes us feel good when we are ourselves, just like it makes us feel bad to not be ourselves.
And with my family? When they gave up, it was because they made a decision called, “She’s entered her teen years.” How do I know? They said it. Often. To each other, and not to me, in the way adults talk about kids right in front of them. Once they had created their foregone conclusion, they stopped dealing with the child in front of them, and began dealing with their ‘IDEA’ of the child in front of them. I never felt so invisible in all of my life. I began to retreat inward when it happened. And I’m only now really able to see this pattern as it is – a pattern that has unfolded year by year of my adult life, and caused a great deal of pain throughout my childhood.
It is only now that I have begun to see how my emotions play such a distinct role in all that I am, all that I do and all of what I have. I’ve begun to include an emotional healing session with all my health routines. So too are many scientists, thinkers, leaders in self-development and other fields of human awareness beginning to see that emotions are our greatest motivation, and that emotional healing can provide the most sound foundation for our physical well-being. And those leaders that reference brain science are coming to understand that our Limbic System, a grouping of parts of our brain including the hypothalamus and amygdala, is instrumental in our decision process. And it has no capacity for language or rationale. Only emotion.
It’s an opportunity to see that our “hearts,” the figurative versions not the literal ones, are represented by this system of the brain; and our “hearts” – that are really our brains – have a greater capacity for steering us in the right direction, if we stop resisting and truly embrace and trust them.
Our feelings, or emotions, distinct from body sensations, are an arbiter of our health. They are a guidance system that can help us find ease, effortlessness and aliveness in our lives in any moment. A guidance system? How so? Well, that’s why I need 3 parts to this article. Talk soon. Be well.
by Monique McIntyre, Guide. Facilitator. Public Speaker. (And blogger.) @