Balancing The Emotional Swarm

It may only be a casual remark; not meant to arouse the bee hive. Yet, somehow when the words reach our ears, a swarm of angry thoughts buzz. Without realizing what has happened, we get stung by our emotional response. Any semblance of a peaceful day is gone.

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How often does this happen to us without our conscious awareness? Perhaps it’s sadness that sweeps us away, or perhaps self-judgement or blame. For many of us, the emotional connection between our internal interpretation and the external event goes unnoticed.

Working with personal growth and greater self-awareness is like donning a beekeepers outfit. We can avoid the sting and protect ourselves from pain through catching the association between our thoughts and feelings. If we recognize how we just assigned meaning to something in a way that destroyed our inner serenity, we can step back and re-examine.

It can be incredibly empowering to regain control of our emotions this way. Working with our perceptions and understanding how our thoughts influence or create our feelings is extremely rewarding. For those unfamiliar with this practice, it is a arena worthy of exploration.

However, it comes with the risk of setting the stage for a different set of problems. Primarily, the loss of being in touch with our feelings and thereby avoiding them altogether. Rationalizing our way out of feelings can be as dangerous as being controlled by them.

There are few resources available addressing the difference between how our thoughts/perceptions are creating our feelings versus when we are using our thoughts/perceptions to avoid our feelings. Furthermore, there don’t seem to be many sources offering instructions on how to identify and balance these distinctions. Without guidance, it can be easy to inadvertently swing from one extreme to the other.

When we are cut off from what we feel, learning to identify and express them can be helpful. Avoiding difficult feelings can result in addiction, distraction or physical illness. Being cut off from our emotions limits our ability to fully enjoy life.

The importance of being able to be present with our feelings and allow them full expression cannot be overstated. Feelings can get stuck and need to be released. It can be scary as we learn how to go into them without getting lost or swept away by them.

Other times it may be beneficial to use our rational mind to understand our feelings, calm ourselves down, and explore why we might be feeling a certain way. It can be incredibly helpful and valuable to understand why we are having a response rather than just letting our feelings take us over. However, this comes with the risk of becoming a “talking head”, cut off from our feelings and limiting our experience of them to mental analysis.

So, as we balance these two approaches to our emotions, we might question when our emotions are being created through our thoughts and perception and when we are using our thoughts and perception to avoid our feelings. How do we know when we should don our symbolic beekeepers suit or just sit naked and vulnerable with what is?

There isn’t necessarily a right or wrong answer to this questions. What is important is to recognize when we are on one end of the spectrum or the other. Balance isn’t possible until we can see both sides of the equation and move towards the center. Once there, it takes practice to stay in the middle ground.

One of the ways we can begin this application is when we observe a sudden change in our mood. In those moments, it is highly likely we have taken an external event and assigned an internal meaning. For example, a quick shift from happy to sad, or pleased to angry, may indicate a good time to don our beekeeping suit and delve into a little bit of self-analysis.

For instance, imagine you’ve gone for a job interview and felt hopeful you would get an offer. You spend the next day in joyful anticipation. When you get home that evening, you receive a voice mail informing you another candidate has been chosen. What happens next?

This situation is perfect for illustrating both how we might bypass our feelings and how we might escalate them. Naturally, one would experience disappointment at the news. This emotion might be mixed with some fear, anger or sadness.

However, we may miss how we are also responsible for our feelings in this moment if our internal dialogue goes unnoticed. “I’ll never find a job”, “I’m a loser”, “maybe I’m not cut out for sales/accounting/teaching/(fill in the blank)”, “that jerk who interviewed me didn’t even look at my relevant work experience”, “I knew I shouldn’t have said ….” The list of potential interpretations and meaning we may have given to this rejection are endless. Each thought has augmented our feeling response.

Compounding our disappointment in this way may sink us into a deep depression, incite our anger or self-loathing, or lead us straight to the bar for a drink. Whether our thoughts or the meaning we’ve assigned to what’s happened are “true” is irrelevant. The bottom line is our emotional response just became about something much bigger than the external event.

Recognizing, working with, and changing our internal dialogue here is important. However, replacing our thoughts with alternative ones which tell ourselves what we “should” or “shouldn’t” feel, think, or do isn’t useful. Although it’s important to sit with our initial feeling of disappointment, it’s equally important not to add to or expand it with any kind of storyline.

Pin ItA different example may be when we have a generalized feeling of sadness or upset without any identifiable external cause or event. Digging into our psyche searching for a reason we might feel blue, or telling ourselves there’s no reason for the way we feel, etc. won’t necessarily be helpful. Slowing down to simply allow our feelings to come up, on the other hand, can be very worthwhile.

When we start to recognize the building of emotional turmoil and stop the swarm before it begins, we can begin to have a more peaceful life. Equally important, however, is also learning to fully feel our feelings. Balancing these two extremes can be challenging, but the reward is as sweet and lasting as honey.

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