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Deepening Change, Chapter Three, Emotional Change

by Melissa Martin  
11/24/2011 / Christian Living

Emotional Change

Ponder on the following questions/statements. Try not to hurry through the questions but address a few each day or each week. Use your own timeline.

Where do your emotions originate in reference to your head & body?
What is the purpose of feelings? What do feelings mean?
List as many emotions as you can.
Do you pay attention to your emotions? Explain.
Do you ignore your emotions? Explain.
Do you have a problem with a specific emotion?
Discuss the changeability of feelings.
Describe a situation when your emotions ran rampant.
Describe a situation when you controlled your emotions.
How do you process anger, fear, grief, and sadness?
How do you express joy, happiness, relief?
How do you react to humiliation or embarrassment? Do you avoid conflict and confrontation? Explain. Are you uncomfortable with your feelings and the feelings of others?
Discuss emotional regulation & emotional management.
Do you want to improve the managing of your emotions? Explain.
Discuss your temperament and personality type and the connection to emotional expression.
Discuss your opinion on nature vs. nurture. Are you a product of heredity, the environment, or both? What is genetic and what is learned?
How is emotion connected to cognition and spirituality?
Do you often react like a robot or a snapped electric wire? Do you stuff feelings or do feelings gush out like water? Do you share intimate feelings with others? Explain. Do you share feelings at inappropriate places? Do you experience low impulse control? Elaborate on your answers.
Do you fear emotional pain and run from it? Do you pretend or fake it? Do you laugh off feelings? Do you judge others when they show emotion? Talk about your ability to cry. Do you feel like an emotional mess?
Do you accept your emotional system as part of the human condition? Explain.
Describe your emotional management strategies in-depth.
Do you desire to understand your emotional actions and reactions in-depth? Do you try to understand the reactions of others? Do you take responsibility for your emotional reactions?
Can others safely express their emotions with you? Do you validate their feelings? Do you respect their feelings? Do you honor their feelings?
Are your emotions out of balance?
Take a piece of paper and write or type everything you know about your emotions. Become curious about how your brain functions.

Severe symptoms of depression and/or anxiety may require an assessment and/or treatment by a licensed counselor/therapist or helping professional.

Our Emotional Brain
Learning about the brain in reference to the human emotional system helped me to understand the physiology and purpose of emotions and the resulting feelings. Emotions do not reside in our heart but in the middle of our brain. Instead of saying "I love you with all my heart" we need to accurately say, "I love you with all my brain." Less romantic but more factual. The Limbic System houses our amygdala and hippocampus; the seat of emotion and memory. For more information and knowledge, I suggest a basic anatomy textbook or current books written by Joseph LeDux.

Sensitive Areas
Our triggers represent issues of sensitivity and insecurity which signal our defense mechanisms to kick in. Individuals with weight issues may misinterpret comments from others and internalize shame. Persons bullied in childhood may overreact to certain stimuli and become passive or aggressive in situations. Learning to change your reaction is not about stuffing feelings or pretending, but about self-exploration. How I react to the words of others says more about me than about them.

Make a list of your triggers. Explore the core emotions behind the feelings of anger, sadness, and apathy. Ponder on your personal power to change your reactions.

Yes, there are rude people on the planet who delight in judging and criticizing others. However, it's up to you to make a plan to change your reactions to the comments of obnoxious persons. Assertiveness training is an option. Learn how to process feelings of embarrassment and humiliation without self-rejection. Deeper change requires empathy and forgiveness for ignorant individuals who disrespect others. Is there a person in your life who is like a pebble in your shoe? Ouch! You have choices. Do you become more resilient or remove the person from your space? Do you siphon a lesson from the experience or harbor anger and bitterness? Do you ignore or confront? Do you allow hurtful comments to erode your self-acceptance? Think in terms of options and choices. You cannot change others. You can only change yourself. You can change how you think, feel, act, react, and respond. It's a process that requires awareness, self-examination, patience, practice, and time. Seeking feedback from a trustworthy friend is an option.

Deepening change is a movement toward inner peace with self and outer peace with others. Surround yourself with other individuals who are seeking altruism, autonomy, and benevolence. Discuss emotional regulation and management as one precursor to cultivating inner tranquility and outer calmness. We do not have to travel to remote countries and perch on mountaintops to explore internal stillness and external serenity. As Dorothy revealed in The Wizard of Oz, contentment can be found in your own backyard. Follow your dreams but stay connected to your home place and heritage.

Learning and living self-acceptance, self-care, and self-love are exhilarating and surreal. Being comfortable with your personality and your sense of humor leads to the destination of contentment. I have chased the happiness train, believing that happiness is a state of being, when in fact; it's connected to emotions that ebb and flow, come and go. What is the difference between happiness, contentment, and satisfaction?

Emotional Escapism
Experiencing emotional pain lies on a continuum for each individual. When we don't know how to self-sooth we escape into other activities so we can ignore feelings and numb suffering. Anything that prevents the processing of unpleasant feelings becomes our escape route; cooking, exercise, gardening, watching sports, reading books, building birdhouses. These activities are interesting and fun when balanced. I garden to relieve stress and distress. My anger dissipates with my sweat. I challenge my faulty beliefs as I pull weeds. As I dig and plant, I think about solutions for specific problems and concerns. During my younger years, at times I escaped into workaholism, exercise, education, sleep, and self-pity. Physical, mental, and spiritual wellness is about balance. Too much of one thing takes away from another. Too much sunshine is a desert.

Some individuals escape into alcohol, illicit drugs, prescription drugs, random sex, gambling, Internet relationships, and risky behaviors in order to ignore painful or unpleasant emotions. Addictions serve a purpose. Too much water is a flood.

Be kinder to yourself. Treat your emotions with kindness and respect. Self-loathing is a cancerous emotion that gobbles dignity, worthiness, and contentment. As a therapist, I've met many persons with self-hatred at the core of their essence. In the same vein, self-pity concretes victimization and helplessness. Find people who will give you encouragement and not enabling; empathy and not pity; support and not know-it-all advice. Change is a possible reality. Too much self is egotism. Seek balance.

Give and receive kindness. Practice random acts of kindness consistently. Recently, I was standing in line at a small store and the lady in front of me was discussing her desire to find a quarter with the state of West Virginia on it to complete her collection. I felt prompted to look in my purse and I found three quarters. I held up the West Virginia quarter to the cashier and ran outside after the lady and gave her the coin as a gift. She laughed and I laughed and we shared a moment. I felt gooey inside. A month ago, I was standing in line to purchase my annual license sticker for my car and to my surprise I did not have enough cash. Because I did not want to go to the bank and loose my place in line, I dug deep into the bottom of my purse and started counting out pennies, nickels, and dimes. After a few minutes of digging, I was still short a dollar. The man in line behind me handed me a crisp dollar bill and smiled. I cherish small acts of spontaneous kindness and large acts of planned kindness. Kindness changes the supplier and the recipient. Too much otherness swallows individuality. Seek Balance.

To enhance and deepen my own empathy toward others, I've made the following goals:
Wear a padded "fat" suit and spend the day at a mall and eat alone at a restaurant.
Purchase clothes at a thrift store and dress like a homeless person may dress and spend a weekend at a homeless shelter.
Borrow a wheelchair and shop for groceries.
Call a few jobs advertised in the newspaper and disclose a felony conviction.

These activities are not for the purpose of criticizing others who may treat me differently (discrimination exists) but rather for me to experience the vicarious pain of others in order to deepen my empathic responsiveness. Empathy from a distance is lip service.

Recently, on a Saturday morning, I decided to browse at a Flea market in a part of the city known for housing minorities. The building looked unkempt and the interior was not attractive. When I walked in I noticed several men of different ethnicity other than myself sitting at a distant table and with a momentary hesitation, I selected another isle. As I walked the isles, I felt uncomfortable by the stares and I noticed only three other Caucasian individuals. When a tall, underweight, man of a different race dressed in a toboggan hat, outdated clothes, sporting a facial expression of anger beneath his scruffy beard (my perception of the situation) quickly rushed by me the second time, I instinctively tightened the hold on my purse. Then I left immediately by following a couple with a child out of the building and into the parking lot. I did experience some fear of being robbed and fear for my personal safety. Later, I analyzed my preconceptions, unconscious biases, and reactions. How much of my thinking and feeling was based on stereotyping and how much was intuition (if any)? Do I harbor hidden prejudices? Did I experience an inkling of how minorities feel in a building full of Caucasians or in a white dominated society? Deeper change is about challenging our belief systems and to do that we need to feel uncomfortable and step out of our self-made comfort zones.


Today is the day to make a lifelong commitment to practice daily emotional regulation and management. Make a fruit salad and celebrate.

Share what you've learned with family members, a spouse/partner, mentor, or friend.

Consider a mentor. Think about the qualities of individuals you admire and trust. Discuss a mentoring relationship. Develop personal growth goals and objectives.

Consider a creative hobby to help with emotional processing; writing poetry, taking a painting class, piano lessons, a few sessions with an art therapist, composing songs, decorating flower pots, making sand art in jars, building small pieces of furniture, planting an aromatic flower garden, rock collecting, visiting lighthouses or antique shops.

Try listening to nature music by way of a recorder and headset while you wash dishes, clean out the garage, or repaint the porch.

Do 30 acts of random kindness in 30 days. Examples: put a brief encouraging note into your child's lunchbox, express appreciation to your mail carrier, make a donation to a local charity, polish your spouse/partner's shoes, give a backrub to a family member, send a thank you card to a friend for being a friend, sweep your neighbors sidewalk, call your mayor and express gratitude, bake some cookies for your car mechanic, give peanuts to some squirrels, baby-sit your sibling's kids overnight, take a fruit basket to a homeless shelter, give away a prized possession.

Visit a multicultural festival and learn about other cultures.

Ponder on the liquid water found in human tears.

Melissa writes about the God and human connection and condition.

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