Sunday, April 28, 2013 ~ Feelings as Parsley?
October 13, 1989
It’s parsley,” says Susie Diamond, a professional escort turned singer on the cocktail-lounge circuit. She’s trying to explain to Frank Baker (Beau Bridges), one-half of the piano-playing duo that employs her — Jack Baker (Jeff Bridges) is the other half — why she wants to cut that shopworn standard “Feelings” from the act. Frank, a worrywart with a wife, kids, a mortgage and a penchant for pop drivel, is stung. “It’s parsley,” Susie says again. “Take it away and no one would know the difference.”
So, when I read that tonight Obama tells correpondents: ‘I still make rookie mistakes’, I could relate. Sometimes the seemingly simplest of NVC steps, acknowledging that I’m mildly annoyed or embarrassed for example, eludes my grasp (at least in real time). After the fact, while it may cross my mind (hindsight being 20/20) — what I might have said, at the time — it still seems like rocket science somehow.
Nevertheless, in our ongoing quest to treat the elements of OFNR as a kind of mindfulness practice, improvising experimentally with how we then opt to convey each component (as may seem harmonious to the tapestry we wish to weave or the fluidity with which we intend to express ourselves, rather than discordant/formulaic), last week we discussed how to become consciously competent, specifically with observation.
Next we’ll explore the element of Feelings …
feelings plural of feel·ing (Noun)
- An emotional state or reaction.
- The emotional side of someone’s character; emotional responses or tendencies to respond.
I have heard it suggested that feelings may be left out altogether — of the externally articulated (while still maintaining an internal awareness) — in certain settings (as with a certain stoic someone who might find it unnerving), or toned down (i.e. in the boardroom employing the term ‘concerned’ rather than ‘fearful’), and that for the most part our emotions are most appropriately described when there is some shared recognition, whether implicit or explicit, of the conversation-at-hand being a context conducive to divulge such and/or if one is able to reference one’s own emotions, self-responsibly (i.e. taking ownership, rather than imposing it on another, as an accusation). So, in a sense, feelings can often be the dispensable ‘parsley’ component, when it would be more alienating than engaging to reference.
Nevertheless, it was a bit of a revelation the first time I considered that, at any given moment, we are indeed all experiencing some sort of emotion (i.e. there is no “on/off” switch, other than that of comfortable numbness) and that having this omnipresent emotive energy on our proverbial radar may help guide how we craft the sentiments we exchange. So even when we opt to edit out explicit reference to our emotions, still whatever gets consciously conveyed, our felt sense will be an important piece in the sub/semi-conscious puzzle (in any given interpersonal dynamic).
Rather than merely labeling the emotion du jour (although developing a vocabulary and fluency via a Feelings Inventory can come in handy in a pinch), I have come to understand that emotional competency has much more to do with the ability to attune to the depth of our visceral experience (via the capacity for self-connection), or for finding our deepest emotional truth and courage/capacity to convey it to another (see also: Thomas Hübl‘s transparent communication).
Another potential tool towards increased self-connection, in the service of greater authenticity, is a tool known as Clustering/Sample Vignettes, where one captures (free-associatively) the thoughts/feelings/needs/requests in relation to a stimulus (or person) in a series of clusters or circles and then write a paragraph/vignette afterwards.
Also, merely becoming more cognizant of where we fall on the spectrum, in the wake of any given interaction, can amplify our conscious competency over time:
|Radical Compassion – Pathways to Liberation MATRIX|
Able to use the skill,
Naturally uses the skill
Ability to identify and experience our physical sensations and emotions.
|Little or no understanding of emotions; identifies with and/or resists emotions.||Beginning to notice and have a sense that feelings have value.||Able to recognize, accept, and allow emotional experience, with effort.||Effortless recognition, acceptance, and allowing of emotional experience.|
|Taking ownership of one’s feelings:
Living from the knowledge that I alone cause my emotions – my emotions are not caused by others.
|When one’s feelings arise, one credits or blames self, others, or external circumstances.||Sometimes observes oneself blaming and criticizing, and unclear how to take ownership of one’s feelings.||Capable of noticing when triggered, and uses that as a signal to self-connect.||Living from the understanding that our emotional experience emerges from the state of our needs and the quality of our thinking.|
McLaren: So it was nice to read Damasio’s hypothesis: Full functional, interactive consciousness requires emotions. Huzzah! Damasio also puts forward the idea that emotions are “action-requiring neurological programs,” which is such a wonderful way of putting it… (continues)
When I talk about The Language of Emotions, one of the central ideas I try to get across is that all emotions are useful. If you can approach them with care and ask them the right questions, there aren’t any “bad” emotions. Every emotion has a specific function, and all of them are important and instructive. Some very intense emotions (such as hatred and panic), which I call the “raging rapids” emotions, need to be handled with care, but in most normal cases, you can understand and work with your emotions on your own.
However, there are times when you’ll need assistance with your emotions. The way to know when you need help is simple: When your emotions repeat continually and do not resolve, or when they overwhelm you or the people in your life, it’s time to find out what’s going on.
When things are going well, all of your emotions (even the raging rapids ones) will respond to you and will resolve when you’ve paid attention to them and made whatever corrective actions they require. As the neuroscientist Antonio Damasio says, “emotions are action-requiring neurological programs.”
From that post: So, for instance, fear requires that you take action to orient to change and novelty, or to avoid physical harm. Anger requires that you take action to protect or restore your sense of self or your standpoint (or the selves and standpoints of others, if your anger is related to social justice). Shame requires that you take action to avoid injuring others or yourself (if the shame is authentic to you. It’s important to first identify whether the shame has been applied as a control mechanism from the outside). Sadness requires that you take action to let go of something that isn’t working anyway, and grief (which has a very different purpose from sadness) requires that you actively mourn something that is lost irretrievably. And so forth.
Each emotion is an action-requiring neurological program, and in The Language of Emotions, I explain what each emotion is for and how to work with it as itself (rather than trying to pretend it’s something else, or that you don’t have it).
With this action-requiring construct, we can be a bit more precise in our understanding of how much emotion is too much: If you’ve got an emotion that repeats continually and will not resolve itself, no matter how many times you try to perform the action for that emotion, that’s a clear sign that you could use some intervention. Let’s look at one of the emotions above so you’ll know what I mean.
The importance of Fear
From its healthy, flowing state (where it is your instincts and your intuition), your fear is evoked into what I call its mood state (this is when most of us can feel it) by change, novelty, and the possibility of physical danger. The actions fear requires are uncountable, because fear is the emotion of instinct and intuition. When your fear signals you, you might need to hold your breath, freeze, run, laugh, recoil, move forward, orient yourself, strike out quickly to avoid an incoming hazard, lower your head and studiously ignore something, or any of a hundred other actions.
When you and your instincts choose the right action, you’ll resolve the reasons for your fear, and your fear will recede naturally.