Sometimes It's Just You

Your emotions can tell you how other people are feeling. But sometimes your emotions are just about you.

That’s kind of nice, because you need care and attention, too.

At the very least, difficult emotions can signal that it’s time for a rejuvenating break. At best, they lead to important insights about yourself.

I think of emotions as having at least three sources:

  • other people (that was yesterday’s blog, but I’m sure you’ll hear more about it in days to come)

  • the current situation

  • the past

There is much to say about what your emotions can tell you about the current situation — that you’re being tested, for example, or ruthlessly used, or that a boundary has been crossed — but today I’m going to focus on the past.

There’s much to say about emotions from the past, too, but this is a start:

All of us have constructed ourselves in response to our early environments. It makes sense, right? We humans are flexible and adaptive; we adjust to the people we depend on for our survival. That is, we figure out how to fit with our primary caregivers, how to keep the goodies coming or the punishments at bay.

These fits are behavioral, of course. A child learns, for example, not to wake Mommy up from a nap if every time he wakes Mommy up from a nap he gets snapped at.

But the fits are emotional as well.

Even as an adult, the nap interrupter might feel a twinge of anxiety whenever he approaches someone who’s sleeping.

That twinge served him when he was little — it kept him from waking Mommy up and getting snapped at. But that anxiety is unhelpful now that he’s a nurse who needs to regularly awaken patients to take their vitals.

That is, this nurse might be handicapped by emotions from the past. Or, using a more technical term, by a Chicken from Hell.

Knowing who or what your chickens from hell are provides insight into your psychic structure, or how you have constructed yourself to survive in the world. Being able to distinguish between emotions from the past that were adaptive at the time and the same emotions in the present that are not helpful empowers you to be a grown-up and not a little kid.

So this is another question you can ask yourself. “Is this a chicken from hell?” meaning “Is this an emotion from the past?” If it is, you might need to push it aside for the moment so you can get your work done. Then get the care and attention that you need. (You will hear much more about this in future posts.)

Betsy BurrisComment