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We Don't Process Our Emotions

After reading this morning about the tragedy in Wisconsin, it further emphasizes what I've been writing about for several years--we don't process our emotions particularly well.

What's particularly troublesome is that so many people in the wellness community espouse "listening" to our emotions and heeding them. They tell us to "follow our passion."

Well, let's see what has happened when people "follow their passion." People have stormed the Capitol. They have driven to other states with their rifles and killed others. And now, their "passions" have killed and injured several people during a parade.

Although I don't know the political persuasion of the man (we know from police that it's a male driver) driving the SUV, more than likely we'll find out that this man had some unprocessed anger. He could have been bitter from a divorce. He might have felt a bit angry when he lost his job. He could have been "protesting" something political. It's clear that someone who drives into a crowd of people has some anger issues.

A year or so ago, I wrote a post on Medium (of course, now that I'm looking for it, I can't find it) about anger. Someone wrote how anger is such a "beautiful emotion." Tell that to the people who've lost a loved one due to someone else's unprocessed anger.

I agree that it's important to investigate our emotions. Rather than react from them, which is often mistaken with "trusting our gut," we need to process them.

What does that mean? We need to look at the source. Oftentimes, the object or victim of our angry outbursts has little to do with what is really bothering us. We cut someone off in traffic because they cut us off (as if that helps anything), but really, ask yourself, "Why do I get such a strong emotional reaction when someone cuts into my lane?" We assume it's personal rather than recognizing another possibility--perhaps the other car didn't see you.

Think about it--some days you're more irritable when someone cuts you off than others. What precipitated that potent, angry outburst?

Perhaps it could be a long line of several irritants that haven't been processed. We let things pile up over time. Other people keep shaking our soda bottles and we don't open ourselves every once in a while to take off the pressure. Then finally, the pressure becomes uncontainable. BOOM.

We might be deluded into thinking that our angry outbursts are isolated--that they are "harmless." Believe it or not, our emotions are contagious. Like a virus, we "sneeze" our emotions around others. Our emotions energize similar emotions within others, and that strengthens that emotion in others.

Who knows? Perhaps someone who is already angry from another episode is still carrying that anger, and your anger only bubbles them up even more.

A lot of media--particularly social media and cable news opinion shows--feed on anger because it's an addictive emotion. It's hungry and exhilarating. It drives people into action. So many people think it's harmless to spew out their angry garbage onto the Internet or onto the couches of those who don't get out much.

We even think that "venting" is healthy. It's not, particularly when it comes to the contagion of anger. After all, look at this post. Because someone drove their SUV into a parade in Wisconsin, I felt compelled to write about it.

However, my "call to action" is different. I'm not going to spew my reaction and leave others to process my anger. Instead, I offer something different--PROCESS YOUR ANGER.

How do we do this? As I mentioned earlier, we first ask ourselves what is really the source here? Is it my own frustration about it being Monday and I don't want to go to work? Sure, that's part of it. Is it the frustration that I taught yoga on Insight Timer last night and didn't get a single donation? Sure, that also could be part of it.

Secondly, we ask, "What's the most appropriate LOGICAL response?" Because I love to write, this is my logical response. When I write, it forces me into "logical" mode. It activates the prefrontal cortex--the organizing, logical mind--and dampens the limbic system, which is the emotional, reactive mind. Ok, it's much more detailed than that, but that would require a little more time and a little more coffee.

Thirdly, we ask, "Is there any residue?" In other words, even if my writing here helps organize my thoughts, more than likely there is some emotional residue. That's where exercise comes in.

If you watch two ducks after a fight, they exit by flapping their wings. They discharge any residue that can affect them later.

Similarly, if we don't discharge our emotional residue, it can build deep-seated resentment. This resentment can build deep within, affecting our cognitions and then consequently our behavior. In other words, we become more easily angered or emotional in future circumstances.

So now I'm off to flap my wings. Because it's raining outside, I'm going to bang some miles on Zwift.

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