Our lives are full of actions – our own and others. Tangible, observable, definable actions. The things we do. Get up. Get coffee. Go to work. Schedule an appointment. Talk to colleagues. Send emails. Read articles…
Typically those actions are mundane. Sometimes those actions are consequential.
Many actions pass without notice. And then for some actions, there are reactions. But these reactions do not obey Newton’s third law of motion. These reactions are far more complex and varied. They’re more commonly referred to as emotions. Feelings.
Emotions are peculiar. They are quiet and bombastic. Wonderful and terrible. Elevating and exhausting. And all points in between. They are elusive, unmeasurable, and sometimes difficult to define.
Across the vast population of humanity, reactions are not standardized. They don’t fall into tight, tidy distributions, outside of which anything is abnormal. They simply are. And they are not the same for everyone.
There are times we behave as if there are standard operating procedures for emotional reactions to defined actions. If x, then y (for time t at magnitude c). Sometimes these restrictions come from within ourselves. “I really shouldn’t be feeling _____.” Sometimes they are external. “You should be feeling _____.”
Sometimes we demand that ourselves or others react a specific way, with particular emotions.
This is something I’ve struggled with. For a long time. Far longer than I’d ever care to admit. Amidst dealing with difficult actions and reactions this year, with the help of a professional therapist, incredible friends, and other support, I learned something important.
I get to feel what I’m feeling. When it comes to emotions, there is no “should”. There are no switches to flip, no timer running to indicate that it’s time to stop feeling [blah] and start feeling [bleh]. There is just what I’m feeling now. It doesn’t have to be one emotion or a subset of emotions, and sometimes there even seems to be contradiction. Whatever they are, though, I get experience them, even though at times, in the moment, it’s the last thing I want to do. I can be gentle with myself, let the emotions come.
This says nothing of actions though. There are things that still have to get done. I can feel completely unmotivated, depressed even, and still get up, go to work, eat… Sometimes action is required to respond to another action (or reaction). Sometimes there are standards of action. Sometimes I need to act immediately. Sometimes I must process my reaction before I take further action. Actions are not necessarily a mirror of reactions, but sometimes they do carry the imprints of reactions.
But regardless of actions – their immediacy, their urgency, their weight – I still get to feel what I’m feeling. I get to process that in my own time. For me, the real work happens when I sit quietly. When I reflect upon the actions that brought this reaction. I try to listen and learn. As I continue through the process, I might share it with a few others I trust deeply. I work through my reactions. Then, if I feel it’s necessary or important or desired, I will share it more widely.
Letting myself feel what I’m feeling – rather than conforming to an ideal manufactured by myself or others – is an important part of healing, growing, and moving forward. The same holds true for others. They get to feel what they’re feeling. They get to process it in their own time, and the length and form of their process takes may differ substantially from my own. The principles that apply to me should carry over to others. And perhaps, as I am patient and gentle with others, I will learn to be more patient and gentle with myself.