March 7, 2020

Process First.

We have to experience the intensity of our true feelings as they are, in a place where we are protected from judgement and/or exploitation. And we must do so BEFORE we begin to analyze and make decisions about how to proceed.

Process First.

I talk a lot about the productive use of anger and our need to channel strong emotion in healthy ways. But we can't do either of those things unless we first process our emotions.

That's because raw, powerful emotional responses don't translate immediately into something useful. We have to spend some time in a very uncomfortable space sorting out which aspects of our emotional responses actually contain wisdom and value for doing something productive.

But even before we can do that, we have to be able to really FEEL our emotional responses. And this is not fun. They are intense! We are overwhelmed! It feels out of control! It's a terrible, desperate state. This is when we are most volatile, most vulnerable. This is when we come face-to-face with our demons. If we're experienced enough in life, we know that this is the time to go find a safe space and let ourselves get messy.

(Side note: There will never be a convenient time for this to happen; but if Life has taught me anything it is that refusing to play by its rules only makes things *more* inconvenient. When the shit goes down, we've got to stop and deal with it.)

Once we've ridden out that wave of strong emotion, THEN our intellect can engage and we can start to think through WHY we responded the way we did, and also, how to change ourselves so that we can respond better the next time.

And THEN, we can start to come up with productive, healthy strategies for addressing the environmental issues that provoked those strong emotions in us.

When I was younger, I spent most of my time being emotionally reactive. I wasn't even wise enough back then to find a safe space to fall apart. I was a hot mess, running around and spilling my guts, pouring my heart out to anyone who would listen. Boy oh boy, are there a lot of people willing to take advantage of a girl in that state.

When I got older, I tried to bypass that icky emotional space altogether. I'd experience the shock of something awful that happened, suppress my emotions and immediately start trying to come up with solutions to 'fix' myself or the situation. Inevitably, the emotion I was suppressing either bubbled over and damaged relationships, or clouded my thinking, making me ineffective in my problem-solving.

All of this to say: our emotions are legitimate and real, and they must be fully felt before we can do ANYTHING useful with them. We have to experience the intensity of our true feelings as they are, in a place where we are protected from judgement and/or exploitation. And we must do so BEFORE we begin to analyze and make decisions about how to proceed.

You may be feeling some strong emotions this week. If so, find a safe space, either alone or with people you trust, and let yourself get ugly. Don't try to strategize. Don't try to problem-solve. Don't justify or rationalize your feelings. Just BE with them. Let yourself process. Cry if you need to. Write some angry poetry. Indulge your self-pity. Wallow. It's ok. You won't be down there forever.

Clarity will come. Solutions will present themselves. Ideas will flow freely once the oppressive burden of anger and sadness have dissipated and your capacity for critical thinking is restored.

But there are no shortcuts.