“I was sad, but I acted in an angry way.” Has this ever happened to you, or has anyone ever told you this happened to them?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. Honestly, I already thought about this quite a bit, but the past few weeks it has been in the forefront of my thoughts. I posted on Facebook recently about writing an open letter to those who have had a big impact on my life. It’s about those who have had a negative impact on my life and isn’t written to any specific person but to everyone who might have knowingly, or unknowingly, caused the feelings I describe within the letter.
In case you are wondering why I’ve written about the negative impacts and not the positive, it’s because I’ve been working on my depression and anxiety for the past year. Last November the depression and anxiety became overwhelming, and I sought professional help.
As I wrote the letter, I wasn’t sure if I was mad or sad, it seemed like both. As I’ve thought about the letter and reread it several times, I’m still not sure if there is any one emotion significantly stronger than another.
My mother called the other day and asked about my healing and if I was angry with her. My answer was, “not today.” That’s the best answer I have right now, because it’s not only about how I feel towards others, but how I feel towards myself.
I find myself looking at the emotional wheel chart frequently as I learn to identify my emotions from the feelings I am experiencing. Sometimes I feel like I might be the worst in the world at identifying emotions and feelings, but then I look around and realize I’m not alone.
There are several versions of the emotional wheel chart. It’s a graphic representation of the different tiers of emotions. At the center are 7 primary emotions. Outside the primary emotions are 41 secondary emotions and then 82 tertiary emotions. The purpose of this tool is to help us identify an emotion and see the related emotions, so we understand what we are truly experiencing.
For example, if I feel isolated, I can look at the wheel, find isolated and connect it to a feeling of lonely and ultimately sad. It helps me understand what I’m feeling so I can communicate in a ways that allow others to understand how I’m feeling. If I’m sad, but act in an angry way, how can someone respond appropriately and provide comfort? Ultimately, both the person experiencing the emotion and the person observing the emotion need high emotional intelligence to have understanding and thus compassion.
Having understanding and compassion for ourselves is just as important as having understanding and compassion for others.
I remember a class I had in college with an assignment to make an observation about something of our choice. We were required to write a technical observation report and I failed the assignment 4 times. I was given 4 chances with good feedback on the first 3 tries. It was nearly 10 years later that I finally understood why I had failed this assignment. I wasn’t making an observation and describing what I saw. I was observing a behavior and writing my interpretation of the behavior.
I wrote how I had observed 25 people exiting a building, 12 put on sunglasses because the sun was bright and they wanted to protect their eyes. Eighteen people put on jackets because it was cold. Six of the 18 people were both cold and needed eye protection.
Why did I fail? The assignment was to observe people and write what we observed. I should have identified how many wore sunglasses, how many had jackets, how many jackets that were red and how many blue. The assignment was not to guess at why people were wearing sunglasses and jackets.
How can I observe a behavior and have any understanding of what a person is feeling? I can guess, but the odds are just as likely I’m wrong as right.
I love the SEL movement in schools. Teaching children at an early age about emotions and feeling is so important. One of my criticisms in some teachings is an example of how to talk with a child expressing an emotion. The example I’ve seen is, “when approaching a child who is crying, try saying, ‘I see that you are upset, would you like to talk about it?’ this will comfort the child and open a dialogue.” This is good, but what if we get down on the child’s eye level and say, “I see you are crying. Can you tell me what you are feeling?”
When I see someone crying, I don’t know if they are sad, angry, injured, or happy. I’ve heard the phrase, tears of joy, but have we ever asked someone who is crying what they are so happy about?
I can think back to many times my children were experiencing an emotion and I didn’t take the time to understand what they were feeling. I can think back to many times I was feeling sad, but I acted in an angry way towards them. I can think of many mistakes I’ve made, but I didn’t know better at the time, so I have understanding and compassion for myself.
So, I don’t know if I’m angry with my mom. But I know I’m not angry today. The open letter I’ve written, is a mix of sad, disgusted, angry, fearful, bad, and surprised.
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