Last time, we talked about Impostor Syndrome, how many of us struggle with feeling like a fraud. This often dovetails into a nasty cycle of over-achieving as a coping mechanism to shield us from feelings, failure, pain, etc. But, like many coping mechanisms, they can be great for the short-term but a living hell if we allow them to become a habit.
Habits can be particularly insidious because its behavior so ingrained it’s subconscious. Add on top of this a world that keeps pushing us to go faster, do more, be more. This adds fuel to the proverbial fire.
Our modern world trains us to never hit the ‘OFF’ switch because there’s money to be made if we’re constantly plugged into the Matrix.
Perhaps we work at a computer all day. How do we take a break? We hop on-line, dive into social media, watch Netflix or play on-line games. We’re never taking time to ‘get out of our own head’ which is often why we lose touch with our emotions.
As a consequence, our capacity to ‘feel’ atrophies.
The data’s already piling up. Technology is wreaking havoc on our emotional, psychological and physical health. As technology becomes more ingrained in our everyday world, part of culture, we’re wise to pay attention. Technology is increasing codependency, anxiety, and depression, while also wrecking memory, social skills, and our ability to empathize.
Our Western culture already had an unhealthy relationship with emotions, and it seems technology is making this worse. We’re addicted to distraction.
Socially Acceptable Emotions
As humans, we’re naturally imbued with a vast pallet of emotions. No emotion is inherently good or bad but all are necessary and serve a purpose.
When we repress one emotion, it’s like plugging a geyser. That will only work so long until there is an eruption of some sort. For instance, if we believe we don’t deserve joy and shuffle past this emotion to go onto the ‘next’ achievement, it can eventually manifest as grief.
Playing armchair shrink, we’re grieving the moments of joy that have come and gone that we failed to grab hold of. We lose sense of purpose because if there is no joy, no sense of I DID IT! Why are we even bothering?
There’s this odd social dogma that being happy is good, and, that if we aren’t happy something is wrong with us. Anger, sadness, disappointment, disillusionment, rage, fear, etc. are ‘bad.’ If we can’t be any of these, then busy works just fine and comes with lots of kudos.
When someone is sad, angry, upset, it makes us uncomfortable. We switch into trying to make the person ‘feel better.’ But is this always the best course of action? It is (perhaps) for us, because ‘bad’ emotions make us uncomfortable. Additionally, since we’ve been reared unprepared for these emotions within ourselves, how can we help anyone else?
Grief and Loss
On the last post, I mentioned I’d recently come unstitched because I use work and achievement and being responsible to numb out. Yet, if we study human history, we’ve gotten away from many of the traditions and practices which used to accommodate the ‘bad’ emotions.
For instance, let’s dial back a century and look at death and loss. I recently listened to an excellent Southern Gothic, Black Water by Michael McDowell (the unabridged saga). In the book, when there’s a death, those impacted hung black wreaths on their doors. They also hung black wreaths on the front of the cars. Women wore black and men wore black arm bands.
Grief and loss possessed a physical outward expression, a bold honesty to the world claiming pain. Oh and wonders of wonders! This was OKAY.
The community respected, honored and nurtured those hurting. There used to be a mandatory time period for grieving.
Yet, how many of you have lost a loved one and work wanted to know if you’d be back within the week? How many of you have experienced a loss and YOU expected YOU to be back at work within the week?
Modern World & Loss
I spent most of my growing up years with my grandparents, meaning my grandmother served also as a mother. I lost my grandmother July 4th two years ago. Problem was she died when July 4th happened on a Monday. No long weekend to get over that one.
Also, since her death was ‘only’ one in a long series of losses, I didn’t mention it a lot. I’d already ‘burdened others’ with four deaths in the previous year. Don’t want to be too needy. Then, after she passed, I lost four more loved ones in the next six months.
To be clear, no we weren’t hit by bad luck or plague. I was extremely blessed with a large family I loved very much, who lived VERY long lives. This meant these great aunts and uncles and grandparents had been a fixture in my world since I could remember. Problem was they were all hitting their 80s and 90s at about the same time…meaning I was losing them at about the same time.
Yet, what complicated my grieving (or lack thereof) was that even if I’d lost ONE person, our culture rushes past death.
To be blunt, our culture rushes past loss in general. Breakups, divorces, job loss, kids going off to college, getting dumped, losing a business, etc. are all ‘deaths.’
Yet, how often are we encouraged to ‘forget about it,’ ‘move on,’ ‘get back on the horse that threw ya,’ and so forth? Worse, how often do we encourage others the same way? *cringes* Our kids cry because they lost a game, fought with a friend, or broke a toy, and immediately we comfort…and distract them. Again, guilty as charged.
Why can’t someone feel sad? Maybe WE can feel sad. Calm down. Baby steps.
How Does It FEEL?
Experiences, good and bad, are meant to be FELT. Yet, how often are we thinking when we should be FEELING? Part of me is sad that there are not a lot of pictures of my growing up years.
Cameras, film, processing film cost money. Most regular people couldn’t afford home movie cameras to ‘document’ the birthday, graduation, birth, baby’s first steps, etc.
Yet, I’m also happy about this. The handful of old pictures evoke far more emotion than the 1700 images on my current iPhone. Why? Because BACK THEN, I was fully present in the vacation, party, family reunion, etc. I was free to feel.
I watch those around me (and I’m guilty, too) so busy taking pictures (to post on Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat, or to ‘remember’) they’re actually not present in the PRESENT. Left brain (analytical) is so busy documenting the joy, we’re not slowing down to FEEL the joy because right brain is told to wait.
It was tough for me when I visited New Zealand last year. I wanted to take pictures of everything! Film ALL THE THINGS so I could REMEMBER!
I had to chastise myself to stop, put down the iPhone and BE PRESENT. Experience the majesty, the elation, the beauty and FEEL them all.
Imprint the moments in my bones and my mind. Viewing mountains through a small screen was a shill for stopping to simply enjoy the view.
We’ve turned into a world of documentary-makers. Yet oddly, what good is the film or picture to recall a moment where we failed to be fully present?
If we’re not experiencing emotions during the graduation or the wedding, then what is that short video truly going to bring back? What will we feel?
Paralysis of Analysis
If we’re numbing and avoiding grief and emotionally absent from joy, this has a cumulative effect. Over time, we drift away from what makes us human (our feelings). When we are hurt or angry or sad, we analyze it away.
Google a blog about how to handle being dumped. Enjoying a good time? Grab the phones and DOCUMENT.
It’s fair to say most of the population over thirty is growing increasingly concerned with how much people are staring at their phones all the time.
We see families at dinner in a restaurant talking to people on-line, ignoring the ones across the table. Couples on vacation busy taking pictures of ‘moments’ instead of making real moments.
I’m old enough to remember when beauty parlors (salons) were hives of talk, chatter, gossip and laughter. Now, when I go get my hair done the women all sit staring at tablets and phones, checking email and Facebook.
I’ve made it a point to interrupt them, especially the young ones.
One time, I interrupted a young 20-Something on her phone to talk. I asked her about what she was doing, why she was there to get her hair highlighted…and she gaped at me like a deer caught in headlights. Smiling, I said, ‘Facebook will be there in an hour. Promise. But I won’t be. Tell me where you’re going to college?’
Initially she seemed on the verge of apoplexy, but over time was smiling and telling me about how she was going off to UT Austin and was hoping to go to law school. Within minutes, she was laughing and excited and had forgotten all about her phone.
Put the Phone DOWN
This seems like strange advice from a social media expert, but it’s actually okay to put the phone away and to not document every moment for posterity 😉 . That image posted on Facebook will be gone in a couple days. Yet, make an authentic memory and that’s there for life.
When my nephew graduated and everyone had phones aloft, I simply watched, listened, and enjoyed. Let myself feel. I guarantee that memory will be far more visceral, hold exponentially more emotional weight than the times I was ‘busy’ taking pictures of every minute. I was too distracted to take in the smells, sounds, textures, and feelings.
We only have so much time, and we have a choice. Reality or virtual reality? I believe the more willing we are to be present, the more comfortable we’ll become with our emotions. If more of us do this, the more comfortable we’ll grow with other people’s emotions.
Let Them Cry
Ever hear that advice for babies? Crying is good for us. We need to let ourselves CRY. Crying releases stress hormones and increases the feel-good hormones. Besides, the emotion will be there in one form or another. If we fail to feel it real-time and at full strength, we hammer it flat.
Flattened emotions take up more metaphorical surface area. Thus, instead of gut-wrenching grief that lasts only a month or six months, we might be left with dull, aching depression spanning years.
If we don’t dive into joy so intense we feel we might burst, we could be left with saccharin memories (artificially sweet and not quite ‘the real thing’).
As writers, being emotionally attuned is critical for superlative writing. Empathy is our greatest tool, but empathy demands we’ve experienced an emotion. If we keep numbing, avoiding, documenting, and checking out, it shows in the writing. We end up with talking heads, plot puppets and ‘bad situations’ instead of drama.
We remember great stories for one reason and one reason only: How they made us FEEL. Want to be a great writer? Less thinking, more feeling 😉 . Pay attention to feelings (ALL of them) because it will make you healthier as a person and stronger as a writer.
In the End
Moderation is key. I love social media, blogging, chatting with people all over the world. Yet just because the world doesn’t have boundaries doesn’t mean boundaries aren’t a good idea.
My goal with this post is to challenge us to FEEL, because what makes us humans and not robots is we FEEL. We feel happy, sad, elated, crushed, proud, jealous and we NEED to feel those emotions and MORE.
I, too, am a work in progress. But, I believe if I work on slowing down, learning to feel the good and bad and ugly I will get better at it. Like all things, practice makes perfect. Setting down my iPhone for more of the iFeel 😉 .
What Are Your Thoughts? (Then Feel FREE to Go OffLine!)
Do you seem to struggle more in our modern age with being able to feel? When a negative experience hits, are you (like me) quick to go look up a blog, binge-watch HBO, or scroll Facebook? Are you afraid to feel? Unused to being able to feel? Have you turned into a mini-documentary maker, too?
Have you become addicted to distraction? Are there childhood memories that are SO REAL (even decades later) because you didn’t have any technology to interrupt? So you remember the smell of the grass and Coppertone, the feel of the sand, the bite of saltwater up your nose when you first dove into the ocean…
If you do? SHARE! I’d LOVE to hear about these authentic moments!
I love hearing from you!
What do you WIN? For the month of JUNE, for everyone who leaves a comment, I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).