Fixing Emotions   4 comments

Like most men, I want a fix.  When I am agitated or discouraged, I want help to escape, and I expect this to come not from empathy but from fixing the problem that is causing those feelings.  If I am afraid of losing money, help me protect my money, and my fear disappears.  If someone is irritating me, get them to stop, and my irritation will fall away.  I didn’t wait to ask myself with compassion, “Why am I afraid, what is going on in my heart?”  That was obvious… the situation was causing my bad feelings.

When my wife shared her feelings with me, I offered solutions instead of empathy, just like I wanted for myself.  But in trying to offer solutions, I was making her feel worse.  When I said, “There is no reason to be afraid because_______” I was trying to relieve her fear, but she heard me say that her feelings were illegitimate. It took me forever to change my approach, and I still struggle with it.  It seems to me that if I empathize with her feelings, I am giving her more reasons to feel sad or fearful or bad, and I want to rescue her from those feelings.  But as I tried to understand her perspective more, I gradually realized that I too needed empathy for my feelings rather than solutions to “fix” them.  I needed it as much as she did, because empathy invites me to be compassionate to myself, and with this active self-support, I discover the wound that underlies my feelings.  But I didn’t want discovery, I wanted relief.

DIDN'T I SAY I COULD FIX IT?

I am a very good fixer, and when I fix situations so that my unhappy feelings are lifted, I feel better, but I learn nothing about myself through those negative emotions.  As a result they came back just as strongly when the situation returns.  Instead of emotional renovation, I was constantly working on repairs… the same fixes over and over.

Here was the sticking point for me in receiving Kimberly’s compassion.  I could not imagine genuine care that did not result in her help or accommodation.  If she truly empathized with my situation, she would surely act–help with the dishes, refill the gas tank, spend more time with me.  If she didn’t give tangible assistance as able, she was simply uncaring no matter what her words said.  If she did not help meet my needs, it proved she didn’t really care.  And her lack of care stoked my fear that I was not worthy of care.  My only option was to pressure her into acting to resolve my feelings and renew my sense of worth, and I usually did this by shaming her for not doing more.  Kimberly reacted to this, as you might expect.

Over a great deal of time sharing and thinking I slowly realized that what I really wanted and needed was her love and genuine concern, and I was closing her down to that by blaming her and demanding that she change.  When folks pushed in front of me or cut me off in traffic or ignored me, I thought I needed them to change, but my real underlying need was simply to have someone care about my feelings.  That made all the difference.  If my wife bangs the cupboards because she slips or thinks I’m downstairs or finds the door sticking, I feel no agitation.  Knowing the whole context makes me realize that her behavior does not result from a lack of consideration for me.  I may be irritated at the situation, but not at the person.

But what if the person knowingly kept doing those things that troubled me?  I simply refused to believe they cared if they didn’t change.  My need + your love = your accommodation (and vice versa).  How could you possibly say you care if you make no effort to “improve”?  I felt bad and it was their fault, they were responsible for my feelings.  But if others control my feelings, I’m in trouble because I am then their emotional slave (or we are mutual slaves, which is the essence of co-dependence).  Kimberly finally broke through this block in my thinking, but the process was very painful for both of us.

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Posted August 11, 2011 by janathangrace in Personal, thoughts

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4 responses to “Fixing Emotions

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  1. This hits the nail on it’s head! I like it!! Now I just need a spouse who will love me this way.

  2. Hello…this is Kimberly, the wife 🙂 This journey Janathan (or Kent to those of you who knew him when) and I have taken has been amazing, though difficult. It’s been a tremendous amount of talking and courageous sharing. You’d be surprised how many people think we are “weird” or just outright wrong when we share how we work things out. I’m not sure what it sounds like to people here who read through all these stages of his discovery–if it sounds too self-involved or what– but I am overwhelmed with the knowledge that I am loved completely. No matter what happens between us or how hard it is to talk it through, I have NEVER felt unloved or uncared for in this relationship. As we each discover ourselves more thouroughly…we increase our capacity to give ourselves in genuine love. But I am also aware that it goes against the grain of what we are all taught. We are either wounded by our vulnerability, so we stop revealing it, or we are just socialized to bury it. I guess I just want to stand as a witness here for this journey and the worthiness of it… of course, if, as the previous commentor says, we can find someone else willing.

  3. Pingback: As I Was Saying… « Janathan Grace Reflections

  4. Pingback: If God Is Here… « Janathan Grace Reflections

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