“Me? Split? I am not! There’s my body… right over there!”
I can’t speak for the rest of the world, but most people in North America have a mind — body split and are therefore emotional illiterates. They may have an intellectual grasp that there are a range of emotions, but for most people, for example, it’s difficult to differentiate between sadness, ennui, melancholy, “the blues,” and something more clinical, like depression. (Hint: a lot of what is called depression, isn’t.)
Of course, mind scientists (the priests of the 21st century…) want to persuade you that they can tell the difference, but really, all they’re doing is coming up with a diagnosis that justifies what they already believe to be so.
For example, a 15-year-old girl we know was recently diagnosed by a psychologist as being depressed. (Given that this is a medical term with a specific meaning, I’m surprised how loosely it’s applied.)
First, two interesting bits of information:
First, the daughter is 15.
Second, she was prescribed Prozac.
Before I get to the punch line, let me just say that there is a real issue about prescribing Prozac (and Paxil, among others) to people under the age of 18, as there is a greatly increased risk of suicide.
Now I really haven’t a clue as to how this brilliant diagnosis happened, but I’m guessing that backwards reasoning played a big role. Goes like this.
First, there is no drug for sadness, but there are a whack of them for depression. So, here’s this kid who’s having issues, who seems sad, who is not sure what to do with her life. Things are just not going all that well.
This is not acceptable to many parents, to the kid, and to most of Western society, because as we all know,
we’re all supposed to be happy, fulfilled, successful, and rich.
Here’s a flash: maybe she IS normal, for her, and all she needs is to learn to accept and then manage her sadness!
But I digress. Big Pharma is a key societal “normalcy” maker. And Big Pharma tells us that there’s a pill for everything. So, here’s how it goes.
The person is sad. The person shouldn’t be sad. Therefore there must be something wrong. Pills fix what ails us. Prozac and Paxil are considered depression medicines. So, let’s diagnose the kid as depressed, and give her the pills.
This of course begs the question — was she depressed in the first place? Or was this a simple way to get her out of the office, onto a pill, and properly numbed out, so she would again sort of fit in? Methinks it was the latter.
I used to hang with a doctor who was both a friend and a client. He was a really big “pill guy.” He got so enthused with all of the new mental illnesses that were coming out of the DSM-IV that he’d often decide that he had the illness and needed to be on the pill that would “cure” it.
He described dinners put on by Big Pharma, and after describing the presentation to me, would, as a footnote, say, “Oh. And the guy said that eight sessions of psychotherapy was just as effective as the pills .”
In other words, a noninvasive, non chemical approach was highly successful. Duh. But those little pills are so much more convenient.
This isn’t meant to be an anti drug rant, although it’s turning out that way. I’m trying to get at how society deals with emotions.
Early on, we are taught, by word and example, which emotions are acceptable and which are not. I usually use anger as an example, because lots of people have it on the “bad” list. Typically, when parents see their kids acting out anger, they try to get them to stop. They may try distraction, lectures, bribes, or one of the following brilliant sentences.
“What have you got to be angry about?” Or,
“I’ll give you something to be angry about!”
The reason this happens is that the parent is bewitched, bothered and bewildered by their own anger. So, what happens is that the child learns that
emotions on the “bad” list have to be justified before they can be expressed.
Here’s the clinging piece.
We go through a lot of trouble to learn societal rules. Agony actually. You can sometimes see it in the faces of two-year-olds, who scream, “No!” Their faces are beet red with the effort of repressing an emotion.
When we finally “get socialized” we become addicted to society’s rules.
In other words, most people develop a socially acceptable, limited range of emotional expression.
And because it took so much work to get there, they cling and cling to this limitation. They become emotional illiterates, with a miniscule range of expression, no words for their emotions, and a death grip on a limited way of understanding themselves.
In Western-based cultures, black and white thinking prevails. So as most of you read what I’ve just written, you may think, “Well, Uncle Wayne is arguing for expressing emotions all over the place.” And when you picture that, you likely go to your “bad” list, visualize everyone running around expressing those emotions, and freak yourself out.
Head for the hills! Uncle Wayne has lost it!
That’s not what I’m suggesting.
I’m suggesting that you examine your emotional list, and discover what you’re clinging to.
Emotions, in and of themselves, do not mean anything. Thoughts, in and of themselves, do not mean anything. You are not your thoughts, and you are not your emotions.
Emotions & Thoughts are things you have, not things that you are.
Letting go of clinging is all about detaching from identifying with these internal processes.
If you reread that paragraph above, about how our emotions get conditioned, or perhaps better, how the expression of our emotion gets limited, you will see that there are two separate things going on here.
One is the bare emotion, and
the other is the socially approved classification.
Emotions are felt in the body, and then our minds get involved, not by accurately labeling the emotion, but by placing the emotion on either the good or the bad list. If it’s on the good list, Whoopee! If it’s on the bad list, it’s “stuffing time.”
The end result is that we expend so much energy stuffing our emotions that we have little left for actually living.
My friend, the late, great Joann Peterson, is most famous for her course and her book, called “Anger, Boundaries and Safety.” This book is really a must read. In it, you’ll find a structure to safely express anger.
The same approach can be taken with sadness, grief, boredom, disappointment, and the 10,000 other things.
There is no such thing as a safely harbored emotion. Emotions build and build, and find their way out over the stupidest things. Much better, I think, to find a simple and efficient way to be our emotions. Briefly, and elegantly.
Here are five other techniques that will help.
This week, look at your emotions, your stories about your emotions, and what your attaching to. Have a breath, quiet yourself, and simply let go.
About the Author: Wayne C. Allen is the web\‘s Simple Zen Guy. Wayne was a Private Practice Counsellor in Ontario until June of 2013. Wayne is the author of five books, the latest being The. Best. Relationship. Ever. See: –The Phoenix Centre Press