The Language of Emotions

Just finished reading McLaren, K. (2010). The Language of emotions: What your feelings are trying to tell you. Boulder, CO: Sounds True. I can’t wait to share my “gleanings” with you. In the meantime, here are some of the thoughts I’ve come across:

Pg 84: Distraction and dissociation can give us a blessed vacation from suffering, but if they become habits, they will make us incapable of dealing masterfully with that suffering….If you use any addictive, distracting, or dissociative practices, you don’t need to feel ashamed of yourself or quit cold turkey, but you should know what you’re doing with your distraction of choice and why you’re doing it. Bless yourself for keeping your life going in any way you could, and turn your awareness toward your addictions and distractions; they can pinpoint the areas where you’re most in need of support.

Pg 86: Let’s look at a real-life experience with a baby who won’t stop crying, no matter what we do. It’s hard to be there with all the noise and unhappiness. We make soothing sounds and try to alleviate the distress. We check for binding clothes, wet diapers, hunger or thirst, but the crying increases with the baby’s frustration. We shush the baby, we rock her, but she keeps crying, so we try to make her laugh. We find a toy. We get Mr. Bunny and make him do a dance. “Look at Mr. Bunny! Mr. Bunny hops on his head! Mr. Bunny’s funny! Let’s laugh with Mr. Bunny!” When the baby finally begins to laugh, we feel much better. Whatever was bothering the baby, well, that’s forgotten now, thank goodness. We have peace, and that’s what matters, right? However, what if we could say to the baby, “You feel really sad. Things are hard right now.” Usually, the baby will stop crying much faster if we just let her feel, if we just support her in the way she feels at that moment. I’ve found that even very young babies, if you support their feelings, will be able to calm themselves or make some movement toward the source of their problem. Crying can move discomfort into conscious awareness, even in young babies, and from that place of awareness, even young babies can communicate their true needs.

If we get in the way with jostling and distractions, the crying will probably stop, but the baby will have missed an important growth experience. She won’t have been able to let her feelings tell her what’s wrong, and she won’t have been able to make a conscious connection between her discomfort and an important issue inside her. What’s worse, we won’t have helped her strengthen her connection to her own water element, which means we’ll move further from our own water element as well. When we wave Mr. Bunny around, we stifle awareness in others, but we also dim our own awareness and become less able to deal with life as it is.

Unfortunately, that’s how we’ve set up our lives and our culture. If there’s trouble or pain somewhere we rarely sit with it and honor its truth. We rarely support the emotions or follow them from imbalance to understanding to resolution. Instead, we bring our some form of Mr. Bunny and terminate our discomfort. But in so doing, we multiply it into suffering that hurls us right out of our psyches. We don’t honor the discomfort or the trouble; we just distract the baby inside. We learn in this culture, form our earliest moments, that discomfort must not be allowed to run its course or inform us in any way – that anything is better than discomfort. Young or old, rich or poor, we all rely on distraction and avoidance as a matter of course; it’s the defining movement in our training and in our culture.

Pg 88: Distractions, addictions, and avoidance behaviors have become the norm at every possible level of our culture…the difficulty isn’t in breaking the specific habit or detoxifying from certain chemicals; it is in making a movement that is so very atypical….our culture-wide refusal to deal with discomfort has dropped all of us into suffering.

Pg 89: Our lust for distraction does not spring from the fountains of human knowledge; it comes directly from the heart of unhealed trauma….There is unparalleled information in the heart of trauma, not just from those of us who survived assault or abuse, but for our culture as a whole….there hasn’t been serious sociological or anthropological study of the effects traumatized people have on their culture….unrelieved trauma (especially in childhood) impacts our society at every level. How can we know that the vast majority of prostitutes, convicts, mental patients, addicts, and alcoholics survived childhood trauma without understanding that this mass of tortured humanity is trying to show us that trauma has an enormous influence on individuals, and through them, on our entire culture? Each one of us is intimately connected to trauma, either in our own lives or through the people closest to us…the behavior of the traumatized half of our population has a direct impact on how our society functions at every possible level.

Pg 92: Traditional therapy is often useful in addressing the mental and emotional components of trauma, but it can be less successful in addressing the boundary damage and the tendency toward dissociation. …the damage that results from any kind of trauma – molestation, beatings, emotional cruelty, painful surgeries or hospitalizations, or even frightening dental work – is remarkably similar and remarkably common. I had to expand my understanding of trauma to include the vast population of dissociated, emotionally disconnected, and mentally overwrought people I began to see.

Pg 93: I also saw that trauma survivors tend to affect the people around them; they tended to create an atmosphere that provoked dissociation and avoidance behaviors in their circle of friends and family. Some trauma survivors did this by unconsciously visiting traumas (emotional or physical) on the people around them, but some did it merely by being emotionally unavailable in their relationships (which sent the people around them into discomfort and avoidance behaviors). I saw that dissociated and distracted people tended not to support integration and awareness in the people around them; they often created a ripple effect of distraction and unconsciousness in their environments.

An example of this ripple effect can be seen in early scholastic environments, where children who are learning to shut down their empathy (which requires powerful avoidance behaviors) are driven to create an emotionally dangerous environment of ridicule and threats….traumatic and dissociative behaviors are almost always contagious….Dissociated people often have poor boundaries, and they tend not to be aware of boundaries in others, which makes them somewhat hazardous, emotionally and socially.

Pg 96: Remember that “suffering ceases to be suffering as soon as we’ve formed a clear and precise picture of it.”

Pg 97: Because repressers avoid, distract, and dissociate as a matter of course, they destabilize their own lives and the lives of the people around them. Repressers don’t support consciousness inside themselves; consequently, their lives and relationships tend not to support full consciousness either.

We run away from the sensations in our bodies that ask us to viscerally feel the trauma again because we don’t understand that certain aspects of traumatic flashbacks can heal us (but only if we approach them in the correct way).

Pg 98: The third response to trauma is to channel it from within an awakened psyche, to enter it consciously, to dive into the emotions, the thoughts, the visions, and the sensations – and to turn the trauma on its ear.

I had already seen firsthand that the lingering symptoms of trauma could indeed be healed with dissociation was understood as a rupture between body and spirit.

Pg 99: In response to this nearly universal trouble in the psyche, humans have for many centuries nurtured religious doctrines, spiritual teachings, scholastic systems, medical and psychological modalities, and socialization structures that, in essence, support and encourage dissociation, distraction, imbalance, and emotional illiteracy. The separation between body and spirit, the overemphasis on small parts of the intellect and the dishonoring of the emotions, these behaviors and mindsets aren’t restricted to one culture or one set of doctrines. Severe intrapersonal resourcelessness and the inability to restore focus and health after traumatic incidents exist throughout most world cultures.

0 thoughts on “The Language of Emotions”

  1. Please write more about the effects of unhealed and unacknowledged trauma in this society. It’s a massive issue. I’m unhappy so my dad tells me to ‘find a distraction’. I said ‘no way’ ! If he’s uncomfortable around me when i’m hurting, then maybe i just need to be around people who aren’t uncomfortable around me when i’m hurt… the whole of the western world runs on this ‘distract and conquer your feelings’ mentality. No wonder addictions and dysfunction abound.

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