Favorite Emotions

Every language is inadequate in terms of the vocabulary of emotion.

Complex emotions have always drawn me into their embrace, wrapped around me, woven themselves through me like a detailed tapestry whose design is, by necessity, as unique to me as it is to each and every one of us. To say you are happy or sad, excited or bored, in love or enraged, is to oversimplify your emotional state. Any genuine, fully-explored emotion is bound to be so complicated that it cannot truly be labeled. These feelings can only be described, and will only be understood by those who take the time to listen.

There is no adequate term for that feeling of intense pride and love mixed with the fear and bittersweet envy you feel for the young people in your life whom you know will soar higher and fly further than you ever did. Excelsior, dear ones! Don’t fly too close to the sun, but please do get a better look at it than I have.

And what do you call that laughter through tears moment when someone gazes into your most intimate pain and relates to you and it so well that they’re able to blast you out of it with a well-aimed, yet compassionate and humorously cynical barb? And then there’s that sharp, fleeting emotion that comes directly after that, which makes you think, “Dammit, do not make me laugh about this!” even as you are thinking, “I love you for making me laugh about this!”

Disappointment is not an adequate word for the feeling you get when someone sees something within you, or something that they believe is missing from you, when you know that conclusion is patently false, but there’s nothing you can do to change their minds. It’s never pleasant to be misunderstood by someone you hold in high esteem.

Even if a scary movie makes you jump or even scream, that feeling isn’t fear, per se. There’s an exciting frisson that ripples through it because you know you chose this experience, and therefore it’s also an adventure. Pure, distilled terror is something I have felt more than once, and I can assure you, it ain’t no movie.

I absolutely love that sense that you are exactly where you’re supposed to be, doing exactly what you’re supposed to do, and that your whole messy, beautiful life is what has led you to this moment. I’ve only had that feeling a few times in my life, and I’m glad of that, because it makes the experience all the more precious when it does wash over me. If anything truly does flash before your eyes when you are dying, I genuinely believe that these particular moments must surely be included. That’s why I don’t fear natural death, despite the fact that I don’t want to rush it along.

The reason I was inspired to write this post is that I was experiencing yet another of my favorite emotions: that feeling of shock, awe, admiration and surprise that you get when you discover that there is another facet of a friend’s personality that reveals a talent, passion, or expertise that you never expected existed. That complex cake of emotions is heavily frosted with a feeling of excitement that you’ve now got the opportunity to explore this other aspect of your friend, and that by doing so, you will learn even more about him or her, and by extension, you’ll learn more about yourself.

So it was today, when I was chatting away with my dear friend Areiel, perhaps the most global human being I know. He casually mentioned that in addition to the amazing life he leads that I know about, which is filled with a deep love for his family, a job that allows him to travel a great deal, and one that lets him effect positive change in the world as we know it, he also has a radio show.

Wait. What?

I mean, I knew he had an intense love of music, but I did not know that he had been a radio DJ in his early 20’s, and now, 35 years later, he has picked it back up again. And he has combined that avocation with his love of travel and his natural ability to teach, to create a show entitled Musical Highways, which you can listen to here.

And listen you should. Not only do his musical highways lead you all over the world, but Areiel also gives you a lot of background information about the music he’s featuring in that episode. I guarantee you will hear from artists you’ve never heard before, and you’ll learn oodles of stuff in the process. That is a delicious musical treat indeed.

I’m not sure Areiel considers himself a teacher, but he has taught me much over the years. We have talked about politics, philosophy, music, art, travel, and a whole host of other subjects. He has given me some excellent advice. He never fails to cause me to look at the world in ways I may not have considered independently. Because of that, this feeling I had in learning that the man also has another side to him that I have yet to explore is akin to discovering that you’ve somehow overlooked one of the very best books written by your favorite author.

English may have a higher word count than any other language, but it still is inadequate in terms of the vocabulary of emotion. But it would be a daunting task, indeed, to get the emotional recipe exactly right for every person and every mood. The very intricacy of emotions is what I love about them most, even during those quite frequent and frustrating moments when I realize that the very complexity of these emotions means that I am being utterly misunderstood by those around me.

It’s complicated.

An attitude of gratitude is what you need to get along. Read my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5


Little Shards of Emotion

When I was around 17 it was decided that I needed my wisdom teeth removed. Unfortunately three of them were so deeply impacted that the dentist had to saw away parts of my jaw to get to them. Needless to say, the healing process was no picnic. But what they didn’t warn me about was the fact that for the next 6 months or so, I would occasionally eject little shards of bone at random moments. It would always bring me up short. “Ptooey! Where did that come from?”

I have noticed that at various times in my life I’ve had the emotional equivalent of that experience. During times of great stress and/or great change, certain issues will rise to the surface and take me by surprise. Fears or insecurities I didn’t know I had. Anger that I thought I’d long since gotten past. Gratitude for things and people I had been taking for granted for ages.

When I start reacting in ways that even I can’t predict, it’s time for me to take a deep breath, step back and really think about the true source of my emotions. Often the current situation is simply reminding me of something from the past. And the older I get, the more past I have to draw upon.

It’s important for me to keep in mind that the question of where something came from doesn’t just apply to little shards of bone. And answering that question when it comes up is the key to understanding, coping, and moving on.


This is one of my fractals, “Shards” and can be purchased in the form of greeting cards, mugs, and prints along with almost 600 other fractal items here.

“Toughen Up”

On the heels of my blog entry “Having Your Heart Broken by a Career Choice” I got a lot of comments from people in the Dental Lab industry, many of which were very constructive and informative and have greatly influenced my concept of what I need to do as I move forward. But just as many were along the lines of “Waa waa waa,” “Toughen up,” “You need a thicker skin,” “You’re too emotional,” and “You sound like a crybaby.”

Comments of that nature, regardless of whom they are directed at, never fail to amuse me. Yup, I am an emotional person. When something makes me truly happy, it can bring tears to my eyes. When I hear tales of horrifying abuse or injustice, I may also shed tears. And most of all, when I’m angry I tend to cry, which can be confusing because it may elicit sympathy when none is needed.

But what I am not is someone who throws tantrums, tries to get attention, incites drama, is manipulative or expects pity. I don’t pick fights, take delight in being cruel, intentionally push people’s buttons or insult others. I set great store in being respectful.

I also don’t view myself as a victim. Yes, sh** hits my fan, and as often as not that isn’t of my own doing. But I have a clear sense that everyone has a fan, so I wipe mine off, do what I can to prevent it from being soiled in the future, and move on.

I have emotions. I own them. I express them, more often alone or amongst friends, of course, but that’s on a case by case basis, and it isn’t a function of some type of fear of others’ reactions. I’m not afraid to be open and to feel what I feel. There’s no shame in reacting to experiences. I don’t give emotions a score, as if some are more worthy or valid or appropriate than others.

The point is I don’t view emotions as a weakness.

People have to be taught to suppress their feelings, and it’s been my experience that those who learn those lessons too well are generally more prone to being unable to communicate effectively, are often incapable of making healthy social connections, and are plagued by a variety of mental and physical health issues.

They are also more apt to have outbursts way out of proportion to the situation, and expend more energy on a slow burn. Emotions are like the steam in a pressure cooker. If you don’t let them out, they will find a way out in a potentially unhealthy manner.

I’ve found that it’s much better to feel what you feel when you feel it and then carry on. People who do this seem infinitely more trustworthy to me, because I always know where they stand.

I laugh a lot, too, by the way. Mostly, though, I’m just in neutral mode, taking things in, seeing what the world has to offer in terms of life experience. I don’t expect anything from anyone as a result of my laughter or my tears.

My question is, why on earth would it bother you if I express my feelings? What do you think will happen? What are you afraid of?

Maybe you should toughen up.


[Image credit: facebookemoticons.com]

Embracing Negative Emotions

“Few situations –no matter how greatly they appear to demand it – can be bettered by us going berserk.”

Codependent No More, Melody Beattie

Most of us have been taught that there are negative and positive emotions. Anger, sadness, grief and frustration are bad. Happiness, love, joy, and bemusement are good. Because of this, we are often less skilled in coping with the negative emotions. We are taught to suppress them, deny them, ignore them and fight against them.

I think we do this at our peril. Sometimes there are legitimate reasons for anger, and if you are not allowed to express it in a healthy way, it can fester and build up and find its way to the surface in the form of violence or at the very least, inappropriate outbursts.

Growing up, I was plagued with migraines, and they would often be triggered by tears. My migraines would last for days and be accompanied by copious amounts of vomit and excruciating pain. Thus the family creed became: Don’t Upset Barb, She’ll Get a Migraine.

Because of that, it took decades for me to learn that it was okay to cry sometimes. It was acceptable to be upset. It wasn’t the end of the world, and it didn’t have to get blown up to epic proportions. I could be one with my tears, embrace my tears, and move on.

Someone I love has a problem with anger. When he gets angry, usually for political reasons, his fury comes out like a nuclear blast that tends to flatten everyone in his vicinity. I’m not sure why he never learned to direct his anger at the source, but it’s definitely a problem that impacts every aspect of his life, including his health and his relationships, and it breaks my heart to bear witness to it.

And then there is the fact that the vast majority of men on this planet are taught that they shouldn’t cry. Is it any wonder why they are much more prone to violence? I honestly don’t think it’s nature as much as it is nurture, or in this case, the lack thereof.

It is important, in fact imperative, to teach our children that it’s okay to feel what you feel, and express those feelings in healthy ways as they occur. If you want adults who are assertive rather than aggressive, you need to teach children how to communicate what they are feeling. Not to do so can have societal, even global implications.

marvin martian

(Marvin Martian has long been my favorite cartoon character, because he allows kids to have conversations about anger.  I think that’s important.)

The Emotional Space Theory

Yup. Here comes another one of my theories that probably isn’t original with me. We often measure people by how we feel about them. We talk about how much we love this person or dislike that person. My theory is that there’s an entirely separate system of measurement which should be taken just as seriously—that of emotional space.

Some people just take up more emotional space in our lives than others do, and for the most part that’s not a good thing. Quite often you can measure how resistant you are to change, or how low your self-esteem is, by how much emotional space you allow people to take up in your life, often to your detriment.

For example, let’s say you have two brothers and you love them both equally. But one, Andy, just seems to have more in common with you. Andy is comfortable to be around. He “gets” you. He’s the person you go to for advice. You finish each others’ sentences. He is a positive force in your life. You love him to pieces, but he doesn’t take up much emotional space, and that’s the healthiest relationship you can possibly have with another person. That’s what you should strive for.

Your other brother, Leroy, on the other hand, just seems to suck the life out of you. When he calls you, it’s just as likely to be to bail him out of jail as it is to tell you happy birthday. He shows up intoxicated for Thanksgiving and makes an a** of himself. He’s always bringing drama into your life. You love Leroy, but he makes you worry. He makes you cry. He makes you shout. And he makes you feel guilty because when he leaves your house, you’re usually relieved. If ever you want to have a healthy relationship with Leroy, you need to find ways to reduce the amount of emotional space he takes up in your life. Because, you see, that is your choice, not his. He doesn’t get to decide. You do. My advice would be for you to start by reading the book Codependent No More by Melody Beattie.

The emotional space yardstick also works with people whom you dislike. For example, you really can’t stand your Aunt Lola. She’s Uncle Carson’s third wife, and why he bothered marrying an exotic dancer who is 50 years his junior you will never know, but there you have it. She’s now a part of the family. She doesn’t take up very much emotional space in your life, however, because they live 600 miles away, and you only run into them at the occasional wedding or family reunion. She looms much larger in your cousin’s life, because she is convinced that Lola is trying to get her written out of the will. While you can commiserate with your cousin, you’re not losing much sleep over the situation yourself.

But you also dislike your coworker, Dave, and he’s making your life a living hell. You lose quite a bit of sleep over Dave, as he undermines your work every chance he gets. You also are developing ulcers and a nervous twitch. You are pouring so much of your energy into the situation that you’re actually starting to undermine your own work. You might want to consider learning whatever lesson you’re supposed to learn from Dave, then gain some perspective, take disciplinary action if absolutely necessary, and move on to more productive obsessions.

Take a moment to think about those people whom you have allowed to take up the most emotional space in your life. Now ask yourself what would really happen if you reduced that emotional space to a more manageable size. How would you do that? And what would happen if you did? In what ways would your life improve? Only you can determine your boundaries, and only you can make those boundaries perfectly clear to those around you. You are the surveyor of your own life. Only you can determine what’s out of bounds.

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