I have met many people who are coping with life, they muddle through, they manage and push through… and they get by…
But they’re not living… They’re not thriving… and they’re not flourishing. I’ve also met many people in crisis. They’re no longer able to manage or to cope and muddling through isn’t working any more. Not only are they not thriving and not flourishing, but things are seriously not working, they’re breaking down. Sadly, sometimes it takes something very traumatic or difficult to get us to wake up and look at the real quality of our lives.
What do people mean when they talk about “quality of life”? They’re actually talking about the way that they feel. They are talking about their emotions. What do people mean when they talk about “quality time”? They are talking about the emotional quality of the time that they spend with someone, or if it’s “me” time, the emotional quality of the time that they have for themselves.
In everything that we do and in every moment of our lives we are in a state of experience. And the quality of that experience, whether it’s fabulous or challenging is defined by the way that we feel. It’s defined by our emotions.
Our emotions connect us to our deepest and most fundamental needs, to our yearnings and desires. They let us know when life is working for us and they also tell us when something is wrong, and yet for many people, their capacity to listen to their feelings and to understand this vital channel of communication is often limited and rarely at the top of their agenda.
Our emotions are our navigational system. They give us information all of the time and yet we frequently don’t listen to this information. Sometimes we’ve learned not to listen and sometimes we simply haven’t learned how to.
Sometimes our emotional experiences were so traumatic that we developed ways of avoiding feeling at all costs. When difficult, painful and traumatic experiences happen and we don’t understand what we’re feeling, particularly during our childhood, we develop complex systems to alleviate our distress and to cope with the emotional overload. One of the problems that results from these kinds of systems is that we end up shutting something of ourselves down.
When we distance ourselves from something that we don’t want to feel, whilst we may manage to suppress the bits that we don’t want, the chances are we also suppress some of the bits that we need. As human beings we’re actually rubbish at being selective in this way.
Our emotions present a picture of our deepest experiences, both inner and outer, past and present. They are the absolute expression of relatedness and of relationship. If our emotions are telling us that something isn’t okay, it’s a valid communication, it’s the voice of pure experience. It may be challenging but it’s actually informing us. When something in us is crying out to be heard we need to listen and we need to respond.
When we shut down or suppress our emotions, however we do this and however we justify this to ourselves, whether we do this through alcohol, food or even excessive working hours, to name but a few, we are shutting down our capacity to be fully relational. We will be unable to listen to ourselves and be responsive to our deepest needs and in doing this we become closed to possibility and therefore closed to change and to resolution.
We are no longer living we are surviving.
Systems of survival are management systems and they are always connected to past situations and past experience. They are actually an incredibly creative enterprise and this should always be recognized and appreciated, however, as adults, if our creativity is tied into survival then we are investing energy in maintaining the residue of past experiences rather than investing fully in our current experience right now.
When this happens we are not available to grow, there is no learning curve taking place. We are managing and maintaining something from the past, rather than learning and growing from the experience. We are stuck in the past rather than evolving from the past. These kinds of management systems are actually an attempt to find a solution to a problem but sometimes they can become the very things that block us from moving forwards in life. The solution to the problem can become the problem.
These systems are a misguided form of self-care. Self-care and self-defense are not the same thing, but they get muddled up.
Self-care is about generating health and well-being; it comes from a responsive position; it’s about living.
Self-defense is about protection and generating safety; it comes from a reactive position; it’s about surviving.
However logical you may think that you are, your emotions are a powerful driving force. To live well and to be in charge of our own actions we need to be fully emotionally available to ourselves. When our creativity is invested in surviving rather than living, our capacity to listen to our deepest emotional voice is stifled and we are unavailable to engage fully in a rich and flourishing life.
Whether we are living or surviving is a reflection of the quality of the relationship that we have with our emotions and the openness and availability of our mind to engage fully in that relationship. The difference between surviving and thriving is relative to our ability to listen and be responsive to our deepest inner needs and to do this we need to have an entire emotional experience available to us right now.
Jenny Florence enjoys conversation with her readers.
Log on to her website, a-z-of-emotionalhealth.com to listen to Audio Talks about all aspects of Emotional Health.