Tag Archives: feelings

Hormones, feelings and identity

In recent years I’ve been making space for feelings as they happen within my body. I’ve paid more attention to my emotions and not tried to suppress them, and I’ve started to explore how to better embody and express those feelings. And then there’s the hormones…

I’ve spent the majority of my life inhabiting the hormonal shifts of my menstrual cycle. In the days before I bleed, I tend towards melancholy. When I’m bleeding, if anything is wrong in my life it will become much harder to ignore. I listen to the wisdom of my angry blood these days, and I deal with whatever comes out of that time. I get a few days off before the reproductive urges kick in, and a quieter patch after that. I know my cycle well and I know who I am within it, and I identify with those emotions. Who and how I am shifts during the month and I experience all of it as being intrinsically me.

Now, peri-menopausal, or as I prefer to call it, living with the menoporpoise, everything has changed. Hormones turn up as late night tsunamis that I can drown in, that sweep all before them, and wash away my brain and sense of self. I think things I wouldn’t normally think – levels of anxiety and despair and pointlessness that just don’t fit with who I am the rest of the time. There’s no rhythm to it, so I can’t adapt. Even as I pay attention to my emotions I’m in the uneasy position of having to acknowledge that this is happening in my body, but I can’t own it as part of how I feel. It is both me, and not me, and that’s quite challenging.

When the menoporpoise hormone tsunami hits, I can tell what it is. How I experience it is more in line with how I experience having taking something that impacts on me. Only what I’m taking here isn’t pain relief or alcohol, or a sugar high. It’s a wash of misery and horribleness. I can see how easy it would be to become this, to be persuaded by the bodily experience that these are my feelings and experiences.

In some ways I am advantaged by years of body ambivalence because I don’t assume that if I feel it, it must be me. I’ve dealt with physical pain and emotional trauma acting on my body, and I have a sense of self that holds those as part of it, but doesn’t give them the steering wheel. My identity is not entirely formed by my experiences, but also shaped by my deliberate choices. I’ve had to learn how to chose my way around damage inflicted, and intrinsic issues that I don’t want to be dominated by. This is another round of things happening in my body that I can’t do much about, but aren’t of my choosing. I experience them, but I do not become the experience. It makes me realise that there is always this potential – to embrace or reject making an experience a part of your identity.

 


Affirming each other’s feelings

When we affirm each other’s feeling, we affirm the right to feel, which is a key thing for good self esteem. We may also be affirming the right to be different. In accepting and honouring each other’s feelings, we have the chance to properly know and understand each other. We don’t oblige the people around us to only express the things we are comfortable with. Undertaken as a small, everyday activity, affirming each other in this way enriches and deepens relationships.

My personal feeling is that no emotion is ever wrong. How we express it may be open to question, but a genuine, felt response is what it is. Sometimes what I feel doesn’t make much sense to anyone else. It can be easy to hurt, shame or ridicule me when this happens. I’m used to being told I over-react or that I make no sense and am ridiculous. I’m also very aware of what happens when dealing with people who don’t rubbish me. When I’m allowed to explain so that I do make more sense, or when my not making sense is acceptable. When I’m given that space I feel more like a real person and more able to navigate.

Telling people off for doing drama and being irrational is a really quick way to shut someone down. We don’t all come to a situation with the same perspective. Some of us have triggers. Some of us are carrying terrible baggage. Some of us are panicked overthinkers, able to see potential problems others would never imagine. Most of us who are this way have got here through experience – it may be out of date knowledge but it most certainly isn’t irrational or unfounded. I note that the people who have done me most harm in life have also been the quickest to rubbish my feelings.

Listening to each other is powerful. Being willing to admit that you don’t understand, is powerful. Acknowledging that something doesn’t have to make sense to you for it to be real, is powerful. Ask how the people around you feel, and let them speak. Don’t argue with people if you think they *shouldn’t* feel a certain way – instead, show them respect by acknowledging this is what they’ve got as a starting point. Let people be as they are, and they can be honest with you.

So many things are more tolerable and possible to get through if you are allowed to be yourself while doing it. Being told off for how you feel is an identity-wounding experience. It’s often inflicted on people who are grieving and who hear that they should be over it by now. Depressed people are told to pull themselves together. Anxious people are told to stop making a fuss. None of those instructions alleviate distress, they just protect the person seeing it from having to keep on seeing it. My discomfort at your pain is more important than your pain – nothing devalues a person like treating them this way.

When we take each other seriously, we can lift each other up. But what, I hear you ask, do we do about the people who manufacture drama, and make a fuss, and over react, because that happens…? My guess is that where this is true (and I think it often isn’t) you’re dealing with someone who desperately needs attention. If they get attention on a day to day basis and are treated like their ordinary feelings matter, there may be a lot less incentive for the manufactured stuff. If the need for drama comes from wounding, dismissal or feelings of having no personal power otherwise, the affirmation of being taken seriously is the one thing most likely to shift this. If you’re going to challenge someone, it’s a good deal more effective if you know what’s going on with them first. Out of date coping mechanisms can need challenging, but it helps when that’s done kindly.

Whatever is going on with a person, no one becomes better, or more functional as a consequence of having their feelings rubbished and ignored. It is however an effective way of silencing complaint and distress, which is why rubbishing the victim’s responses is a normal part of bullying and abuse.


The trouble with love

I love you. I love chocolate. I love the gods, my cat, the duvet… love is such an awkward little word that gets stretched to cover far too many things. I talked yesterday about my love affair with Ronald Hutton, painfully conscious that ‘love’ was the only word to use, and at the same time, misleading.

I’ve always been an intensely emotional person, and I tend to form deep attachments to people. As a younger human, these were often confusing. I did the crushes, fiercely, I fell in love, and I also fell into other things that there aren’t any words for. People I adore, and need, and want to spend time with but where it’s not about sex or necessarily anything very physical at all. Affairs of the heart and mind have always been as important to me as connections driven by physical desire.

There have been amorous entanglements that lacked some of those other dimensions, and they didn’t entirely work for me. It took a while to find the person who I can connect with in every way, creatively and emotionally, physically, in practical space sharing, in life sharing… one person who can be all things to me. Does that mean I fall out of my entirely head-based adoration of Ronald Hutton? Not at all. There is room.

The trouble with love is that we only have this one word, and we use it too much, especially in advertising. We devalue it by attaching it to things we kind of like. We erode language by misuse. I bought some crisps last week that, according to their packaging, were ‘epic’. They aren’t. They are bits of flavoured potato and I like them. I am supposed to find them epic, and love them, but if I do that to a bit of thinly sliced spud, either my whole perspective is going to get horrible skewed, or I end up with the words meaning less to me. Meaningless, even.

I love passion and creativity in other people. Really love it. I respond to beauty and wonder with intense emotion, I cry over things when a lot of people wouldn’t. I’ve learned to be careful about how I share this, while holding my boundaries and keeping space for myself to feel it. I’ve never found it difficult to love. By this I do not mean ‘like’, I do not mean the love of epic crisps, but an intense emotion that sweeps through me and inspires me to do things. I fall in love with books and rush to tell people about them (Fiona Tinker and Graeme Talboys in recent weeks). I fall in love with the integrity and compassion of other people, with acts of courage and heartbreaking sacrifice. I find my soul stripped bare by the bleak loveliness of a winter’s morning.

Over and over, I come back to those limited, useless words that tell people the wrong thing. Wanting to walk up to people and say ‘I love what you do, I love you,’ and knowing that more often than not it will provoke confusion and not convey what I want it to. It is love, but not a request to get into someone’s pants.

You don’t know who you are, because I’ve never worked out how to tell you. Some of you read this, some of you comment here. Maybe you’re wondering. If you’re reading this and even considering that you might be one of the people I’m talking about here, the odds are good that I do indeed mean you.


Nature, Mindfulness and Emotion

Here’s a thing I keep banging my head against. I want to be mindful in all things, conscious of my actions and words and in control of them. I consider this essential for living in ethical and honourable ways. What this means in practice is that I spend most of my time trying very hard to maintain suitable levels of self control.

Now, here’s the rub. Most of my emotions are so intense, so all consuming, that the idea of them passing through gently is hard to imagine. I live in fairly intense emotional spectrums, and repressing any emotion so that it does not result in a physical expression is unspeakably hard. Experience to date suggests that the physical expression of my emotions does cause distress to others, and I am not comfortable with causing that distress, so mostly I try not to. Frequently I fail.

The quandary: Do my emotions, in their raw, chaotic and powerful state, constitute my nature, or are they something that I need to learn to tame and control? If they are my nature, are they allowable, is there some place for them, somewhere in the world? If I tame them, I might be able to become the more placid, docile, biddable person I feel certain the people around me would find it more comfortable to deal with. Would I be a better person if I could tame the extremities of my feelings?

Or is there anything in here that might have an intrinsic value, somewhere, somehow? (I’m unconvinced, but I have to ask for the sake of balance.)

I’ve spent most of my adult life trying for control, trying to be what those around me want me to be – of which one of the key elements has always been expressing a gentle, co-operative persona, which is just a construct, is not in any way ‘real’ in terms of how I understand myself. And there are days when holding that together and keeping it smiling is so hard that I just want to curl up and weep.

I will confess that I have spent my whole life yearning for some kind of space where I could feel safe about letting some of the other stuff out. There have been times, sharing music, when I’ve been able to express and feel fully alive, in the moment, whole… but music is abstract, and it’s easy for people not to have to look too hard at what’s really going on there, which makes it inherently safer. There are times when the sheer loneliness inherent in feeling unable to share my emotional self, is crippling. I say it, in case there is someone out there who feels this too, and who can find some catharsis, or companionship in these words.

I’m not sure it is mindfulness. It’s a good cover. It may in fact be fear. I know perfectly well that what lives on the inside is a fairytale monster full of teeth and excess. If it gets out, if anyone sees it, I will become an exile. Hiding is survival. Mindfulness keeps the fear of what I am under control.

I know I am blessed with some brilliant, insightful and forthright commentators on this blog. This is without a doubt the most personal thing I have ever put in a public place. It will be interesting to see what anyone does with this.


Rational Female

This is an answer to Alison’s feedback on Facebook feminism.

I have no idea how long my own culture and those similar to it have been tending to view rationality as masculine and emotion as feminine. I think it’s an idea that is receding in influence, a bit, but we’ve a way to go. It’s a bloody stupid idea. It reinforces ideas of gender difference, underpins all those arguments that for so long kept women out the workplace, politics and anywhere else involving power. It’s also a thought form that encourages us to raise our sons not to cry, or acknowledge pain. Anger is about the only emotion some men feel allowed, and that doesn’t help anyone.

Plenty of very serious, sensible, rational people who I have met along the way firmly believe that emotion itself is irrational. The only rational thing to do with emotion, is to squash it, Mr Spok style. I have had plenty of encounters with both men and women where the expression of emotion has been treated as evidence of my irrationality. I have also had plenty of people tell me to my face that I’m cold hearted, unfeeling, and an ice queen for not expressing my feelings in a suitably feminine way. I’ve been told that when I do occasionally show how I feel, others consider this suspect and assume I am just trying to manipulate them. I can’t win.

Everything that happens inside our heads, be it ‘intellectual’ or ‘feeling’ involves the same brain, the same brain chemistry, the same little electrical impulses. Emotions involve hormones, physiological reactions created by all our history of evolution. They are not separate and ‘other’ but intrinsic to being human. Most importantly, emotion is not irrational. Emotion can be discussed, explored, contemplated, understood, harnessed, celebrated. We have emotional intelligence. This desire to separate things out goes with a long history of dualism. Mind and body. Body and soul. Introvert and extrovert. Stable and neurotic. Thinking and feeling. These are methods for putting people in boxes and positioning them on charts: Human creations that are arbitrary in many ways, and reduce our sense of our own natures.

I am a stable, rational, introverted thinking, feeling unstable, irrational extrovert. Most people are.

It is the fear of our emotional selves that makes us comfortable calling it ‘irrational’. If we label feelings as irrational, we can invalidate them and never have to think about what they mean. Depression isn’t a reflection of all that is wrong in the world. Grief and fear are not reactions to abuse. Anger is not a reaction to oppression. That’s a very convenient dismissal that does us far more harm than good. Our emotions are reactions to life as we experience it. If we ignore our own, innate reactions, we ignore what’s happening to us. We live in denial, powerless to make any kind of meaningful change. People who placidly accept may look rational and pragmatic, but they are also far easier to control than one who protests. People who cry are a challenge to those who do not want to engage with anything. People who are enraged to the point of taking action do not necessarily uphold the iniquities of the status quo.

The irrational repression of our emotional lives keeps us prisoner. The irrational belief that emotions are silly makes us weak. The idea that to be rational and able to think in a logical way is unfeminine, is just another way of disempowering ourselves. To be fully human is to be both thinking and feeling. It is to be able to think logically about the implications of our feelings and to be able to respond with emotional insight to intellectual ideas.

Autumn commented on one of my justice blogs that many people are in prison because they just did something, in an unpremeditated way. Crimes of uncontrolled emotion, born in the moment. People who are, I assume, unable to think about their feelings and who consequently have no control over their own actions once their emotions are engaged, or once alcohol or similar has made that easier. Being overwhelmed by emotion should never be an excuse for a dishonourable action. But until we collectively embrace the idea of being able to handle emotion rationally, the idea that an emotion can ‘make us’ do something, will hold sway. And until we can recognise the validity of what our emotions tell us, we remain easily led by anyone who wants to bully us whilst mocking us for the irrationality of our feeling hurt by this.