Tag Archive for "Anger"

The difference between deep empathy and niceness

When people think of empathy, they tend to see it as a soft skill — as a yielding and pleasing kind of behavior. They think: If you listen to me and agree with me and make me feel good, that’s empathy. If you fix my problems and soothe everything, that’s empathy. Empathy equals niceness. But there’s actually a deeper form of empathy that transcends mere niceness and helps us engage with people across lines of discord, difficulty, pain, and trouble. I call this a full-bodied empathy, and it is a deeply emotive process that makes room for things that that don’t feel good and don’t seem particularly nice. In this deeper form of empathy, you don’t jump in to fix things right away. Instead, you create a space for people to sit with problems and conflicts until they are able to find the brilliance (their own brilliance; not yours) sitting (Read more...)

Understanding and befriending anger

Welcoming all of your emotions! Anger can be the most honorable emotion you have, if you know what it is, why it appears, and how to work with it. All of your emotions bring you specific gifts and skills, and we’ll look at all of your emotions — one by one — in terms of how each one works, why it arises, and which actions you can take to work with each of your emotions (instead of working against them and losing your way). When I discuss emotions, I always start with anger, because it’s the emotion that can help you understand exactly who you are — as an individual, and as a member of social groups. Anger is one of my favorite emotions, because when you know how to work with it, it can help you become more authentically yourself — and more able to interact authentically and honorably (Read more...)

Bringing nuance to your emotional life

The Wonderful World of Emotional Nuance! As we study emotions empathically, I’m starting out by focusing on four ideas that are widely shared, completely accepted — and absolutely problematic. These four commonly accepted ideas actually prevent you from being able to approach your emotions — or anyone else’s — intelligently. They are: The problem with valencing (imagining that there are positive or negative emotions, or pro-social or anti-social emotions) The problem with expression and repression (having only two options for working with your emotions, both of which can be unhelpful) The problem of nuance (not understanding that emotions arise in a multitude of intensities, and are present in your every waking moment) The problem of quantity (not realizing that it is completely normal for emotions to arise in pairs, groups, and clusters) In this excerpt from my new book The Art of Empathy, let’s look at the problem of not (Read more...)

A new option for working with your emotions!

The Wonderful World of Emotional Choice! As we enter into an empathic study of emotions, I’m starting out by focusing on four ideas that are widely shared, completely accepted — and absolutely problematic. These four commonly accepted ideas actually prevent you from being able to approach your emotions — or anyone else’s — intelligently. They are: The problem with valencing (imagining that there are positive or negative emotions, or pro-social or anti-social emotions) The problem with expression and repression (having only two options for working with your emotions, both of which can be unhelpful) The problem of nuance (not understanding that emotions arise in a multitude of intensities, and are present in your every waking moment) The problem of quantity (not realizing that it is completely normal for emotions to arise in pairs, groups, and clusters) In this excerpt from my new book The Art of Empathy, let’s look at (Read more...)

Emotions are Action-Requiring Neurological Programs, revisited

When I wrote The Language of Emotions, I had not yet found a concise definition of emotions anywhere, so I sort of tap-danced around the issue and dove into my own empathic view of emotions as unique messengers that carry specific gifts. But I read a wonderful book last year that presented the perfect definition: emotions are action-requiring neurological programs — and I relied upon this definition in my newest book, The Art of Empathy. It is an absolutely magnificent frame through which to view emotions!

Is it a Feeling or is it an Emotion? Revisited!

We’ve all seen it. Something is said or written, and someone will go off. I mean off. Rage, hatred, or both at once.  A fight starts, and maybe these intense emotions get handled between two people, or maybe they don’t (online interactions specialize in the maybe they don’t category). So the raging people invite allies to share (and justify) their intense emotions, and a flame war starts. If this blowup isn’t dealt with, the behavior goes unchecked, and people learn that it’s okay to allow their emotions to explode. Moderate people may try to address the emotional issues, but once alliances are formed and people share their emotions in groups, the blowups start to look justified, and not like emotional decisions at all … they become incontrovertible facts, and emotional awareness is lost. In my book, I call intense emotions like rage and hatred (and panic and the suicide urge) (Read more...)

Emotion Theater!

Last week, I taught Emotion Theater to the Master’s of Counseling Psychology program at the University of San Francisco. Emotion Theater is a teaching tool I created to give people an idea of how emotions interact in real time. In the book, I give each emotion its own chapter and talk about what each emotion is for, what gifts it contributes to you, how it works, how it can become disordered, and how you can get into a better relationship with it. In some chapters, I talk about interactions between emotions such as anger & sadness, anger & fear, fear & confusion, and so forth. However, in a book, I can’t really show you how all of the emotions interact — because there are so many emotions, and because their interactions are too numerous and too rapid to get down on paper.  So I created a live action teaching tool, (Read more...)

How much emotion is too much? (revisited!)

When I talk about The Language of Emotions, one of the central ideas I try to get across is that all emotions are useful. If you can approach them with care and ask them the right questions, there aren’t any “bad” emotions. Every emotion has a specific function, and all of them are important and instructive. Some very intense emotions (such as hatred and panic), which I call the “raging rapids” emotions, need to be handled with care, but in most normal cases, you can understand and work with your emotions on your own. However, there are times when you’ll need assistance with your emotions. The way to know when you need help is simple: When your emotions repeat continually and do not resolve, or when they overwhelm you or the people in your life, it’s time to find out what’s going on. When things are going well, all of (Read more...)

Emotions: Action-requiring neurological programs

In my previous post, where I asked you to tell me what you’d like to learn in this year’s online Language of Emotions course, we got a wonderful set of responses. Thanks! I’m already creating a group of learning modules based on your feedback. Thanks everybody! As I pondered your responses and requests, I kept being reminded of things I had just read in Antonio Damasio’s book, Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain. It’s a good, though quite involved read, in which Damasio is laying out some theories of consciousness, based on his work as a neuroscientist. How does a brain create a mind? How does the mind create a self? What are the connections between wakefulness, consciousness, mind, and self? Can you be awake but not conscious? (Yes, for instance, in epileptic “absence” seizures.) Interestingly, Damasio puts forth the hypothesis that true self-aware and other-aware consciousness cannot occur (Read more...)

Critical thinking skills for your emotions

When I go out to speak about The Language of Emotions, I often have the audience call out the things they’ve learned about emotions. I start off by saying “Big girls don’t cry, There’s nothing to be afraid of, You should be ashamed of yourself …” and then the audience adds their own versions of the messages we all get as other people attempt to manage our emotions for us (or shame us about them). We ingest a huge number of messages about the inherent wrongness of emotions, which is one of the major reasons we grow up and learn about everything but emotions. I say in the book that humans are “intellectually brilliant, physically resourceful, spiritually imaginative, but emotionally underdeveloped.” Our ignorance about emotional development has unfortunate consequences in each of our personal lives, but it also has societal repercussions, in that the understanding of emotions has been medicalized (Read more...)

The emotion lists!

Hey!  Thanks for all your help!  We’ve got some excellent and articulated emotion lists to help us become fluent in the language of emotions. Let’s take a look at our updated emotion lists now that we’ve discussed them and organized the categories. In this post, I’ll give you the vocabulary lists without any of the explanations or caveats we had in the original posts (post 1, and post 2). Here’s a reminder about why we’re creating these lists: The more I talk to people about emotions, the more I realize how paltry our emotional vocabulary tends to be. This is a problem, because descriptive words help us understand ourselves and the world around us. If we don’t have enough names for our emotions, it’s hard to get a handle on what we’re feeling when an emotion arises. I’ve been looking at the work of cognitive psychologist who are finding that (Read more...)

Creating our emotional vocabulary

The more I talk to people about emotions, the more I realize how paltry our emotional vocabulary tends to be.  This is a problem, because descriptive words help us understand ourselves and the world around us. If we don’t have enough names for our emotions, it’s hard to get a handle on what we’re feeling when an emotion arises. I’ve been looking at the work of cognitive psychologist who are finding that having a more precise vocabulary (for instance, having specific names for light blues and dark blues, as Russian speakers do) tends to make people quicker at identifying subtle differences.  We’ve all seen that having a larger vocabulary makes us more articulate and more able to express nuance and subtlety; what is interesting is that a large vocabulary also helps your brain identify things more quickly. This can be immensely helpful where emotion are concerned! The sooner you know (Read more...)

Hatred and Shadow Work

In preparing to talk about hatred, we’ve looked at the shadow, which is the part of us that is suppressed, disowned, or dishonored. The Jungian tradition of  shadow work shows us how to retrieve material that has been forced (or has fallen) into the shadow. If we don’t know how to work with it, our shadow material can become quite toxic.  We can even create entire social movements around our toxic shadow material (think of homophobic or racist groups). If we don’t understand what we’ve exiled to the shadow, we tend toward unthinking reactionary behaviors, and we become perfect dupes for manipulators and activists who sell the hate-filled idea that there is an “us” that is better than “them.” And so the shadow brings us to the territory of hatred. HATRED: THE SHADOWY EMOTION Though humankind’s expression of hatred has created unrelieved suffering throughout history, hatred is actually a necessary (Read more...)

The Shadow Knows

In the 1930s, there was an excellent radio show called The Shadow that enchanted millions of people, my father included. The Shadow was a serialized detective show, and each week, the announcer would ask in a deep baritone voice: “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!” In 1937, the young Orson Wells lent his voice to the radio show and helped to popularize this fighter of evil who was himself a dark and shadowy figure. The Shadow knew about darkness because he had lived it. It was his territory and his area of expertise. If you were dealing with darkness and trouble, you definitely wanted The Shadow on your side. I grew up in the 60s, long after The Shadow had ended, but my father loved to repeat the catchphrase in his own rich baritone voice. When I learned about the Jungian concept of (Read more...)

What’s so funny ’bout “negative” emotions?

Last week, I spoke at two bookstores here in California. During one Q&A, someone asked me about the ideas a current spiritual teacher has about emotions. This teacher says that emotions are the body’s responses to thoughts. I blurted out “Oh, he’s full of sh!t.” Out loud. I experienced a complete failure of my internal monologue system. Oh shiiiite! You could hear a pin drop, and then you could hear all the angels who were dancing on that pin drop as well. Thud. Clearly, I had gone quite loopy. I forgot that you never question a spiritual teacher’s ideas. You also can’t express “negative” emotions about spiritual teachers. There’s absolutely no mechanism for those normal human behaviors in many spiritual circles. How fortunate it is that we’re not in any spiritual circle! I am sorry that I blurted out what I really thought about this guy’s ideas, but it’s not (Read more...)

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