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We can only talk if you can be emotional!

September 15, 2011

photo of kitten using "talk to the hand" gestureSo I’m leaving the YMCA after my swim yesterday morning, and I overhear an older couple having an argument. I don’t know what preceded this statement, but the man snapped at his wife, “We can’t talk if you’re going to be emotional about it!”

“Hah!” I said in my head as I walked past them, “Hah! And you think you’re not being emotional, old man? I see anger, frustration, shame, anxiety, and even a little bit of envy, because your wife is able to display sadness in public, though you can’t. You’re not fooling me!”

Of course, I didn’t say that out loud, because no one asked for my opinion! But how many times have you heard some version of that ridiculous statement? “We can’t talk if you’re going to be all emotional about it!”

It’s funny that we give nonsense like that a pass, because if you aren’t emotional — if you don’t have access to your emotions — you’re not going to be able to communicate at all. I love pure rationality as much as the next science geek, but to truly connect with other human beings (or animals), you’ve got to use your emotional and empathic abilities.

That means listening to the words people are saying, sure, but it also means watching their body language, listening to their pitch and cadence, observing their breathing and their eye movements, understanding their unspoken references, and knowing enough about your own emotions to be able to identify theirs.

If you aren’t emotional, you’re not going to be able to communicate effectively, because you won’t have the skills you need to listen, to empathize, and to be heard. Communication requires emotion; it can’t occur without it. In fact, the updated statement should be:

“We can only talk if you can be emotional!”

But here’s the caveat: You’ve got to be able to work with emotions skillfully.

We’ve all seen people who throw their emotions all over the place (think abusive people, politicians, activists, and commentators with their fear-mongering or fist-shaking), but that’s not communication as much as it is verbal battery! Yes, these emotionally volatile people get their point across, and they often get their way, but they do it at you rather than for you or with you. They use their emotions to frighten or anger or manipulate you, and as a result (if you fall for it), you become less conscious and less aware; you become a puppet or a follower rather than an upright person. Emotional manipulation is bad news!

So it’s understandable that people try stop each other from being emotional, because they’re trying to protect themselves from being manipulated. They don’t want anger or shame or tears used against them. They want the clear facts of the situation laid out, and they don’t want to get tangled up in back stories or complexities. They don’t want to see you cry. They don’t want you to raise your voice. They don’t want to be reminded of the many times they’ve let you down. They don’t want to talk about how they can make amends for trouble in your relationship. They want things to be clear and simple!

Well bless their hearts, because human relationships aren’t clear or simple, and we can’t talk to people as if they are computers, or expect that nothing we say could be misconstrued. We also can’t expect people in conflict to be emotionless or to be able to instantly recall the whole story, step by step. We’re always going to need the extra intelligence that emotions and empathy give us.

When you’re dealing with a conflict, you’re always going to need to listen carefully, decipher nuance and tone, identify emotions, and feel alongside other people as you try to figure out what happened, what broke down, and what can be done. Sometimes, knowing what not to say is more important than speaking!

Emotions are absolutely necessary for everything you do, and you can’t think clearly, make competent decisions, or communicate without your emotions. Learning their language will help you emote without manipulation, understand the emotions of the people around you, and communicate with empathy.

And here’s something interesting: Connecting to your emotions and your empathy will actually protect you from being manipulated by other people’s emotions!

Book cover of The Language of EmotionsLearning the language of the emotions will actually make you smarter and more capable in the social world, and you’ll be protected from politicians, activists, salespeople, the media, and any manipulative or abusive people you know. You’ll be able to watch them, identify the emotions they’re abusing, and use your own healthy emotions to keep yourself safe from manipulation.

Additionally, if you get into trouble in a conflict, and things get too heated, you won’t need to create a pathology around the fact of emotions. You won’t need to spit out the word “emotional” as if emotions themselves are a character flaw. When you understand the language of emotions, you can simply name your own emotions and ask for a break. You could say, “I’m angry (or sad, or ashamed, or afraid) right now, and I can’t focus on what you’re saying. Can we break off for a few seconds so I can take a breath and focus on you again?”

We can only talk, and we can only communicate if you can be emotional with me — not at me, not in spite of me, but with me. Sure, there’s work to do to learn the language of emotions, but it’s good work if you can get it!

9 Comments

Michael E. Stumpf September 15, 2011 at 8:22 pm

In the meantime, until your skillfulness reaches a level of confidence, I suggest reading Karla’s book & listening to her wholehearted teaching on The Language of Emotions. I’ve been at least able to move to being able to feel comfortable about experiencing these wonderful aspects of my life; confidence has increased even when I am moving away from emotions! Peace Be Upon You, Mike.

Lanette September 15, 2011 at 9:16 pm

Okay- great timing here! I live with my 82 y.o. mother (I’m 48) and she makes reference with regard to my recycling taking space or my just recent case corn I bought. She wants to micro-manage ‘space’ issues…drives me nuts. And she contradicts herself; first ‘I don’t use my deep freeze much’ to ‘what are going to do with all that?’ Errr… I get angry after trying to negotiate/give solutions, and she keeps on and on, an endless loop.

I’m pretty easy going and frankly don’t give a crap about ‘the material’ stuff, however my mother is wired not from a deep emotional sense. I have accepted that her and I don’t have much in common from a heart center.

I am rambling at the moment as my adrenaline is pumping. I told her in so many words that I don’t do well with contradictions.

I need a nap now! 🙂

Karla September 16, 2011 at 4:43 pm

Hi Lanette! Oy, the emotional stuff between family members. It’s so clogged with unspoken words, unaddressed emotions, and unstated desires. Yow!

My family was huge with that stuff, and I created Burning Contracts and Conscious Complaining specifically for these old, clogged, crusted-over relationships. It’s nice to use the skills to remind yourself that — no matter what happened in the past, how you behaved, and what people expect of you — you can renew your own behavior and do it differently each time. It actually feels really good to get unclogged.

Some people will refuse to move forward as you do, but they are actually in the minority. For those people, there’s a book called Difficult Conversations. Its not a perfect book, but it does have some really helpful points about just what is happening during a conflict, and how you can skillfully maneuver out of the knee-jerk fighting behaviors and get to the real issues that live underneath the unfocused and disowned emotions. Check with your local library –it’s worth a read!

Clare September 16, 2011 at 12:53 pm

Hi Karla

I just wanted to take this opportunity to express my heartfelt thanks to you and your work. The journey you started me on when I listened to Becoming an Empath and your teaching on deciphering the messages behind emotions has completely changed my life, profoundly for the better. I love how you empower us to see our emotions as healthy and rational responses to the world and situations, rather than as dysfunctions as so many do. I have been particularly liberated by how you have helped me understand the darker emotions, like anger and depression!
I am highly clairsentient and so your tools and skills for protecting myself have been incredibly beneficial as well.
Bless you, again and again!
🙂 Clare

Karla September 16, 2011 at 3:48 pm

Hello Clare! I’m glad my work has helped you deepen your understanding of emotions — especially the supposedly negative ones. Isn’t it wonderful to be able to meet them head on instead of running from them screaming, or shutting them down and suppressing them? Yay!

Lanette September 17, 2011 at 5:03 am

Hi Karla- Thanks for the feedback! I dunno, my mother hasn’t changed (“moved forward”) much since my younger years. I’ve been quite an aware child and my world’s culture acceptance differences, and as a lesbian, whew, talk about the kaleidoscope of consciousness.

I’m revisiting my ipod with your audio albums, one of which — ‘Discovering Your Elemental Nature.’

I’m a combination of water (pisces) and air (aquarius), and get ‘voice’ messages from spirit (has saved my life!). My mother has no water whatsoever, which is a greater understanding of an emotional disconnect between us.

Thanks for all that you do Karla! 🙂

Journeying on, Lanette

Awesome Stuff I Found Online This Week and Wanted to Share | This Is A Woman September 17, 2011 at 4:55 pm

[…] she updated. Will you join her? (Awesome) ~”We can only talk if you’re going to be emotional.” (Important) ~This lady mocks what she felt was an insulting tone in an American Apparel […]

Leonora November 12, 2011 at 6:55 pm

Dear Karla, your book is a godsend! I’ve long been an empathy and highly sensitive, so being around people used to be torture, until reading your book helped me to see that anger, when properly channeled and understood, can be my best friend. I’m tired of religious groups telling people to not be angry or to ‘get rid of anger, as it’s a ‘sinful’ emotion. Reading your passage on anger has helped me to see that it is the rightful ‘bodyguard’ of sadness. I also liked your observation on the dangers of being too one-dimensional, for example, religiously fanatical groups that focus too much on transcending the body; I have an uncle who is very religious and devout but cold-hearted to people, disdaining their weaknesses and human flaws. I realised that my anger towards him stemmed from my own inability to stay grounded. For the past year I’ve been taking tai chi and appreciate the groundedness it has given me. I am currently quite tired of transcendent religions and have taken a break from my strict Catholic upbringing to ground myself and learn the valuable wisdom imparted by my body and emotions. Thank you for your wisom, you’ve literally saved my life, as in the past I felt so overwhelmed by the energy around me. At one point I had suicidal urges, but once I listened to them I knew that I had to break certain contracts and ask myself, ‘what has to stop, what has to go?’ I now embrace life more wholeheartedly than I ever have before. God bless you, thank you!

Karla November 12, 2011 at 8:46 pm

Hello Leonora! I’m so glad my work has been valuable for you. Thank you for bringing your emotional awareness and your empathy to a waiting world. Go you! And nice insights about anger. Woohoo!

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