In the next weeks and months, I’ll be posting information about each of the seventeen distinct emotion categories that I’ve identified in my empathic work. As you know, there are many more emotions than this tiny number, but in order to make emotions more accessible, I’ve organized them into categories related to the actions each emotion requires. Within those larger categories I also identify different intensities of emotion, from the most subtle flowing state to the most intense activation.
For instance, Sadness arises when you need to let go of something that isn’t working anyway. It’s different from Grief, which arises when you need to mourn something that has been lost irretrievably, or has died. And it’s different still from Situational Depression, which arises when something is destabilized within you (or in your surroundings) and your forward motion needs to stop for a while. Understanding the differences between Sadness, Grief, and Situational Depression helps you become more awake to the precise emotions you’re feeling, and more able to work with each one skillfully when it arises.
Every emotion has a specific function, a specific purpose, and a specific action for you to complete so that it can move on and make room for the next emotion, the next thought, and the next idea. As we enter into an exploration of emotions as distinct and separate things that require unique responses, I thought you might like to get an empathic sense for emotions by looking at something that isn’t an emotion: Love.
When an emotion is healthy, it arises only when it’s needed, it shifts and changes in response to its environment, and it recedes willingly once it has addressed an issue. When love is healthy, it does none of these things.
If emotions repeat themselves endlessly, or appear with the same exact intensity over and over again, then something’s wrong. Yet real love is a steadfast promise that repeats itself endlessly through life and beyond death. Love does not increase or decrease in response to its environment, and it does not change with the changing winds. Love is not an emotion; it doesn’t behave the way emotions do. Real love is in a category of its own.
Those things we’ve learned to equate with love – the longing, the physical attraction, the shared hobbies, the desire, the yearning, the lust, the projections, the addictive cycles, the passions – those things move and change and fluctuate in the way emotions do, but they’re not love, because love is utterly stable and utterly unaffected by any emotion. When we love truly, we can experience all our free-flowing, mood state, and intense emotions (including fear, rage, hatred, grief, and shame) while continuing to love and honor our loved ones. Love isn’t the opposite of fear, or anger, or any other emotion. Love is much, much deeper than that.
Yet for some people, love is really just adoration, which is merely a form of bright-shadow projection (see my work on the shadow). These love-struck people find the person who best typifies their unlived shadow material – good and bad – and live in a sort of trance with them. Though I wouldn’t call that sad game love, it’s what passes for love in many relationships: You find someone who can act out your unlived material, attach yourself to them, and enter into a haunted carnival ride of moods and desires. When the projections fall, and you see your adoration target for who he or she truly is, you become disillusioned and try to reattach your projections or even seek another person to project onto.
But that’s not love, because real love doesn’t play games with other people’s souls, and it doesn’t depend upon what you can project onto your partner, or what you can get out of the relationship. Real love is a prayer and a deathless promise: an unwavering dedication to the soul of your loved one and to the soul of the world. Emotions and desires can come and go as they please, and circumstances can change in startling ways, but real love never wavers. Real love endures all emotions – and it survives trauma, betrayal, divorce, and even death.
The truth about love is this: Love is constant; only the names change. Love doesn’t just restrict itself to romantic relationships. Love is everywhere – in the hug of a child, in the concern of a friend, in the center of your family, and in the hearts of your pets. When you’re lost and you can’t seem to find love anywhere, you’re actually listening to love in human language, instead of listening to the language of love. Love is constant; it’s not an emotion.
If you want to explore love as an emotion, you’ll have to read a book by someone who wasn’t raised by animals and isn’t an empath – because I sense a visceral difference between love and emotion. I can be furious with people I love, frightened of them, and utterly disappointed in them, but the love never wavers. If my loved ones are too damaged or dissimilar for our relationship to work, I don’t stay with them (and I don’t let them keep my credit cards!), but I don’t stop loving them.
Love for me lives in a realm far deeper than the emotions, and in that deep and rich place, words don’t carry a lot of meaning. So I’ll let words about love fall into the meaningful silence all around us, and we’ll move on.
(from The Language of Emotions: What Your Feelings Are Trying to Tell You, Karla McLaren, 2010)