I’m doing lots of interviews about The Language of Emotions, and people are consistently asking me what makes my work different. First, of course, is that I don’t see emotions as problems to be eradicated. Instead, I listen to the emotions to discover what they’re for, what they want, and what they do.
And in the early days, I did that with what I call “place-taking,” or empathy, where I worked with each emotion as a distinct thing and tried to figure out how it worked in the psyche. As I became more knowledgeable about each emotion, I was then able to track it as it interacted with the other emotions and with other people.
This place-taking is something you may have done in the physical world. For instance, when I build or sew something, fix plumbing, or install a light fixture, I find that it’s easier for me to understand what’s supposed to happen if I take the place of certain things. For instance, I imagine how each piece will interact with the others, and work out the connections by physically imagining that I’m the wire, or the seam, or the pipe junction. It sounds strange, but it works, especially if you’ve got a loopy dyslexic brain like I do.
When I tutored other people with learning disabilities, I found that recruiting this place-taking ability really helped my students cement their knowledge of otherwise theoretical things like algebraic functions or biological processes. For instance, if you can act as the carbon molecule that gets knocked inward from a cell membrane when light hits it (this initiates photosynthesis), you can physically understand how plants make sugar from light. You don’t have to rely on memorization because you can actually walk yourself through it.
I do this naturally, or perhaps I learned to do it to keep up with my siblings who were not as clearly learning disabled as I was. You had to think fast in my family, so I learned lots of workarounds for my brain.
And so it was natural for me to apply my place-taking approach with emotions, especially since people are so confused about them. For me, if there’s a really impossible problem, I just jump in imaginally and place-take with all of the different pieces so that I can figure out what’s going on.
One of my interviewers commented that I treat emotions almost as if they’re people or things that exist in the real world. Nice awareness! So when I call anger The Honorable Sentry, or when I call sadness The Water Bearer, that’s actually how I see them. I’ve personified them so that I can understand them. It’s a great trick!
But it’s not as if I see sentries and water bearers all over the joint every time anyone is angry or sad. Place-taking is just a door to knowledge. Once you’ve created that door, you’ve got the key to gaining deeper understanding. Score!
Place-taking has helped me go deeper with emotions so that I can sense them not just when they’re obvious (I call this their “mood state”), but also in relation to their very subtle presence (which I call their “free-flowing state”). For instance, in its mood state, we can all see anger clearly: in peevishness, sarcasm, clipped words, tense or threatening body language, narrowed eyes, or raised voices (etc).
However, in its healthy, flowing state, anger gives us very specific gifts that we can’t get from any other place. Anger helps us build healthy self-esteem, healthy boundaries between ourselves and others, healthy detachment, and the ability to right wrongs and reduce injustice for ourselves and others. Healthy, free-flowing anger brings us the gift of honor and conviction, and it helps us take our rightful place in the world without trampling on the rights of others.
And in its free-flowing state, you can’t tell that it’s anger (at all!) unless you know anger from the inside out … unless you know through place-taking what the purpose of anger is. In its free-flowing state, surprisingly enough, anger is non-threatening and empowering. You can’t tell that it’s anger; it just looks like healthy self-esteem and good communication skills.
So when I see someone who doesn’t have a strong sense of self, can’t communicate effectively, and can’t say no, I know that they are deficient in healthy anger … and that only anger can help them. Isn’t that funny? We treat anger as if it’s the enemy, and for centuries, people have done everything they can to avoid, repress, meditate away, or ignore anger. But anger brings gifts with it, so avoiding it is counter-productive.
All of your emotions bring you gifts and skills. Every emotion you have brings you a specific gift and a specific set of abilities that you can’t get from any other place. I mean, how many of us have worked for years to create a strong self-image or boundaries (or to learn to say no) without success? I’m telling you, those gifts live in healthy anger. If you can connect with your anger, you’ll receive those gifts, and you won’t have to work hard all day long just to maintain your boundaries and communicate effectively. Yeeha!
And of course, when you welcome anger in this empathic way, you’ll be one heck of a lot better at working with it if it does move into a mood state. When it’s time to get good and steamed, you’ll now have a relationship with your anger, which means you’ll have choices about how you respond to it and how you utilize it. Anger will be just one of your tools, instead of the dangerous weapon it can be in unaware people.
Through place-taking, I learned to see emotions as tools, as skills, as abilities, and as irreplaceable aspects of our full intelligence. The emotions are like a treasure chest full of magic! How ludicrous is it that we’ve been taught to deny and repress our emotions? I swear!
Let’s look at the amazing skills some of your other emotions bring you.
Skills You Get From Your Emotions
- Atonement ~ Integrity ~ Self Respect ~ The capacity to amend your behavior
- Intuition ~ Focus ~ Instincts ~ Clarity ~ Readiness
- Relaxation ~ Rejuvenation ~ Grounding ~ Release
- Fairness ~ Commitment ~ Security ~ Loyalty
- Satisfaction ~ Renewal ~ Fulfillment ~ Self-Esteem
Can you guess which emotions they are?
The best part about working with emotions in this empathic way is that it makes life so much easier. Need better instincts? Stronger boundaries? Better relationships? Help healing from trauma? Your emotions will give you all the skills you need. Yay!
I’ll give you a hint. People who don’t know how to work with emotions call number 4 a “monster.” What?
Does number 4 have green eyes?
Number 2 is FEAR!
Yeeha! You’re two for two!
Number 1 sounds like SHAME to me! Wahoo, this is fun!