BY BRIANNA WIEST
“If you lived honestly, your life would heal itself.”
In one sentence, David Viscott sums up an entire canon of modern self-help literature. In three decades as a psychiatrist, he says that every therapeutic breakthrough he’s witnessed has been in some way the result of someone accepting a previously concealed truth.
It seems people don’t really have a problem with their feelings – they have a problem with honesty.
The fundamental point of Viscott’s work is that we do not know how to express pain the moment we feel it (especially not consistently or healthfully). The result of this is a slow imprisonment as our true selves become caged by suppression, denial and eventually shadow-selves. When we fear our inability to cope with our own emotions, we avoid triggers, and when we avoid triggers, we avoid our lives.
As Alan Watts says, you cannot only numb one side of your feeling capacity. If you’re numb to pain, you’re numb to pleasure, too. They are the same function. They are different ends of the same signaling system. The difference, however, is that we don’t suffer over pleasure, because we haven’t condemned it. We know how to express pleasure. We suppress pain, and this is why emotional intelligence is so rare – we don’t know what a lot of our feelings mean, and we don’t know what to do with them when they arise.
Like a cleansing, cathartic cry or the recognition that the most uncomfortable moments in our lives tend to precede the most pivotal and profound, emotionally resilient people realize that every emotion serves us. Here, 10 other things they understand and do differently:
1. They know that your sense of self is the foundation of your emotional life.
Self-esteem is not much more than just the belief that you can handle your life. It is knowing that things will be okay because you can make them okay. You perceive in accordance with how you think you should respond to things, which is another way to say, with how you think you are. Your confirmation bias will have you actively seeking out experiences that affirm what you already believe to be true of yourself. Mental and emotional responses are the result of how your neurons are hardwired – not the cause.
2. They know their feelings matter.
… Which is what allows them to express pain when they feel it. This doesn’t mean that they act on their impulses or act inappropriately, It’s because they acknowledge their emotions that they don’t have misplaced or inappropriate responses.
3. They make choices based on senses, not feelings.
Your feelings are an enmeshment of thoughts you’ve had, fears you’ve held, experiences that have come and gone. They are affected by the foods you eat, the sleep you’ve had, the people you’re around, and a whole cornucopia of other hormonal, biological, subjective, fleeting, temporary factors. To base anything on any given emotion is the fast ticket to chaos. However, to base on senses is different. Sensing something isn’t feeling it, it’s a gut knowing, it’s an instinct. It’s non-local (it’s not necessarily a physical feeling, but rather an overall sense).
4. They don’t rely on fate.
When people are most intimidated by actually trying (putting themselves out there for a job, doing the work of finding said job in the first place, putting forth effort in a relationship) they tend to shoulder “fate,” as though if something’s “meant to be,” it will just magically happen. We can’t discount that there’s an element of surprise and unknowingness in all of our lives, but that’s not an excuse to forego the effort it takes to develop those things and thrive within them when we have them.
5. They don’t laugh at walls.
Which is to say, they are more engaged in what’s happening in front of them than what they think about what is happening. They don’t make something out of nothing.
6. They have a basic understanding of the emotional dictionary.
They understand, for example, that anger shows you what you’re passionate about and what you want to change, shame shows you how you’re internalizing other people’s opinions about your life, anxiety is a cue that you aren’t being present enough in your life today, and so on.
7. They are guided, not paralyzed, by fear.
Emotionally resilient people see the purpose of their emotions, particularly fear. Fear shows you want you want. It shows you what you care about. Most people feel it so strongly that they internalize it as a deterrent (this feeling means I shouldn’t pursue this thing) when really, it means you genuinely want to.
8. They aren’t tough, decided or overly rigid about their lives.
You can have a clear sense of purpose and direction and idea of who you are without being overly attached to outcomes and particularities – and people who are emotionally resilient are just that. They know what they want but will survive if they don’t get it. Being too attached to anything, as we all know, is the root of suffering.
9. They take responsibility.
They acknowledge that even if something wasn’t their fault, it can still be their problem, and if it’s their problem, they must deal with it. They own and take responsibility for everything that’s happened in their lives – they own it as part of their story. This is the only way you can truly move on and grow.
10. Their primary goal is growth.
They see every experience in their lives for how it serves them. Obstacles are opportunities, upsets are set ups for real change. They see the things they enjoy as moments that teach them, and the things that are uncomfortable as the moments that grow them into understanding, perceiving and being able to sense and enjoy even more. Their fundamental goal in life is growth, which is how they’re able to use what happens to them to their advantage – not their detriment.
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