Could humans get out their clogged emotions, and become calm like a cat?
Even though they can be messy, feelings matter. They convey passion, they help us know what moves us, what makes us wake up, what causes us to fall in love or choose to be an artist or plant a daffodil. When we listen to each other’s fears, hurt, or needs, there can be relief. I notice when clients quit fighting, it’s because they get to the heart of conflict.
I learned about emotional hairballs from my cat. Einstein sat like a Zen master on top of my computer, wagging his tail back and forth. I giggled, tossing it back between the sentences so I could see what I was writing. When that clogged stuff in his throat came out, he settled back into meditation. He looked so serene. It made sense to me – get emotional hairballs out on the table.
We all have them these days. Between Southern California hurricanes, Maui’s terrible tragedy, political debates, and other dismal, dingy, daily events, this catawampus world is dizzying. We hope Barbie will save us, but our lives are tossed to the wind more often than we would like. Even language is confusing. Like the woke issue. Who woke up?
Anyway, the question is: What to do about emotional hairballs? Where to put them? How to manage them? Are they just a passing mood or do they tell us something about our deepest desires? Are they a part of the primitive caveman brain (like certain politicians)? Or, is our amygdala, the unpredictable lizard brain running rampant in humans, destroying everything in sight?
I was moved this week reading about the history of Anne Frank, leaving her diaries before being betrayed. She had a voice. She found a way of expressing herself. Ultimately given up to the Nazis, and dying of typhus in a concentration camp at age 16, Anne knew the value of her words. Words used with respect, to do no harm.
We can all express yearnings, in our journals, with our girlfriends, our family, at the bar with a stranger or to our therapist. Listen to your longings, ask them what they want, write them a letter or call an old friend and share them. But always use them respectfully.
Anne wrote, “until all mankind, without exception, undergoes a great change, wars will be waged, everything that has been built up, cultivated, and grown will be destroyed” (May 3, 1044). We need a new narrative. Aren’t we done with backward arguing, school shootings, suffering of children and animals, constant battles, the fear of floods and fires?
Trauma researcher Bessel Van der Kolk, M.D. summarized the new needed paradigm: “The critical issue is reciprocity: being truly heard and seen by the people around us, feeling that we are held in someone else’s mind and heart. For our physiology to calm down, heal, and grow we need a visceral feeling of safety.”
Dialogue, not debate, could change the world.
Katy Byrne, MA, LMFT, licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in the Bay Area for over 35 years. Author, The Power of Being Heard. ConversationswithKaty.com. 707.548.8982