PAGE 09: The Maturity of Mixed Emotions

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By Dr. Rachana Patni

Emotional intelligence is an area of research and application poised to grow even further in importance in influencing our social world. An essential building block of emotional intelligence is emotional literacy, which is linked to and helps with another important aspect of emotional intelligence, self-awareness. 

I work with (willing) others on their emotional literacy because it turns out that we are often not exactly on point in feeling what it is we are feeling and we often turn to knowing what it is that we are feeling, and make several more mistakes of omission and commission in gauging. If we go by how we are behaving to get a sense of what we are feeling, the mistakes may become even more prominent as there are many diversions between feeling and action. To share a common example, children may behave as if they are angry when the feeling they are struggling with is that of sadness. As a parent, I often get the chance to experience this, and I am aware that I have used anger to save myself from feeling the other emotions that make me feel a lot more vulnerable. Anger, therefore, becomes a good diversion tactic and fear is often the motivation behind those diversions. 

Our engagement with our emotions is a creative undertaking and while it can be pretty accurate, it is also being constructed narratively, and therefore it is reasonably open to re-storying. The re-storying is best done with the intention of clearing out any emotional debris from our unprocessed emotional backlog, which may corrupt our experience of our feelings in the present moment.

What are the ways in which we may corrupt what we are feeling? Most of the time, we bring unprocessed sediments of our past experiences into the present experiences. In doing so, we let our past experiences impact our perception, physiological reaction, feeling, and behavior, thereby creating a situation where our under-processed past begets us our present experiences. We consistently recreate patterns of relationships by being caught in this infinite loop. 

What are these sediments of the past that slip into our present? How do we carry them? I often find myself saying ‘your baggage is not you’. I do this to myself too. It is our emotional backlog that becomes powerful in informing the way we present ourselves to our present challenges and opportunities. Clearing this baggage is our own responsibility, one that we can take up more judiciously when we have more maturity. The way I employ the idea of maturity is that when we revisit our emotional backlog to clear it, we call on it with mental and emotional resources and capacities that we did not have at the time when we started creating our baggage and backlog. 

Inside/Outside (2015) is an animated film that takes up the baton of emotional literacy and it does this in an interesting way. There are so many concepts from neuropsychology of emotions that form the characterization in the film. The film stars are our basic emotions of Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust, and Anger. The film also employs a stressful event, that of a house move, which is one of the top three stressful things we can undertake in life, to explore the life of the feelings of Riley, a young 11-year-old girl. The feelings begin as discreet and intent on working on their own agenda and then as the story progresses, the feelings begin to work together to help Riley navigate something new and difficult. The film ends with Riley’s feelings getting a new and expanded console where they can participate in many more permutations and combinations of feelings, creating a vibrant canvas for Riley’s life. Given that Riley is pre-pubescent at the point of the story, it is likely that this film will provide a great opportunity for a sequel that delves into the newer and more intense emotions of the teenager.

While we cannot predict a sequel, we can often take responsibility for the sequels in our own lives. We can then also understand our prequels differently, which is amazing!

Opening up to mixed emotions is just the beginning of our expanded console of feelings. I work to co-hold that possibility with enthusiasm and grace and it is a beautiful process, even though we dare not go there without tissues!

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