I hate being ignored. Don’t you? I believe we have all experienced being ignored at some point or another. As an adult I’ve experienced it most frequently in group conversation when I’m in the middle of saying something and another person starts talking, and keeps talking, as if I hadn’t been saying anything at all. I’ve even seen other people in the group look back and forth between me and the other person, confused about what is happening, and unsure of what to do. Usually they do nothing, and sometimes that hurts even worse than being interrupted in the first place.
It’s devaluing. That’s what hurts about being ignored. What I’m offering isn’t worth their time and attention. But I rarely say anything about it because I’m a (recovering) “people pleaser” who is terrified of conflict.
We do the same thing with our feelings. Especially our “negative” feelings. Each emotion we experience has a purpose. In a previous post (Emotions Are Data, Not Directives) I reviewed Susan Davis’ TED Talk about emotional agility. Davis notes that rigid responses to our emotions, including ignoring them, results in the emotion getting stronger until it is strong enough to override our conscious decision making ability.
Ignoring our negative emotions causes them to get stronger because we are, in effect, acting like the data offered by the emotion isn’t worth our time and attention. When we don’t allow our emotion to do it’s “job” it doesn’t just disappear. It get’s louder and stronger. Basically, unlike me when I’m ignored, it demands to be heard.
Let’s take the being interrupted in a group conversation situation as an example. I’m talking, someone else interrupts, and continues talking as if I wasn’t talking in the first place. I feel hurt, embarrassed, and angry. I also feel afraid of the possibility of conflict so I don’t say anything to the person who interrupted me. I begin to have thoughts like, “I wasn’t saying anything important anyway”, “No one wants to hear what I have to say”, “I’m just annoying.” These thoughts of worthlessness, which justify me not communicating my hurt about being interrupted, cause me more pain.
But I don’t want to feel pain, and I don’t know what to do with it anyway. So I smile, listen politely to the other person, laugh at their funny story, and pretend to be fine. I hurt even more so I try to brush it off with thoughts like, “it’s not that big of a deal”, “I’m being over-sensitive”, “I just need to get over myself.” That doesn’t make it hurt any less either. I begin to notice I’m craving sugar. I eat said sugar and finally feel less hurt and embarrassed, but only for as long as I’m eating so I eat more. Then the guilt and shame for over- eating sets in and adds more pain to the load I was already carrying….
Sound familiar? Maybe it’s not sugar for you. Maybe it’s a cigarette, Netflix binge, Twitter rant, shopping spree, pity party, rage at your spouse/partner/kids…
Whatever it is, you end up more miserable trying to ignore the pain than when the original hurt occurred. Sometimes we play this game for years and years before we stop ignoring the original hurt. This is what being led by our emotions looks like. Well, emotions aren’t great leaders so it’s more like being held hostage and dragged around by them.
But, what if we didn’t ignore it? What if we identified it to ourselves and to another safe person, gathered as much information as we could from it, and let it serve it’s purpose in our lives?
What if I thought to myself, “That was hurtful. I notice I’m feeling hurt and embarrassed and angry because they interrupted me and don’t seem to value me or what I was trying to say.” Then, after the group conversation, I spoke to the person who interrupted me one on one or to a safe person outside the situation. That amounts to listening to my hurt and letting it do it’s job: identifying sources of pain in my life so I can choose to heal and make a decision about how to handle the source of pain.
The data our emotions provide isn’t always actionable. For example, my fear of conflict kept me from speaking out about the hurt which, in turn, caused me more hurt. It also closed the door on an opportunity for growth for the person who interrupted me. Had I spoke to them about it perhaps they would have made a change in their behavior. But I would never know that if I let my fear lead me without examining it, and challenging it.
Let’s talk about “positive” emotions now. Feelings like happiness, contentment, love, joy, peace, excitement, and well being are more like me. Instead of getting louder and demanding to be heard when they are ignored they get quieter and slip off into the background.
Choosing to “listen” to our positive feelings – focusing in on them, making time and space for them to grow to their fullest measure, allowing the physical expression of them (even if it’s tears), and choosing to be grateful for the experience – increases them.
No thanks, I have enough love, joy, and peace in my life. I need to rein it in a little… Said no one ever.
Being “present”, being “mindful”, “slowing down”, whatever you want to call it – not ignoring the feelings we want to experience more of makes them richer and more satisfying. That’s without turning to any aids, stimulants, or addictions!
As you learn to stop ignoring your emotions you might find you lack descriptive words to identify exactly how you’re feeling. You can use this chart to help you find new words to accurately express your emotions.
God created us with emotions and each one has a purpose. Over the next few weeks we will look at each feeling’s “job”, and examples from scripture of how to pay attention to, express, and lead each one!