Emotional pinball

I started participating in a book club this week, reading the book Emotional Intelligence 2.0. Coaching is all about learning and transforming yourself before helping others do the same. I was excited to start the book with a friend and learn more about my remarkable emotional intelligence. I consider myself a pretty emotional person, highly self-aware, and exceedingly empathetic. My daughter thinks otherwise, but I’m working on it.



So I read the first bit of the book and took the assessment.


I was humbled to see my score. Not quite what I expected, I’m learning, so this gives me something to work on, strategies for growth, and then I can test again. My friend and I are eager to take these next steps and see what we can explore and uncover.


I am most excited about the quite simple lesson that I learned in the first chapter. Our brains “are hard-wired to give emotions the upper-hand.” What? Everything we experience enters our senses through our bodies. The signals travel to the brain through the base of the spinal cord and head toward our frontal lobe, the home of rational thinking. But – and this is a big but – the signal has to first go through the limbic system – where we experience emotions.


Whoa - science. The information seemed so basic but was an ah-ha moment for me.


I have always had a visceral reaction to events. I cry at weddings, funerals, ceremonies of all kinds, movies, commercials – you name it. I only recently learned how to let the tears fly, serve my needs, and show others that it is okay. I feel stuff hard. I sense other’s emotions and take them on. Sometimes that helps me, and sometimes it does the opposite. That is how I react.


But then the frontal lobe takes over, and I can choose how to respond. Well, my reaction is so big that I don’t tend to think about my response. My survival mode is to step in, take over and try to fix whatever is happening. Whether it is my responsibility or not. My grandparents always stepped up, my mom, my extended family – we were there in the hospital in the middle of the night or sleeping on the couch in the next room. That is what you are supposed to do. At least, that is what I learned. You weren’t helping unless you left exhausted when it was all over. Sound familiar to anyone? I bet it does.


But this Mary is trying to be a new Mary. To pause, feel the emotions, and then make a resonant choice about what to do next. Awesome. Great plan.


And then Monday happened. And then Tuesday came too.


I got a scare that I might lose someone, I lost someone, and I learned that I will lose someone soon. My emotions have been a big ole mess - all of them at once.


So what to do when this happens?


I tried to do different and slow down. I let the emotions roll over me and tried to name them - to identify the fear, grief, inadequacy, anger, confusion, and some that I don’t want to admit out loud.

Next, I thought about my options. What could I do? What did I want to do? What was needed? Who did I want to be?

Then I brought a shake to the hospital, sent a text, and shared my feelings with Paul. I didn’t do much – and it feels wrong. I don’t think it is wrong. I don’t know what I am supposed to do. My old self would have been making a laundry list of things and not sleeping to help in all of the ways. I’m not sure that was helping in the past. Maybe it was just my survival mode to fix the problem and be the “good helper.”


It is harder for me to do little to nothing. I would rather be cooking meals, running errands, not sleeping, etc. But I think I am supposed to be quiet. Feel the emotions. Offer my help. And then wait until I am needed, if at all. It’s not about me.


That is at least my experiment for right now. Tell people that I care about them and that I am here when they need me—step in when it feels right. And honor the emotions I am having. But is that right? How do I know? It feels uncomfortable, but it feels true. Honoring my values and what is important to me.


I think that is all we can do. Try. Learn. Get better. Be happy.


P.S. Please excuse the grammar, tense, and writing errors. My editor was not allowed to review this blog. Thank you, Jordan. 😉

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