“If someone’s trying to get you angry, the calmer you get, the angrier they’ll get.” – Valerie Jarrett, presidential advisor (Wild Words from Wild Woman Daily Calendar)
I’ve looked at this idea from several different angles over the years. I think my fundamental realization was that if you can’t control your emotions, then someone else will do it for you. In other words, they’ll control you by controlling your emotional reaction or getting you to react emotionally. I was a sensitive and shy child, but I cared whole-heartedly about fairness. I didn’t like confrontation (I still don’t.) and avoided it if possible. (I trained myself out of that.) When people were mean or disparaging, I often cried and became incoherent.
My first experiment was “kolinahr” from Star Trek. A WordPress blogger (kirshara) has a really great post and definition: Kolinahr is an advanced Vulcan discipline that results in a state of complete emotional stability. More specifically, the need to control one’s emotions no longer exists because one has learned to block all emotional reactions to both external and internal stimuli. The greatest threat from external stimuli comes from the volatile emotions of others. Vulcans are empathic and therefore highly sensitive to the emotions of others, particularly other Vulcans. The depth and range of emotions that Vulcans feel are far greater that that of any other known species, even humans. Vulcans also have a very low threshold to pain due to highly developed neural pathways. It is for these reasons that the Vulcan child is taught from a very early age techniques to control the emotions and to develop a high tolerance to pain.
This was effective in making me more aware of what I was feeling, why I was feeling it and how to control my actions and reactions. I was a lot harder to manipulate and won more arguments (“discussions”). Over time though, this caused me to disregard my emotions and become disconnected. I lived in my head and intellectualized everything. There was “me” and there was “my body” which often thwarted or betrayed me. An extreme example of this was my first year (7th grade) of junior high school. My best friend moved away over the summer when her parents got divorced. For most of the school year, I could come home from school and replay the events in my head as though I were watching a movie recording the actions of someone else.
Over the years, I tried various hobbies to engage with the world. This included joining school clubs, living in a college dormitory, socializing, dating, sex, and marriage. When various health issues that I periodically experienced were tied to stress, I took up gardening and hummingbirds (Arizona). I tried to focus less on having things done the “right way” and or forcing events to go “according to plan.” I still try to view change as opportunity instead of a threat. When I turned 35 years old, I got my first tattoo (Georgia) to commemorate the idea that my body, mind and emotions are all me and this is who I am. I’m not suddenly going to change my body, change my health history and that was okay. I needed to give my emotional reaction, my gut instinct, my intuition weight in my decisions. But I am always going to make my decisions and react intellectually first. And all of that is okay. Who I am is okay.
Unfortunately, that person was not okay for my then husband and we eventually divorced. I’ve had several epiphanies over the course of my life. Here are a few … the big ones:
- At age 12 while getting out of the shower, I discovered mortality. I and everyone I knew would die someday.
- Stranded in a laundromat in Louisiana a couple of months into my marriage after a fight, I discovered I blamed myself for the actions of others. “He did it, but he wouldn’t have been able to if I hadn’t decided to marry him and move to Louisiana.”
- Acknowledged that I had to be a “whole” person and not just live in my head by getting a tattoo at age 35.
- In the year after my divorce: I can’t control everyone and everything around me, but I can control how I act and react. I can choose to be bitter about the divorce and his desertion. Or, I can acknowledge that he was just an imperfect person and I got to a career and many experiences I probably would not have otherwise. Divorce and rebuilding your life is not easier just because you are independent, self-sufficient and have a career. (The weight of individual issues is just variable.)
These days, I am fighting a tendency to disconnect from social and emotional stressors. Instead, I focus on artistic and intellectual pursuits (activism, writing, crafts) and plan for the future. And, I avoid confrontation when I can. Habits are never easy to break.