Emotions, Emojis, And Change

Summer mornings are, metaphorically, big smiley faces for early risers. Everything is so still!   The sun is palely filtered through the lilacs, grass is sparkly with dew, air is fresh, and bird songs are slightly muted. There is a new beginning feel to very early morning that speaks peace to the mind.  It is a time to sit on the porch and absorb the serenity before the day’s schedule begins.  For me, this early morning experience has, sadly, become rare. 

I was – formerly —– a morning person.  My best energy was before noon. As a child, I was up with the birds and downstairs before breakfast. When our sons were growing up, I was always a little annoyed if someone invaded my quiet space between 6 and 7 AM.  I’m not sure whether things changed with aging, or a need to catch up on eons of lost sleep, but I now struggle to get out of bed before 8 AM, and then it takes me a couple of hours to orient myself to the day.  My energy (when I have some) comes late afternoon and early evening.    So, if you are fortunate enough to greet the day early, with civility and even joy —- be very glad. 

 Gladness was all around when we recently attended a great-nephew’s wedding.  The ceremony, held on the shore of a small lake, was lovely.  At the reception, we sat with family and enjoyed catching up.  There were smiles everywhere, for who isn’t happy at a wedding? Of course, emotions may be all over the place over at this sort of event. We were pleased for this happy couple. We were also a bit sad and nostalgic, missing those who are no longer with us and wishing they could have been there.  We enjoyed hearing family news, but realized how much we miss seeing siblings, nephews, nieces more regularly.  We shared stories that brought laughter —and a tear or two.  And —- surely this is an “age thing” —– we were overwhelmingly glad when we reached our own driveway, saw our cats in the window, could slip into comfy shoes and talk over the day.  A wide gamut of emotions!

The “always-helpful” and inventive computer programmers offer emojis, those little faces, as graphic attempts to express feelings. As with most computer helps, they don’t always succeed, since mirroring what we feel isn’t easy.  Emotions are odd, hard to describe, sometimes scary, and sometimes mixed.    

Recently, in the past 10 years, too many raw emotions seem to be running rampant, out of control, exploding into public behavior that is careless at best and unlawful/dangerous/lethal at worst.  A two-year-old throwing a tantrum is understandable, but that same behavior should be unusual and unacceptable for a 50-year-old, who then endangers a whole plane-full of people.  This is a frequent- enough happening that all new plane construction will, by law, include a second security door between passengers and pilots.   Toddler behavior in adults is not a pretty thing!

Children, in my era, were taught to hide emotions and, in moderation, this may be useful. Self-expression, while freeing, should have courteous limits.   But there is a down-side.  Too often, as we hide our thoughts from others, we end up hiding how we really feel from ourselves.  If we are always denying our emotions, we never learn to use them appropriately.  People who appear stoic can explode into violent behavior akin to a pressure-cooker that has built up too much steam.  Some, going to the opposite extreme, become frozen inside; so unaware of their feelings that they are unable to empathize with others.

During the Victorian Era, ladies supposedly met every situation with calm poise. Or, if they couldn’t manage that, they could have the “vapors” and quietly faint away.   Gentlemen were allowed more leeway, but neither were they to weep or gnash their teeth.  They could challenge someone to a ritualized duel.  So, shooting or skewering someone was acceptable, but absolutely no tearing of the hair or jumping up and down in rage, and NO tears!  The standard was “Keep calm and carry on!”   

Now, it seems the pendulum has swung 180 degrees; emotions (real or otherwise) are spilling all over the stage and out of the audience, during performances of various musical groups, while in the real world, there is mindless rioting in the streets, people are crude and hostile on public media, and there are blatantly ridiculous talk shows where people seem to be without morals or manners.  Compassion, gentle-ness, and consideration for others have, apparently, lost value and been replaced with “out there ugly.”

My father was evidently steeped in those stoic Victorian ideas, because he felt that most emotions, especially crying, should be private.  I was sent to my room many a time because I cried. To cope, I indulged in unusual, but effective childhood venting.  Most farms, at that time, had their own trash repositories —- the “farm dump.”  There went the jangled parts and pieces of old equipment, broken toys, discarded dishes, etc.  It was probably an archeologist’s treasure trove.  When my frustration with life reached a boiling point, I would trek through the orchard, through apple trees to the expansive hole in the ground holding discards.  There I would smash plates and cups with enthusiasm.  Amazing how this activity calmed my psyche!   Sadly, I no longer have access to a “dump” and do not feel it is quite appropriate to smash dishes in the kitchen {SIGH!}!  And mostly I no longer need this outlet.  

I didn’t know my paternal grandmother well, but remembering her stern face, I’m guessing Dad was never allowed to learn what a cleansing relief tears can bring the body and mind.  Tears are part of our human make up for a reason.  People who do not cry, or who feel uncomfortable expressing tender emotions, are badly limited in their relationships.  Growing up with the crying-is-bad attitude has certainly created barriers for me. My intellect tells me it is fine to sob out anger or grief, but my subconscious, harking back to those old taboos, tells me otherwise.  

I think if children were taught to look at what they are feeling, and to talk about those feelings, that they would be healthier.  We didn’t do this enough with our own children; I wish we had persevered when, due to some extenuating circumstances, it was hard.  Holding in distress, anger, confusion and sadness generally leads to spurts of emotion called melt-downs, in which emotions are so tangled that unknotting them would take a Houdini.  If emotions are not handled with wisdom, they could work their way out in some harmful way.  “Beneath every behavior there is a feeling.  And beneath each feeling is a need.  And when we meet that need {or at least recognize it} rather than focus on the behavior, we begin to deal with the cause, not the symptom.”*  Children need to learn from caring adults that one can feel many things but it isn’t necessary to act on them.  Children shouldn’t be taught that feelings are bad, but should analyze them and learn what to do with them.  And they (we all) need the assurance that emotions will pass, eventually. Understanding makes coping easier.   

I strongly disapprove of my father’s attitude toward crying, but neither do I think we have the right to inflict our bad vibes on the world around us.  Snarling and emoting at innocent bystanders is ill-mannered and crass.  By the time we reach adulthood, we should have ceased the screaming and pouting, at least, in public. Ecclesiastes (Book of wisdom) tells us that there is a time and a season for everything.  So, for benefit of the world around us, and our own good health, we need to take charge of our emotions. 

One of my current emotions is frustration with my time and energy.  I’m moving slower and energy runs out like sand in an hourglass.  I sometimes forget that goals and purposes do change several times over a life-span.  Perhaps I should, instead of losing patience with what I can’t do, be re-thinking my “now”.  All through young adulthood, to marriage and child care, to a career, to retirement, I’ve been busy, busy, busy with various activities.  Perhaps — just perhaps I should now be dancing to a different tempo.  Just last week, a friend kindly informed me that I need to stop growling and speak to myself as I’d speak to a friend — then take my own advice —- to re-balance my life.  Hmm…..

She is right! From some work in therapy a few years ago, and from current reading, I should be asking myself ( you could ask yourself😊 ) a few questions: 1) What or who, do I have to live for?  2) If the juice is gone out of my life, what might be new, juicy expressions of how to have fun {rollercoasters now being off my list}?  3) Do I have people with whom I can share life-stories and daily life? 4) Could I (or you) take a few trips down memory lane to remind ourselves of times when life was zesty?  What am I missing now?  If I can’t jitterbug, can I waltz? These exercises are starter-buttons that may allow fresh thoughts and ideas into my, or your, thinking.  

The truest reminder here is that we are never, ever useless.  If naught else, we can send out affirming thoughts/prayers for people and the world.  We can delight in children’s laughter, in friends who tell us truth, in the natural world around us and quiet summer mornings.  The golden lace of wild parsnip along the roadsides, white clouds of sweet clover, lavender-blue chicory and July dawns remind us that there is always something to enjoy; always something for which to be thankful and always something beautiful. And that grumbling is an inappropriate response to life.  

Carol writes from her home in Spencer She may be reached at: carol42wilde@htva.net.   

*Ashleigh Warner —Family psychologist. 

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