To be good at anything that we do it takes practice. That should be a simple statement that we apply to all aspects of our lives but when it comes to our emotional life we seem to think that once you figure the issue it should snap into place and our behaviour should change. The problem is that we have spent most of our lives being and acting another way and the way we deal with things is ingrained in our subconscious. It takes practice to change that behaviour.
I remember when I first figured out that being emotional was not just OK but really healthy. That’s not to say that I would cry of get really angry but having a healthy emotional life that went a bit up and down was good for me. I figured that now that I knew it was OK that I should be able to just let it all out. The problem was that I was so used to being closed off and shut down that that was my default. I got frustrated that when something went wrong in my life or I had a problem with someone that I would just shut down. What was I doing wrong?
I forgot that most of my life I had been shut down emotionally and that it was so ingrained in my nervous system that once I was set off I lost conscious control. When things were going well I could be joyous, get a little upset and sometimes be a bit sad. When my life was more difficult I would shut down again. The cycle went on and on for years. When things were good I was available, when things were bad I shut down. After reading a number of books I realized that I was missing something and once I figured out something I wanted to change I had to practice.
How do you practice letting yourself be more emotionally available you ask? Well, I had to be aware that something was going on and then allow space and time to sit with it. I had to stop for a half hour a day and think about what I was going through and just allow myself to feel. It is easy for me to avoid and shut down, practicing being in touch took work. I also wrote what I was going through in case I could not connect with it. This allowed for me to look over the last few months or years and reflect. Sometimes I would not realize that what I was going through was tough and it too me a while to let it sink in. Going over it later allowed me to connect with the feelings even if at the time I was not able to.
This was a big thing for me and I started to apply it to other parts of my emotional life. I remember that a boss talked down to me and made me feel bad and I shut it out. I was pissed off any time that he was around for the next week. Once I realized that I was mad I was able to go talk to him and tell him and we worked it out. The next time I was angry it was a day later and I was able to go address it. Then it was an hour, then as I was walking away from a situation I would turn around and verbalize how I felt. Then I was aware that I was angry in the moment but still could not express it right away but I was close. And then one day it happened. This customer was being really condescending and I said “I understand that you are unhappy but taking it out on me won’t improve your service” and I walked away. It felt good and it all clicked but it took practice.
You can apply this to so many aspects of your life by taking little steps, making small expressions, reflecting on how you feel and becoming more aware of how you are in any given moment. Having the expectation that just because you understand something means that you will change you life and how you are in the world might be too much to ask of yourself all at once. Have some compassion, take your time and make the small or large steps towards mastering how you express yourself in the world. As simple and difficult as it can be, just practice.