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Many cultures, including our own, tell us that the longest journey we ever make is the journey from head to heart. Anyone who has spent time living in thinking mode knows the truth of this statement. We spare ourselves the work of feeling when we crowd out our emotional responses with constant information gathering, analysis, and judgment. The truth is, our emotions distress us, because they often come with an awareness of our vulnerabilities. It feels much safer to give ourselves over to thinking about our lives and the world. And yet, without the guidance of our hearts and emotions, we are nothing more than machine-like problem solvers and problem creators. Given the number of crises we must address address today, it is easy to conclude that very few people have made the journey from head to heart.
The Anger Reaction
Anger is one of the most easily accessed human emotions because our culture tolerates and even rewards anger in a way it that it does not tolerate and reward our other emotions such as fear, grief, sadness, and even love. Because of anger’s relatively acceptable status in our culture, it is the first thing we feel when something doesn’t go our way, for example when a person speaks to us in a diminishing or otherwise offensive tone. Anger is the ego’s best defense because it allows us to blame others and avoid personal responsibility for what is going on. “S/he made me so mad!” is a phrase we’ve all used at one time or another, and yet no one can make us mad. Our own discomfort with the whole range of human emotional responses is what makes us mad because anger is the emotion we’re most comfortable feeling.
That we are more comfortable with anger than, say, grief, is evident everywhere. We don’t cry when corporations shut down and leave our communities high and dry. We get furious, explosively so, blaming corporate greed and government corruption. Righteous indignation, anger’s most acceptable public face, makes us look good while the target of our anger looks bad.
Anger has its place of course. The effective expression of anger, something we call assertiveness, has been responsible for many positive changes in our world. But explosive anger and anger that fumes but does not ignite the fires of action are highly dangerous forms of this emotion.
That anger is a killer is no longer disputed by medical research. The American Heart Association has published many studies confirming anger’s deleterious health effects (read one such study at http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/101/17/2034.ful.) Confirming the negative effects of anger on the human heart are recent studies proving that heart disease is the number one killer of all ethnic groups in the United States. Quite literally, we are dying of broken hearts en masse.
Saving our Lives by Making the Longest Journey
Learning to live from both head and heart is the most important work we can undertake. Balancing critical thought with emotional authenticity is something that will improve our lives at every level. The simplest way to begin is to ask, when tempted to explode in anger, “What am I really feeling?” The second question to ask is, “Why am I afraid of this feeling?”
In childhood many of us are humiliated for expressing fear and sadness. The amazing popularity of Inside Out, the animated film illustrating how we reward perky and joyful and shut down sadness, illustrates our growing awareness of our vital need to express all our emotions. (For a critical essay on the film, visit https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/beyond-heroes-and-villains/201506/inside-out-emotional-truths-way-pixar .) When breaking out of the anger prison, it is useful to “take a sad day” consciously, not in any public way, but privately, with a journal as a close confidante. “I’m sad about . . . ,” can be a challenging statement to complete when we begin to befriend all of our emotions, especially if we have been hiding behind anger or its shadow, indifference.
The Vital Importance of Consciousness
Consciousness is our ally during this process of balancing head and heart responses to life. Becoming aware of the emotional subtleties of charged situations is a first step toward emotional authenticity. Sometimes fresh awareness or insight is so powerful it feels like a punch to the gut; sometimes these realizations make the eyes flood and the heart swell with joy.
As we make our journey from head to heart, it is important to remember the partnership we are fostering. Critical thinking doesn’t fly out the window to be replaced by unfiltered emotional response; indeed, an overly emotional way of being in the world is as dangerous as the head trips that encourage cruelty. What does contribute to our well being is the balanced response of heart and head; this partnership prompts clear thinking and compassionate, effective action, something we all need.
Until next week
Jane Buchan, MA, AAMET Advanced Practitioner, firstname.lastname@example.org, 802-533-9277
Jane is a Learning Coach specializing in neutralizing cultural age, gender, and race constructs to support learners of every age. To engage her coaching services, please contact Jane by phone (802) 533-9277 or email, email@example.com. Be sure to put Coaching Query in the subject line.