How do you communicate with an emotion? This is not about talking ABOUT your feelings, but talking TO your feelings. It’s important, because emotional intelligence depends on a healthy two way communication loop; knowing which emotions are speaking and what messages they’re sending, and effectively sending messages back to them. So how do you to get the message through to a feeling?
Words are so logical, so left brain. How can words get through to a feeling which is more of a right brain experience?
Naming emotions is a good first step. When our kids were little, they wore t shirts with cute little emotional faces on them. They had Italian words for various emotions under each face, which was a good reminder that the faces of emotion are universal even if the words change. We encouraged the kids to name their feelings, and match them to faces. But it’s the next step where the communication seems so important. Once you’ve named a feeling, how do you reframe it? Once you know what it is, how do you show it that you’ve got its back, hear it and don’t need it to control you?
Some emotions, especially fear, are part of the ancient parts of the brain. Fear is a biggie, a stubborn evolutionary carry over; not rational in many instances but still insistent and debilitating. How do you communicate with fear?
You have to get beyond words. Metaphors and images that push beyond words, communicate directly with the subconscious parts of the mind which is where fear loiters. Metaphor is powerful. Author Orson Scott Card said, “Metaphors have a way of holding the most truth in the least space.”
It’s no accident that we talk about being as happy as a pig in slop or as mad as a cut snake (an Aussie classic). It’s far more effective to say that you’re gutted about a disappointment than sad and more powerful to say you’re fuming than just angry. What you’re feeling may well be part of the sadness or anger family. But sad doesn’t describe the half of it. It’s too mechanical, almost formal like calling a good friend Mr or Mrs. Emotions need nicknames to really get through to them. The word “sad” is Greek to the subconscious mind. It’s just a sound, and metaphors help to translate words into pictures that the mind can process.
Or else maybe you’re not even sure what the emotion is. If you compare a vague feeling to something tangible, it can help. If you feel disoriented and in a funk, you might say it feels like a roller coaster reminding you to slow down and regain balance.
Colors can communicate with the subconscious. Maybe you’re feeling blue, or red hot passion or green with envy. The powerful thing about colors is that they are all shades of each other. Even by matching an emotion with a color, it can shift, like nature’s colors that are always changing. Emotions pass through color’s shades, like the rise and fall of seasons.
If you’re living with grief, think of it like a wave. Like a wave, it subsides with time. When the wave of grief feels overwhelming, stay with it and remind yourself that “this too shall pass” because that’s what waves do. Fight the waves, and you will exhaust yourself. Go with them, and they will subside more quickly and you will become stronger with every passing wave. Nothing can be transformed until it is fully accepted.
Pulitzer prize winning author Jeffrey Eugenides made a great observation about emotions in his novel Middlesex.
Emotions, in my experience, aren’t covered by single words. I don’t believe in “sadness,” “joy,” or “regret.” Maybe the best proof that the language is patriarchal is that it oversimplifies feeling. I’d like to have at my disposal complicated hybrid emotions, Germanic train-car constructions like, say, “the happiness that attends disaster.” Or: “the disappointment of sleeping with one’s fantasy.” I’d like to show how “intimations of mortality brought on by aging family members” connects with “the hatred of mirrors that begins in middle age.” I’d like to have a word for “the sadness inspired by failing restaurants” as well as for “the excitement of getting a room with a minibar.” I’ve never had the right words to describe my life, and now that I’ve entered my story, I need them more than ever.
Now there are some masterful metaphors. Most of us aren’t Pulitzer Prize winners. But its not about the quality of your metaphor. It’s about authentic metaphors. It doesn’t even need to make sense to anyone else because its not primarily about talking ABOUT your feelings. It’s about talking TO them. When it comes to emotions, its okay to have your own private language; whatever makes you feel more empowered.
Next time fear rises up from your reptilian brain, think of it exactly like that. As a reptile! It’s a dinosaur. It may have a warning for you. But if you’ve looked both ways before crossing and fear is still roaring at you, remind it that it went extinct many years ago. You heard it but can take it from here thank you very much.
Get creative with your emotions. They’re right brain sensations, so let your right brain help to harness them. Draw them, sing them, and act them out. Communicate with them through body language, gestures and facial expressions. Get on their wave length, and you can start to tap their energy rather than being zapped by their energy.