Today’s chat will focus on a concept I introduced in a post last night, emotional minimalism. The idea behind emotional minimalism is not to be completely numb to feelings but rather to process them in a timely, mindful, and healthy manner thereby traveling light with your emotions instead of dragging a ton of unnecessary baggage along with you.
Many of us stand frozen in our paths because we are afraid of disappointing someone or being called out as a hypocrite when what we do does not back up what we say. Here’s the thing – how people react to you is not your gig. It’s theirs. They choose how to judge you and nothing you do or say will change how their judgement of you. You cannot repack or carry their emotional baggage. The only baggage you are responsible for is yours.
One of my earliest favourite movies is The Mission with Jeremy Irons and Robert DeNiro. Irons plays a Jesuit Priest in the Amazon. DeNiro is a plantation owner who has some society debts to pay. He appeals to Irons and follows him into the wilderness, carrying a large load of items on his back as they trek through the jungle. Despite falling multiple times as they struggle up a particularly steep hill, DeNiro refuses to cut the load off. Finally, after a fall when DeNiro is almost at the top, Irons cuts the load from DeNiro’s back. DeNiro looks at Irons in disbelief, almost angry that he has taken his penance from him. Then, DeNiro sits down and cries in the jungle, mourning the loss of the load and, it seemed, his gratefulness for having been relieved of by a priest. (Disclaimer – it has been quite some time since I have seen the movie and this is how I remember the basic scene/storyline of this aspect of the movie. Please feel free to correct me if I am wrong)
What if we were able to do that for someone? For ourselves? Lighten the load a little by refusing to carry emotional baggage with us? Imagine if we could truly start each day anew with no baggage whatsoever on our hearts or our minds? A sort of blank slate, if you will.
But wouldn’t you have to be emotionally frigid to do that?
No. What you need to be is mindful of how you allow things to ebb and flow into and out of your life, ensuring a balance of positive and negative – not allowing either to outdo the other. (For I believe that if we do not know sorrow and pain we cannot be truly grateful for the wonderful and amazing).
So how does one achieve this minimalistic state of a baggage free emotional life?
Here are a few steps I have discovered to living a (mostly) baggage free emotional life:
1) Deal with things as they happen – Don’t hold things in. Process events as they occur. Talk about them, write about them, get it out of your system. The longer things sit, the more they fester and you don’t want that creepy Uncle from The Adams Family perched on your back, do you? No. Of course you don’t. So before your problems sprout arms, legs, start wearing a holocaust cloak and go bald, deal with them before you turn into the Hunchback of Notre Dame because Uncle Fester is camped out on your back.
2) Do not let experiences jade you – Just because one situation with one person turned out a particular way one time, do not let that be the standard by which you judge similar situations with different people in the future. People are all different and sometimes, they might surprise you with their reactions. We all know what “assume” breaks down into, right? And we are not asses. Well, not all of us.
3) Listen to what the other party is saying – Don’t sit there hearing them as if they were the teacher on Charlie Brown while you formulate what you want to say to defend yourself. Actually listen to their concerns. When they are done, take a few minutes to respond, beginning your response with a rephrasing of what they said so they know you heard them. Validation goes a long way and repeating what they said helps you better understand what they’re feeling as well because you’re saying it in your voice.
4) Do not have conversations about important situations when you are angry – Trust me on this one. Wait until you have calmed down and then talk. Discussing things when you are both angry never ends well. It is wiser to wait until you have both calmed down and are capable of having a rational discussion. Otherwise, you just end up having a talk that looks like this (I don’t really like the parenting in this video as they delay dealing with the child’s outburst but it is a perfect example of what an angry conversation will accomplish – nothing):
5) Be brave enough to admit when you are wrong. We are not always on the side of right in a discussion, behaviour, or life. We screw up because we are human. (To be human is to err, correct?) It takes a lot of chutzpah to admit you are wrong. Don’t admit you’re wrong if you know you’re not – that’s not cool either. But when you are wrong, admit it, and ask at the same time how you can fix the damage that has been done. Accountability goes a LONG way.
6) When you feel wronged, say something. Staying silent harms everyone, especially you. This is reminiscent of the first step, yes. But I also want to encourage you to phrase things like this, “When X happened, it made me feel like Y. How can we work to improve how we do this so no one has to feel like Y again?” This way, you are not being accusatory and offering to form a partnership to improve how things are managed in the future. (There are certain situations in which it is best, of course, to say something to someone other than the person who wronged you such as cases of abuse, etc, but still – say something to someone who can help you work through it or escape the situation. Do not continue to suffer in silence.)
7) Remember that how people react to you is absolutely not your gig – it is theirs. This is the best piece of advice a therapist ever gave me. Living by it is difficult at first but once you start to do so, you realize that as long as you do your very best to resolve a situation or to share how you feel, how people choose to react to that is their gig. You absolutely positively do not own how anyone chooses to react to you. That’s all them. End of story.
Do I guarantee these steps will lead to a minimalistic emotional lifestyle free of all that baggage you have been lugging around? No.
But it’s a damn good start.
What changes will you make in your life this week to move toward a more minimalistic emotional lifestyle? What do you think would be the most difficult thing for you to let go of emotionally? Share below!