My Feelings Are Not My Enemies

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From On Being: “I don’t need to look far for the source of my opinions about emotions. Then, as now, I lived in a culture that applauds those who stay under control. I knew from school to church to what I saw on the nightly news that to describe someone as ’emotional’ was rarely a compliment. Then, as now, we were told that we wouldn’t be heard until we ‘calmed down.’ Then, as now, this was a common criticism of marginalized people seeking a place at the table of power. The message was the same: the path to better decisions and solutions lay through reason and rationality alone.

I spent much of my early adulthood caught in the gap between my emotional disposition and the calm exterior I was supposed to project. In journalism, my first field, it meant valuing cool objectivity; in academia, it meant privileging broad, all-encompassing theory (the more rationalistic the better) over the messy, felt particulars of individual lives, a messiness that was very present inside me.

Through the years, anger and sadness have warred inside me, and when I suppressed both feelings they reemerged as uncertainty and self-reproach, anxiety and depression.

No one event changed my way of thinking. I turned to medication, therapy, and self help groups. But along the way, mainly because I couldn’t escape my feelings, I began to pay more attention to them, to listen to what they had to tell me, and I started to see what my feelings did for me and not just what I thought they did to me.”

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