I’ve been contemplating the way we run from presence, in all of the ways we have been taught and have so finely crafted for ourselves. Whether it be with work, substances or social media, our dominant Western and white supremacist culture has us valuing and investing energy and time into independence, yet the culture doesn’t offer the tools it takes for us to handle everything on our own. In the paradox of figuring it all out for ourselves and thriving, we must open ourselves to community and vulnerability – values that challenge our dominant culture’s functioning.
Dichotomous thinking, a thinking that we must either do this or that or we can only be this or that, forces us to choose between two or more different ends of an assumed spectrum, creating a division that implies superiority for the chosen and inferiority for the rejected. In all of the ways that we adhere to this thinking style, I’m going to focus on emotions and our relationship with them and offer an alternative style of thinking, which is called dialectical thinking.
We often label certain emotions as “bad” and others as “good”, and when we participate in this thinking, we culturally and individually invite shame and distance into our process of “bad” and our “good” emotions get placed on an unfair pedestal.
When we hit layers of emotions that feel uncomfortable, we run.
We run and run and find distractions along the way to justify our reasons for running and even get culturally rewarded for doing so, and then sometimes we run head first into the desolate, dry lands of stigma and pathology when we haven’t listened to ourselves along the way. “I’m not supposed to feel this way.” “I’ve been working so hard in therapy to be happy, why am I still sad?” “Why am I angry at my partner? They’ve been so kind to me.” “What’s wrong with me?” The more we ask those questions of ourselves, the easier it becomes to think the same of others. We disconnect from our “bad” feeling because it’s terrifying and then we disconnect from others when they experience “bad” because they are too close to the thing we’re terrified of.
What are we missing when that distance is activated with “bad” emotions? What would it be like to invite the “bad” emotions just as easily as we do with the “good”? What if we created and held space for ourselves to practice that and shared it in community with others? What if we chose not to label certain emotions as “bad” or “good” at all?
Emotions are messengers and they will keep carrying their message to us until we listen to them.
We can try to drown them out with whatever is accessible to us at the time, but we have to feel them to hear them and often they have something important to say. In dialectical thinking, we don’t need to choose one thing. We can be with the entirety. And guess what? We are capable of doing this. It’s the fear of what we think our emotions are telling us before even listening to and understanding them that lies to us and tells us we are not. And the more we understand that our emotions and bodies have a language all their own, the more we’ll be able to speak with them and expand our understanding of ourselves and those around us.
Where do we start? With vulnerability. With our hearts. With our innate humanness that knows how to feel and listen and trust our deepest and most authentic, whole selves. We are human, first and always.
Resources on Cultivating Compassionate Presence
Colleen Ladd is an Affordable Counseling Intern at People House. She enjoys reading cheesy thrillers, writing about her life, cooking vegan and vegetarian food, eating vegan and vegetarian food, traveling the world (when there’s not a pandemic), learning/expanding her scope, gazing at the stars, random dance parties, seizing opportunities of joy and weird, practicing presence, standing up with others in the fight for social equity, and making her friends and family laugh. Colleen can be reached at email@example.com or (720) 295-3569.