By David Joel Miller.
Where did all this emotional stuff come from?
Most businesses take an inventory every year. It is good to see what you have and also what is missing. For many businesses there is a step that needs to be taken before we can even begin to take that inventory, it involves cleaning up the warehouse.
Businesses accumulate a lot of junk. There are boxes and bags tucked here and there and no one remembers what is in them and where they came from. Our emotional lives get like that also.
We have an “insecurity” here and a “resentment” there. Something that is said at work triggers a memory of another time we were told that same thing and it made us feel really awful. Only we can’t remember when that other time was and how that happened. We have boxes and baggage but we don’t know what it goes to.
Before you get to the point of taking an emotional life experiences inventory, which is coming up soon, it pays to try to figure out what this stuff you are feeling is and where it came from.
In a previous post, I talked about how our minds have at least two memory systems. We have a verbal, story type memory which is stored as words, this happened and then that. We also have an emotional, feelings memory which is stored as pictures and sensations. Very likely there are other memory processes but let’s just work with these two for now.
So you see something, a single fresh flower lying on the floor next to an empty beer bottle. What does this mean? Some people will think nothing of it, pick the bottle and the flower up and maybe put some water in the bottle for the flower. Others of you will get upset, start to cry and run away without touching a thing.
Past experiences have conditioned a response to this scene. You have learned from experience what this will mean to you emotionally and you have launched into an automatic response.
One way to begin to find these past events, to make some sense of them and see why those past experiences are continuing to influence you today is to write out your autobiography. In the beginning, it is not necessary to figure out everything. Just write the memory down.
Some people start trying to interpret things from the start. Do not fall into that trap. You remember being in a room with a particular decor and you were scared. Don’t run for the “was I molested” trap. Just know that you were there and you were scared. That experience increased the risk that when you see that decor again you will feel scared again whether this is a dangerous situation or not.
So write down the first thing you remember in life, then the next. I recommend for this using a loose leaf book. You may find every time you write about something you will remember something else. There may be gaps in your memory. At this point all that matters are you are exploring you. Finding out what feelings you have had and where they may have originated.
In a later post, I will talk about how to do an inventory of these experiences and emotions. For now just work on getting back in touch with you, who you are what you have felt and how did you come to be you.
Some of these remembered experiences will provide insight. You always knew this; you just never invested the time in yourself to think this though. Some experiences in your life are just that, experiences. No emotional content. Some have left lifelong scars even if you have not been consciously aware of them.
Please don’t only look for the sad, the painful experiences. Along the way find the things that were happy times. Maybe the memory will be of a pet or a special person who was in your life if only for a while. If you had that pet, for a while, and then you lost them, think of the time when you had them. How did you feel? What did you do?
If you can find that reflected crystal of joy from that time then you can tuck it away and recreate it at will. That time you were so happy, that special place, you can get back there again when you need to.
This project, taking a look at you and how you became the person you are, will take some time. We will want to return to it again and again. Tuck those pages away and keep adding to them as you think of more you remember.
In a future post, we will look at the process of inventorying those feelings that these memories and stories produced.
So far this year, we have done a lot of work on finding out who we are, what we value, and how we became the people we are. You have also thought about who you want to be, the place you are going to find that happy life. This might be a place to take a break.
Some posts on other topics are coming up along with some answers to reader questions. But keep working on your autobiography and your other projects in the meantime. We will get back to the self-improvement program soon.
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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings, and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books
- What do you most want in your life? (counselorssoapbox.com)