Where do emotions — fear, loneliness, anger — live in the Body Mind Spirit trinity?
Too tricky? What about a symptom of these emotions? Crying is a such physical thing — so are emotions of the body? Or do the mind and spirit partner in the process? Culturally, we are taught to be suspicious of emotions, of being too emotional. As a result most Western men are separated from their tears. Big boys don’t dry. Express emotions — aside from disgust, triumph, or indifference — and you face a litany of labels sissy, hysterical, worked up, losing grip, too emotional. And just like that a person, or personal experience is minimized. Ability, maturity, credibility: instantly in question.
This week I gave my statement at a hearing for a “Potentially dangerous” dog. Before the hearing the reporting officer called me. The officer told me that the dog owner had contacted her several times after I filed my complaint. Each time the owner said something new. Her dog was never off leash. I had been walking on private land. Some woman was harassing her dog.
Knowing this, I felt distressed (angry + anxious) as I braced myself to tell the truth and be called a liar.
The hearing: I report all of the details
Encounter #1: I walk my loop. In the wild and quiet space away from the roads I see a woman with a Great Dane and say Please have your dog on a leash. The woman shows me the leash in her hand and tells me lots of people walk dogs in the area. Just so I know. She doesn’t leash the dog. The dog noses me up the butt. I blurt, Whoa, that’s offensive! Your dog just stuck her nose up my butt. No reply.
Encounter #2: In the wild again. I see the woman and the off-leash Great Dane. I pick up a walking stick. I overtake the woman. She tells me I should have the sense to walk somewhere else when I see her on the trail. She calls me a dumb ass. Brandishing my newly acquired walking stick I announce that if the dog comes at me, I will hit it. (Not my wisest idea.) The dog doesn’t come at me. I do not use my stick for protection.
Encounter #3: In the neighborhood leading to the wild. The barking Great Dane charges me. I stand my ground with my walking stick. I shout Your dog should be on a leash! You are breaking the law!! The dog owner replies You should be on a leash!
I report Encounter #3 to Animal Services. I am told an officer will visit the owner and educate her on the leash laws.
Encounter #4: Several weeks later I walk without a stick. Suddenly I am face to face with the off-lead Great Dane. Completely surprised I stand in the path and cry. The owner sees me, Oh no, she says. Hands to my face I sob. Then woman passes, Just so you know, she’s never hurt anyone.
I call Animal Services to report again. And now we’re at a hearing.
I give a full account. I include it all: the nose up my butt, the walking stick, shouting, and finally tears. Then it is the dog owner’s turn to make a statement.
Her first words are, “Everything she said is true.”
I blink. Oh? Ok. Keep breathing.
She goes on to say all of her neighbors walk their dogs off-leash in the wilderness space they call The Royo. They all respect each other. If I don’t like wild places — with snakes and coyotes — I should walk somewhere else. She would like to know when I’ll be walking so she can avoid me. She has asked the Animal Service officer where I live because she feels threatened.I have emotional outbreaks [sic]. She’s considered a restraining order. I stalked her to find her house. It’s clear that I’m very emotional. She is worried. She is the one distressed.
Wait. What? All that I’ve said is true. But because I have shown strong emotions I am suspect? She feels unsafe? I know where she lives in her fenced and gated house and she’s worried? (The officer found her by searching files for the dog’s name — which I heard the woman shout and watched the dog ignore — filed in that neighborhood. Not because I knew the address.)
As a child I cried when afraid, when tired, when scolded. “Turn off the crocodile tears. Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about,” my father would order. I tried. In the long shadow of his disapproval I tried to turn off my emotions and shut off my tears so he would not be angry. So I could please him.
I could not find the muscle to stop my heart from pounding, flailing about in confusion, or breaking before pouring down my face. Crying is so much more than a physical thing. It is possible to stop the tears, to numb emotions, but I never mastered it. Those who do stop their tears stop much more.
Before I learned this truth, I hated myself for being emotional, for failing to control tears and repeatedly having wrong feelings. I felt anger. I could not oblige my father. I could not do what he wanted me to do, or be something he expected me to be (a repeating pattern in our relationship). For much of my life my tears came with shame and self-loathing.
Back to the Hearing
Emotion. Fear and anger expressed in shouting. Anxiety expressed in tears. That’s what the owner of the Great Dane used against me. It was surreal. The woman admits that she walks her Great Dane in a public place without a leash. But I’m the suspicious one. My account should be questioned because I’m the only one who’s ever complained. Clearly, I’m too emotional.
Sometimes we can not access words to explain our emotions, our tears, our anger. This doesn’t mean they are invalid. As we listen to all the parts of ourselves, Body Mind Spirit — the raw, messy bits included — we can choose the practice of self-compassion. For more on self-compassion Click Here.
The charge of too emotional sank in. Talk about a personal trigger. But I stayed very calm. I reached for all the compassion I could find. For me. For the other woman. Asked if I had a response, I found words, “I agree that I have been emotional. I’d like to put things in context. About four years ago I was walking this same area. A large dog named Valentino ran from his owner — someone who lives in the same neighborhood. Off leash, Valentino ran at me, and bit me.” The owner of the Great Dane said she knows Valentino. She had no further reply.
A determination will be made in a week’s time.
How do we unlearn self-loathing and shame about our emotions? For me unlearning has included work with a counselor, lots of time with people who see me as broken and still worthy of love, and a growing practice of self-compassion. These transformed and continue to transform my relationship to my too-emotional-self.
Anger, sadness, frustration, loneliness. Emotions — yours and mine — are not a liability, somehow suspect, at odds with reason and logic. When we own them & sit with them, we can learn from them. I do not feel angry for feeling angry. I do not feel shame for tears or fears. I feel the feelings and I feel very alive.
Where do emotions live in the Trinity? In the Body, Mind, and Spirit. Have you developed coping skills and learned to distrust and distance yourselves from your emotions (or body, or soul)?
How will you relate to your emotions to live more whole-heartedly, more wholly, & more holy as the healthy, vibrant trinity you are made to be?
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Read earlier essays in this series on Personal Anger: