In the past few months I have come to an overwhelming amount of personal revelations regarding my ego self and the mechanisms of my personality. Most of these revelations have been very idiosyncratic to my own circumstances, invoking a potpourri of diary entries rather than blog posts. Though, there is one recent awe-inducing epiphany which I believe could be beneficial to share. This epiphany revolves around the simple notion that if I want to understand my feelings and reactions to certain situations then I must ask myself the ironically simple but omnipotent question – why? Why do I feel this way? Why am I reacting this way?
To arrive to the answer of this very straightforward inquisition I had to respond with complete honesty regardless of whether or not the response would stir up anxiety, discomfort, or any other unpleasant emotions.
Without going into too much detail I will use a recent example in which I was addressed by an older woman at the supermarket. She had followed me inside the store to tell me that I should not leave my dog in the car when I am running an errand, regardless of how quick I am running in and out the store, regardless if I felt that it was “not that hot outside”, regardless that I left the windows cracked open. Long story short I said a polite “okay, I understand” and returned to my car with (temporary) composure. Although my public reaction was congenial to the woman, this was absolutely not my unfiltered reaction once I relayed what happened to my friends and family both on the phone and in person. To be blunt- I was pissed off. I was livid. I was swearing up a storm and shouting about how infuriating it was that this woman was “telling me what to do”. In retrospect, it was a complete overreaction. But, at the time, I saw my rage as perfectly reasonable, and I was obsessively ranting about the incident to those close to me. (And, of course, every time I explained what happened I, almost mechanically, would infuse a whole lot of defensive content about how my dog was perfectly fine and safe).
Eventually when I told this story to a very important person in my life, a person whom I am consistently honest with no matter how unpleasant my honesty may be, she asked me the simple question… Why? Why is my reaction so intense? Why am I getting so worked up? So angry? So defensive?
Right on the spot, without any internal deliberation, I spit out my unhinged answer, “Because! Because I love my dog and I would never want to hurt my dog and… and…” in what I can only describe as a flash of pure enlightenment I knew exactly why I was so intensely bothered by this interaction, and my furrowed expression rapidly crumbled into tears, “And my cat just died!”
Everything made sense. Everything made sense in a way that, now, looking back, I can’t believe I didn’t see before.
You see, I have been deeply grieving the loss of my cat, a feline family member whose role in my life I can’t adequately describe in this one sentence. So far it has been one full month of heart wrenching crying and laughing while honoring the life of my cat through conversation and shared memories.
As the tears rolled down my face I understood why being addressed about my dog had been so intense for me. I was overly upset because the extremely touchy subject of one of my pets had been presented, so my grieving mind and recovering heart translated this woman’s well-intended words into harsh criticism about how well I take care of my pets.
If there is a primary lesson I can relay from this personal revelation it is this- when you think you are “mad at a person” or having a reaction to another person’s words or actions, you are not feeling an emotion at another person but a discomfort within yourself that has been stirred. Other people do not make you feel. You make you feel.
– Valerie Parente (9-23-16)