By Jeff Taylor
“I have this odd feeling in my stomach. It is like my stomach is trying to tell me something but I can’t quite tell yet what it is. It doesn’t hurt but it’s kind of a rumbling. I think it wants me to know I need something, but I don’t know what. What do you think my stomach is telling me?”
When I am working with a child, helping them start to understand their emotions, that is often time how I begin the discussion. Of course, they then look at me with a bewildered expression that conveys just how incredibly dense I must be. It gets worse when I follow my previous statement up with the question, “What do you think my stomach is telling me?”
“Umm. Duh. You’re hungry.”
“Oh!” I reply, in a tone which show how relieved I am to have this mystery solved. But then I follow it up by asking, “What do you do when you are hungry?”
“Wow! So that’s kind of like our emotions . . . our emotions give us signals to help us know when something is REALLY important. That makes sense!”
The analogy is apt. Our emotions, just like the growling of our stomachs, give us signals that need to be interpreted accurately and responded to wisely.
A key part of maturity for each of is emotional maturity. It can be broken down into two parts:
AWARENESS. Emotional maturation starts with an awareness of what I am feeling. I am feeling . . ? Tired? Irritable? Sad? Happy?
ATTRIBUTION. Why am I feeling this? “I am feeling tired and irritable because I have been … pushing myself too hard? my feelings were hurt?” Or was it something else?
To put it succinctly, the two questions to ask yourself, in a variety of situations, are. . .
What am I feeling?
Why am I feeling it?
So, what is emotional immaturity? Well, if emotional immaturity is the expectation that someone else is supposed to do something to fix my negative emotions then emotional maturity is being aware of what we are feeling, why we are feeling it and making wise decisions in response to our emotions. It is also a key part of finding deep meaning and fulfillment.
However, it is crucial to remember that our emotions are not always accurate! Our feelings may occasionally send us messages that will lead us down the wrong path. An example of this truth is something I have told my clients for years--DEPRESSION IS AN EMOTIONAL LIE. When we are depressed our emotions tell us to isolate, to not try and that all we do is fail. Recognizing the faulty aspect of this message assists us in making wise decisions which will move us beyond the lies that our feelings sometimes convey.
There is a plaque in my office that says, “Success is the sum of small efforts repeated day in and day out”.
An important aspect of these daily efforts is cultivating the ability to read the road signs of our emotions in an accurate way by identifying a road sign that is telling us something that in not true and adjusting to head in the correct direction.
Here a few ideas to assist in being able to read the road signs accurately:
Keep an emotional journal during a twenty-four-hour period. Identify strong emotions and whether they are conveying something that is true or not. Then write down the decisions you are going to make in response.
Ask yourself several times over the period of a week. WHAT am I feeling? WHY am I feeling it? Strengthen that emotional maturity muscle.
Identify specific areas where you have been misreading the emotional signage and the decisions you are going to make in response.