Wednesday, August 24, 2011

How you make me feel

"...people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."  - Maya Angelou  

I ran across this quote today as I was searching for something else.  The words stopped me in my tracks and made me think.  How many times I have said to someone (whether in a positive or negative tone), "You make me feel ... " and proceeded to say an emotion or use some sort of comparison to describe it.   How many times I have said or done things that I hoped would last, when all it took was a simple act of kindness to communicate how dear someone was to me.  Those times when someone has told me how I made them feel have either been overwhelmingly joyful or overwhelmingly sad, depending on how I made them feel (obviously).  That's a tremendous amount of power that one person can have over another, sometimes without even being aware of it!

And how many times someone's behavior or opinion of me has made me feel this or that way, and I've denied it, shoved it down inside of me and pretended it didn't exist.  I figured that if I ignored it, it would go away.  It never did; it just sat there and festered.  

Or I would get trapped in the emotion, not be able to confront the person, and get lulled into a false sense of my own importance (or unimportance).  

When you think about it, emotions are pretty powerful things and sometimes they can be overwhelming. But they are what they are. They are neither good nor bad. They just are.

A couple of days ago, while talking to a friend, I mentioned that emotions are temporary states designed to alert us to what's going on in our inner life.  They are meant to last for a short time and act as warnings, guide-posts.  Like traffic lights.  When we get into trouble with our emotions, it usually happens in one of two ways: either we deny they're there (and they will surface another way - usually by making us sick so we finally WILL pay attention!) or we hang onto them longer than is necessary to locate the source of the emotion and process it.  Imagine, I said, climbing up on a traffic light and hanging onto it for the rest of the day.  Emotions tell us when to stop, when to be careful and when it is safe to go ahead or change direction.  It's okay to have them; in fact, NOT having them is just as dangerous as hanging onto them for dear life.  

Part of recovery for me, though, is learning where I stop and where other people begin, where others stop and I begin.  Those boundaries are never more important than in the realm of emotions that are based on what someone else does or says.  And the time it takes to process such emotions is in direct proportion to how deeply what they said or did impacts me.  

Nobody lives in a vacuum.  It is important, though, to be aware that the possibility exists for great joy or great harm to be done by words and deeds.  "Death and life," said King Solomon, "are in the power of the tongue."  Being aware that someone's words can take on a life of their own and can actually generate a self-fulfilling prophecy ... can help me to be able to evaluate whether something that someone says is true and decide whether it applies to me.  Then I can make the choice to accept and receive it - or reject it and not give it any power over me.  Learning that other people's opinions of me were their business and not mine, that I didn't have to let them "make me feel" this way or that way if what they said wasn't true - this was a revelation, an epiphany for me.  

This is part of what living life "inside out" is all about.  It means that I am not bound any more by the things people put onto me from the outside (like grave-wrappings). It means I live from what is inside of me, outward - grounded in my relationship with God and with myself, open (and yes, vulnerable) to those around me, being honest with myself, with God and with them - and willing to admit when I make a mistake - feeling what I feel and living from that core, from the heart.  

When I do, the grave-clothes start coming loose and dropping to the ground.  And my spirit can breathe.

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