HOW ARE YOU?! What are you feeling right now?
[Tired. Hungry. Stressed. Busy.]
Okay, but how are you feeeeeeeeeeling. Set aside your physical self and dig a little deeper. How are you really feeling?
[…ummmm… I don’t think we have that much time.]
I understand. I don’t have time to answer that question, either. When someone asks me, “What are you feeling right now,” an honest answer would take an hour.
It’s not that simple of a question.
WE are not that simple. We are women and mothers and friends and sisters and lovers and wives and girlfriends and daughters and entrepreneurs and employees, and we don’t have ONE EMOTION AT A TIME.
(And honestly, WHO DOES. Anyone that has just one emotion at a time is probably a robot. Or on drugs. Or a robot on drugs, and now I’m thinking about Bender from Futurama.)
We TRY to be simple. We try to give one word answers to a question that would take days to dig into. Consequently, we live in a culture of fine people. When someone asks us “How are you doing,” we say “FINE.” “I’m fine. Things are fine, I’m good.”
Usually when someone asks me “What are you feeling, how are you doing, are you okay,” I pick the first available appropriate emotion and reply with that.
“I’m great, thank you. I’m healthy and active.”
The REAL answer, though, is deeper than “Fine.” It’s a layered thing, a big fat sandwich of emotions. Lots of layers, lots of emotions. Sometimes it’s a puffy, yummy, sprinkles and kittens and hugs and dewdrops sandwich. Sometimes it’s an empty sandwich, bread and nothing else.
Sometimes it’s a shit sandwich, full of crappy feelings.
Right now in my life, my sandwich is a big one. The bread is HAPPY, but under the top slice of happy there’s a whole stack of other stuff.
Stressed about money. Worried about work. Tired. Irritated. Resentful. Angry. Excited. Hopeful. Energetic, peaceful, anxious. Afraid. Impatient, content. In love. Loved. Appreciated, accepted, protected, treasured. ENOUGH. Worthy. Inspired. Gifted. Talented. And then another slice of happy.
I’m pretty sure for most women emotions work this way. For men… maybe. I’m not an expert, but I’d guess they have a much, much smaller sandwich. SHORTER. Bigger bread, each slice of bread covers more area and the things inside that bread are broader to match, but the sandwich is shorter. Fewer ingredients. Fewer LAYERS. Men, in my experience, have a simpler approach to things.
Happy. Sad. Angry. Competitive. Hungry. Tired. Horny. Bathroom.
(I’m kidding. But not really. Men, please email me back and tell me if I’m wrong. I accept respectful correction.)
On occasion, when my emotion sandwich gets so large that I can’t wrap my life around it, those who love me the most can tell. They see it in my face. They’ll say “You’re being weird,” and then one of them will ask me, “What’s going on. What’s the matter.”
To be totally honest, the bigger the sandwich, the less inclined I am to answer that question when asked. I’m an introvert (a.k.a. prefer to hide in the closet with books and coffee and cookies) and have just recently come into touch with ANY of my feelings (a story for another day), let alone the bad ones. I don’t “do feelings,” and I for sure don’t like TALKING about feelings. NOT SO MUCH WITH THE FEELINGS. I don’t even want to START talking when I’m feeling things.
When my sandwich is big and The Mr or the kids ask me why, I say “I’m fine, it’s fine, I’m good, I’ll be fine, I’m fine.” Loosely translated that means “FUCK OFF, BACK OFF, GO AWAY, and also I love you.”
But they love me, too. The Mr. pushes. “Okay, I’m glad you’re fine. Now tell me what’s wrong.”
**DEEP SIGH,** and then we work through it together. I start listing off all the stuff inside of my emotion sandwich, the whats and whys and whos of it, the palatable and tasty stuff first, down through the layers. My reluctance to talk about things usually grows until we get to the ONE INGREDIENT IN MY SANDWICH THAT I DO NOT WANT THERE, the one that makes me crack into snot bubble tears, the one ingredient that is spoiling all the other stuff around it.
Think of the grossest, most horrible, putrid, wretched, stenchy smelling food you could imagine eating inside of a sandwich. Stinky tofu. Or lutefisk, or super smelly cheese. They’re EDIBLE, those things, but you wouldn’t want to put them in your sandwich, and then even if they DID get in there you wouldn’t want to eat them.
Some feelings are like that.
Some feelings, the ones most people label as “bad,” are like putting lutefisk in your ham and cheese sandwich and scarfing it down. Not only does the lutefisk taste horrible, it stinks up all the other stuff. The big, pungent emotion overwhelms everything else. Not even the biggest slice of pure joy, love, and kindness will come CLOSE to overpowering a thick slab of stinky feels. NO WAY.
Especially not shame.
Or self-hatred, unworthiness, disgust, resignation.
Some of the unpleasant emotions are mild. They taste bad, but they can be hidden by a slice of something yum. Like loneliness… for some it is temporary and mild. Some people have a very low sensitivity to it, they react well and deal with it well.
For OTHERS, people that struggle with depression for example, a thin slice of loneliness is enough to spoil a sixty-layer-thick sandwich of mostly good things. That razor thin slice of loneliness grows and festers until the other layers disappear and leave behind The Nothing.
In my emotion sandwich, the one slice of ugly that for so long poisoned everything else was SHAME.
Oooooooooh it was a bad one. BIG one. I felt bad for EVERYTHING. The shame was so strong and I was so sensitive to it that it made everything ELSE taste like shame, even the good stuff.
JOY I felt when my kids came home with great report cards? Tainted with the taste of shame because the school they attend is “in my home town,” and I’m back at home because of my divorce.
PEACE I felt when I went into my bedroom and shut the door? I tasted shame because my bedroom was in my parent’s house, and “WHO LIVES WITH THEIR PARETS AFTER AGE EIGHTEEN. Get your shit together, Erin.”
I felt ACCOMPLISHMENT when I wrote down my college major and the subject of my studies, “University of Washington, Biochemistry.” I tasted shame because I’m not even using that very expensive education.
When The Mister hugs me and holds my head to his chest and tells me I am WORTHY, and ENOUGH, and “NO WAY are you too hard to love, not for ME,” I feel TREASURED. And beloved. I feel with his heart and breath under my cheek like I’m HOME… that my search for whatever it is I could possibly look for is over, that all the answers I’ll ever need to any question I’ll ever ask can be found inside his arms.
But then the taste of shame… shame that I got divorced, shame that I am “used,” shame that I let everyone down because I didn’t get married and stay that way.
Even the most joyful and wonderful and healed and whole feelings in my huge, emotion sandwich can be spoiled by one,
Except WAIT. Want to know what I learned about stinky emotion sandwich ingredients?
YOU CAN TOTALLY TAKE THEM OUT.
It does take some work, and it takes some intention, but you can absolutely do it. Flip that sandwich open, find the bad and smelly ingredients, then take out the yuck.
GET THEM OUT OF THERE AND THROW ‘EM OUT.
My life coach told me, “For TWO WEEKS you are not allowed to feel guilt, shame, fault, phony, or humiliated. When you start to feel those things, whatever it is you would normally do in response to those emotions do the opposite.” And so I did.
For two weeks, whenever I started to feel shame or guilt (those are my worst sandwich ingredients) I would stop, sit up straight, cross my arms, and say OUT LOUD, “I DO NOT FEEL BAD, AND IT IS NOT MY FAULT.”
The first time it felt SUPER WEIRD. But EVERY TIME I felt bad, over and over for two weeks I did it, and GUESS WHAT.
The Mister was not amused when I started doing cheeky and snarky things on purpose and then repeating my mantra, but I had fun. And it helped me, because I realized that when I got that crappy emotion out of there A WHOLE BUNCH OF OTHER THINGS in my emotion sandwich, things that had been there the whole time but were forgotten, started to taste better. I could taste happiness. And joy. And love. Things that were otherwise obliterated and obscured by the crappy feelings suddenly were prevalent. DOMINANT, even.
And so, friend, here’s your homework.
Write down what is in your emotion sandwich. From top bread (the most obvious and apparent) through the layers in between to the bottom (your underlying emotion), what do you feel? ALL OF IT, and write down who and what put those feelings there.
Once that’s done I want you to identify your worst, stinkiest emotion ingredient, identify how you REACT to that emotion when you feel it, and for the next week or two whenever that emotion pops up I want you to do the OPPOSITE. Whether you counteract an internal dialogue with a verbalized mantra (“I do not feel bad and it is not my fault”), or you choose an opposite action, I want you to try to break your emotional habit.
If you feel FAT and it makes you grab your waistline and look in the mirror, instead do ten squats and say “I’m ACTIVE” every time your hands touch at the top.
If you feel SHAME and it makes you want to eat, instead lay down and do 15 crunches while you say “I AM DOING MORE” every time your crunch up.
If you feel ANGRY and it makes you want to yell, instead sit down, close your eyes, cover your ears, and whisper to yourself “Namaste, Motherfuckers.”
Negative emotion triggers negative action, we counteract that with CONSTRUCTIVE ACTION which results in POSITIVE EMOTION.
Even if someone is watching, even if it makes you look crazy, JUST DO IT. Work on it. You can absolutely change the contents of your emotion sandwich.
We need not be victim to our emotions. We are not powerless. You can effectively change your emotional response, and you can start NOW.
Are you willing to try?
Thank you all so much for reading, for contributing, and for just being all kinds of awesome. I am so, so glad you’re here.
Best of luck to you this week, let me know how it goes! (And I’m totally serious, if you email me I promise I will reply.)
Be who you want. Do what you want. Get what you want. Life is too short for anything else.