I’ve done it myself. Everything I am about to write about, I have been culpable of many times.
I’ve done it with clients; I’ve done it with friends; I’ve done it from podiums speaking in front of peers and colleagues; and I’ve done it to myself more times than I care to admit.
Which is why I am so inclined to write a blog about it. Because until I really considered it, I didn’t even know I was doing it.
What am I talking about? I am talking about people identifying with their own emotions and experiences.
The Danger in Attaching WHAT WE FEEL TO WHO WE ARE
How often do we do this? All of the time! Consider how often you hear people talking and hear things such as:
“I’m a control freak…”
These are just a few of the examples of innocuous ways this type of speech shows up in our everyday language. And it’s innocent for the most part. Like I said, most– if not all– of us do it.
So why does it matter?
When I first started to pay attention to this, I realized that the most important part of these statements isn’t the diagnosis or the emotion, but the first part of the sentence, “I’m”, which is short for “I AM”.
I AM is a powerful sentence opener. Anything that comes next is not something you are merely experiencing, but what you identify as. It is who you are or what you are. And claiming anything as our identity is powerful, if not consciously, then certainly unconsciously… especially when stated over and over repeatedly. It becomes a narrative we believe about ourselves.
So to claim an emotion is to identify with it as who we are. Which is odd, considering that emotions are experiences that we have that move through us. They come and they go.
Reframing How We Think (And Speak) About Emotions
I like to think of the word emotion as short for energy-in-motion. (Read: Emotions as Energy in Motion). This way I remember that what I feel isn’t who I am, but rather just energy moving through my body. It is something that exists temporarily in the present moment. I believe it is communication from my body to my mind, but it isn’t who I am. I am merely the one who is experiencing it at that given moment!
The Buddhists have a beautiful way of talking about emotion that– upon discovering– I have used in lieu of my old habit of identifying with it.
They refer to walking on the path with the emotion, as though the emotion were its own entity that is traveling with you during your current leg of the journey, but like any other traveler, will eventually move on.
So, for example, when you feel sadness or grief, you say, “I am walking with a lot of sadness right now”. This gives the imagery of you and another being entirely (sadness in this case), separating you from the sadness, while at the same time acknowledging its role in your experience.
The next time you are inclined to refer to your emotion as something you are, I encourage you to think about what that statement means to you. Then try rewording it. Try saying, “I feel (insert emotion) right now”, instead of “I am (insert emotion)”. Or try the Buddhist way and say “I”m traveling with a lot of (insert emotion) right now.”
See how these statements, said out loud, land in your body.
How does your system receive the difference between identifying with the emotion, and acknowledging your experience of it?
We aren’t the emotions that we feel. We are the beings that feel the emotions, and then have the job of figuring out what to do next.
Figuring out the next steps is complicated enough without taking on the heaviness so often inherent in believing we are the feeling itself. So do yourself a compassionate solid and think about those two little words, I AM, and be careful what you are claiming for yourself.
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