We often don’t know the reasons why we do what we do, feel what we feel, or make the choices we make, but apparently we are very good at creating reasons that seem quite logical and that reflect favorably on us. For example, we may believe that cheating and lying are wrong. Yet, according to Dan Ariely (2012) most of us lie. He’s not talking about the big lies that cause major damage to others. He says we lie only to the extent we can still see ourselves as good people. We tell ourselves stories to justify our actions, like everyone cheats on their taxes or it’s only an extra dollar in change the clerk gave me and the company owes me more than that for all the times I’ve overpaid.
If we’re annoyed with the person we are interacting with, we are more likely to cheat or steal, believing we are justified. We may tell ourselves that we are simply restoring karma and crusading for justice.
When you think about people who’ve made a difference in the world, maybe you think about Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, Albert Einstein or the Dali Lama. Certainly they’ve all made a difference, to the point of being famous for their efforts. But making a difference in the world is powerful even when the impact seems to be for only one or a few people.
My guess is there is someone in your life who’s made a difference for you. Perhaps he or she helped you when you could give nothing back, or they held out a hand when you needed it most. Maybe when you were feeling left out or alienated, that person was your friend. Maybe when you were vulnerable and hurting, someone helped you. Or maybe you’re grateful for a gift that has made a difference in your life.
Regulating strong emotions is a difficult task for everyone. Actions that result in negative outcomes can seem so right when you’re angry, hurt or sad. When your boyfriend breaks up with you unexpectedly the day before Valentine’s Day, saying that he’s interested in your best friend, understandably, you may want to rip up every one of his prized and valuable baseball cards (not to mention what you might want to say to your ex-best friend). When your boss dictates that you have to work late on the evening you’ve planned your beloved grandmother’s 70th birthday celebration, you may want to give him a piece of your mind, even though you know you can’t afford to lose your job. Remembering and obsessing over all the ways your boss has been unfair to you will only fuel your anger.
“The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go and not be questioned.”
Home, in my mind, is about a feeling. That feeling can come from people, a place or yourself. It is serenity, laughter and authentic acceptance. Authentic acceptance from others means they know my faults and love me anyway. They don’t point out my ongoing shortcomings to improve me or change me, they see those quirks as simply part of me. It’s not the politically proper acceptance of keepng their thoughts to themselves. It goes beyond that. Their acceptance comes from deep within, the acceptance of those who truly love without qualifiers or caveats.
Many of those who make up my “home” would make different choices than I have, including the paths I would take all over again. Yet they accept my choices, love me anyway, and sometimes urge me to reconsider my current choices. They give information, saying what they believe is true without judging or threatening. When I trudge on with decisions they don’t understand, they become my cheerleaders. They may not approve and they still love and accept. People who are your home don’t leave. When you have these people in your life, you know you’re not alone, whether they are physically present or not.
Based on the research on happiness, having close relationships is associated with life satisfaction. At the same time, connecting with others in a meaningful way requires allowing yourself be vulnerable. To connect meaningfully is to shed pretense, to take off whatever mask you wear and allow the authentic you to be present. Brene Brown has excellent TED talks and books that discuss her research on vulnerability.
Emotionally sensitive people tend to both overshare and undershare information about themselves; sometimes they tell very personal information to people they don’t know well and whithold information from close friends. There can be undesirable results for both actions.
When emotions are high and there are different viewpoints among participants, having an effective conversation can be challenging. In addition, emotions usually run highest when the outcome of the conversation means the most. People get tense and hyper-alert, bracing themselves for the worst. For example, consider your reaction when someone says “We need to talk. ” Most people prepare for a difficult interaction by putting up barriers to defend themselves, not by relaxing and focusing on being more open with information. They’re on guard before the deep conversation even starts. Their posture makes it difficult to freely share ideas.
Many emotionally sensitive people avoid conversations that are likely to result in conflict. They fire people, break up with girlfriends, and cancel plans with friends by texting, sending emails, or leaving voice mails. Sometimes decisions are unilaterally made on incomplete information because difficult conversations were avoided.
For the emotionally sensitive, tense conversations can be so painful that they avoid any deep conversations and avoid expressing their own opinions.
In Critical Conversation Skills, the authors give guidelines for having difficult conversations in an effective way.
You’ve just learned that your boyfriend cheated on you. Or your boss criticized you in front of a large group of people. Maybe a friend has talked about you in not-so-flattering ways with other people. Full of anger, you write a scathing email and push send. Or you tell the other person off. A few minutes later, you realize you are in agony, wishing you could unsend the email or unsay your angry words.
In such situations, you may wish emotions didn’t exist. But emotions give us important information. Being completely logical leaves out the information we get from emotions. For example, depending on the context, anger can communicate that we need to protect ourselves, shame may help us adhere to values, and fear helps us escape from situations that could be harmful. Sometimes, though, we experience emotions for reasons that have nothing to do with surviving the situation we’re in, such as being afraid when there is no physical threat. For example, maybe we are afraid of uncomfortable situations, afraid of our emotions and afraid of speaking up for ourselves.