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Emails to my Therapist

Email to My Therapist: The Wackiness of Emotions

Nicholas — I  wish emotions were more predictable. More logical. More clearly based on cause and effect. I don’t think that’s unreasonable of me. But wackiness seems to be the way.

Feelings sometimes seem so out of sync with what’s going on.  Melancholy/irritability on a beautiful carefree day (was my unconscious processing the need to deal pretty soon with taxes?)

Or sudden awareness of beauty or humor in the midst of awful moments. Well, maybe I can put up with that.

A reader of an early draft of one of my novels observed that the main character’s emotions seemed to come at her from outside herself.

That’s not my experience, not exactly. Instead they come from God-knows-where, slipping under doors or, most often, deciding to wait a few days to arrive.

Fear in particular takes weird forms that often seem irrelevant.

One long-ago morning I was getting ready to go to the beach to do the check-out dive for scuba certification. I had no awareness of being scared, but caught myself trying to put pants on over my head. Probably that’s the effect of being preoccupied and distracted. (In retrospect, it would have been sensible to be terrified; we went down into a sunken ship three miles offshore and swam through its corridors in the company of large fish.)

Recently, when my mother went by ambulance to the hospital ER, I calmly drove into the parking lot there and got out of my car, leaving it not only running but in drive. My brothers leaped into action and captured it before it could travel very far. (Mom’s recovering well, though for a couple of scary days we thought she wouldn’t.)

A feeling of calm can be deceptive, especially to the person who has the feeling.

What to Do

Best I can tell, the only strategy is to let the various weathers roll through, never try to have “correct” feelings or blame myself for having the wrong ones.  Welcome the wackiness.


But I also welcome other ideas.





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  • Jane Albright
    March 21, 2017 at 11:38 am Reply

    I identify. Thanks.

    • Peggy Payne
      March 21, 2017 at 2:07 pm Reply

      I kinda think it’s a not-unusual experience, Jane. As is likely the case with many little private quirks.

  • Chris Forsyth
    March 21, 2017 at 1:49 pm Reply

    Feelings, emotions and all the rest of it are reflections of what is going on in the mind. The way to calm the mind and find a space in which to rest it is internal, of course, and as countless sages down the ages have said the way to do that is to meditate. In order to meditate simply sit down and watch your breath come in and go out, come in and go out…

    • Peggy Payne
      March 21, 2017 at 2:06 pm Reply

      I do meditate, Chris. And it’s the way to calm, for sure. Yet I remain curious about how what’s going on in the mind (consciously or unconsciously) sometimes hides itself and creates a kind of mismatch or delayed reaction. Maybe if I meditate more… Though calm isn’t always my goal. Maybe no-goals are the answer here.

      • Chris Forsyth
        March 21, 2017 at 3:14 pm Reply

        Right, Peggy. No expectations. Expectations are of the mind. Just watch the breath, and when your mind wanders (and it will, try not to think about the white bear :)) go back to watching the breath.

        • Peggy Payne
          March 21, 2017 at 5:52 pm Reply

          When my mind wanders, Chris, I think the word “ocean” as a signal to myself to breathe.

  • March 21, 2017 at 2:38 pm Reply

    I’m enjoying these posts!

    I employ a centering/grounding in the moment, often to what is happening in the moment, as if I am actually sinking deeper into it. For some reason this works far better for me than meditating on the breath. The end result is a state of calm and focus. My horses taught me this early on, particularly Salina, the one-eyed goddess mare from Germany who was like a barometer of my emotions. She was like the mercury in the thermometer, and if I got anxious and frenzied she did too – and 1200 lbs. of that in motion was a good reason for me to learn other options than what I have called “whipping things into a frenzy.” When I rooted myself to the earth through my legs and feet, and relaxed into what was happening, everything suddenly stopped, including the black mare, and became calm and clear. I suspect what’s happening is that I’m getting my mind and my body into sync in some way because there is a visceral sensation of slow motion in what seems like a cellular level. Anyway, it’s nice to think about Salina this morning and remember her lessons! Thank you!

    • Peggy Payne
      March 21, 2017 at 5:51 pm Reply

      I’m glad you had the one-eyed goddess, Billie. Wouldn’t want to see her in a frenzy. I like the idea too of sinking deeper into the moment.

  • Rachael Wooten
    March 21, 2017 at 5:37 pm Reply

    You already have discovered the secret. Your “What to do” advice is something I’m really trying to do. Even if you meditate, you still have to accept what’s happening moment to moment, just as you said.
    As many people have said to me, listen to yourself, Rachael, and follow your own good advice.
    Same to you!

    • Peggy Payne
      March 21, 2017 at 5:53 pm Reply

      Excellent advice for both of us, Rachael. xoxo to you

  • March 22, 2017 at 4:28 pm Reply

    I feel all this totally. I’ll be facing some terrible, scary event and not feel a thing, but then I’m turning left into a perfectly obvious bus. And the thunder heads popping up in blue sky days!!! I wish I were more in touch with the events of my life as they were happening, but I’ve always been like this. I’m not sure it’s all bad, this mighty denial I have. I’ve seen some awful stuff. And awful stuff goes so far back in the history of my family, the deaths of children and wars and natural and financial disasters. That’s in all of us. What if these spoilers that hop up out of nowhere are just the leaks in my system of denial. I wish I could remember to think, Oh, that’s just sadness over Mom’s passing, and feel that sadness, maybe say a prayer, maybe thank her for being my Mom all those many years. I really don’t think I could have handled it to feel it when she passed. So glad your Mom is better. So glad your brother caught the car before it ran completely away. I adore this post.

    • Peggy Payne
      March 23, 2017 at 2:16 pm Reply

      I’m starting to think that a whole lot of people experience some degree of this delayed or denied feeling, Randee. I like your leak concept — also no one has ever before said they adored one of my posts. I like that wording a lot. No doubt others are denying or delaying similar feelings. (Visualize a smile emoticon)

  • March 22, 2017 at 9:16 pm Reply

    I completely agree that feeling calm can sometimes be deceptive. I found myself nodding along with your exploration of feelings (or the lack thereof) as indicators of how we humans react to things that are out of our control. I’ve had many metaphorical ‘pulling my pants over my head’ moments! Thanks, Peggy, for putting such wise words to such wacky and unpredictable sensations as emotions. May our calm and serene paths cross at Rancho La Puerta again soon!

    • Peggy Payne
      March 23, 2017 at 2:19 pm Reply

      Rancho La Puerta is sure good for serenity, isn’t it, Lena? Maybe there’s something useful in pants-over-the-head moments. We could start to think of it that way. Wishing you all the calm that you crave!

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