Introducing: Your Emotional Guidance System
Listen to this article:
Our emotions, every single one of them, are a form of guidance. When we take our emotions seriously, we’re able to follow the guidance that will set us on the right path in life. When we write them off, medicate them, or tell ourselves we’ll look at them later, we are moving through life without any guidance. No wonder it’s so easy to get stuck!
Let me explain what I mean.
Every single emotion we experience comes from a conclusion we’ve drawn.
Think about it, if I believe that my car is a steaming hunk of crap, I’m going to feel reluctant when I drive it, maybe bitter (if I’ve also come to the conclusion that I deserve better), or even embarrassed (if I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s embarrassing to drive a steaming hunk of crap.) (Which I’ve not, by the way.)
The point is, each of these emotions are a rational reaction to the conclusion I’ve drawn. The emotions are simply responding to the input (thoughts forming a conclusion) like a computer.
Sometimes, we feel a certain way and don’t know why. That’s because we can also draw conclusions on a subconscious level.
For example, if someone I’m talking to is creeping me out, but I can’t put my finger on why, I start to feel uneasy without being aware of what conclusion I’ve drawn. It’s because my subconscious mind has put the pieces together faster than my conscious mind (which it does), and has come to the conclusion that this person is a danger to my safety. Emotions ensue to try to guide me to safety.
OK, got it? Here’s the next piece.
Conclusions that increase our freedom and joy are correct. Conclusions that do the opposite are not.
Those are some pretty big assumptions in there, you might be thinking. Let’s unpack that.
We can agree that sometimes we come to the right conclusions, and sometimes we come to the wrong conclusions in life. I’m suggesting that freedom and joy are two emotions that act like a barometer that tells us how close we are to making an accurate conclusion. When we feel joy and freedom in response to a thought or belief, we’re on the right track. When we feel weighed down, trapped, depressed or ashamed, our conclusions are hurting us and keeping us stuck.
Let’s see how this can be so. Say I’m getting the creepy vibe from the person I’ve been talking to, and for good reason. My conclusion: they are a danger to my safety. If I acted on the creeped-out feeling, I would increase my freedom and joy because it was an accurate conclusion that kept me safe.
On the other hand, if I were just being prejudiced (let’s say they wore a “Make America Great Again” hat), and that’s why I stopped chatting, I’d potentially miss out on the opportunity to know and connect with another good person – that would decrease my freedom and joy. Not a correct conclusion.
Checking in with my emotions, at a body level, allows me to tell which is which. If you’re not following your freedom or joy, you’re going in the opposite direction and are bound to feel stuck, sad, or angry about life. Importantly, we’re either going in one direction, or the other. That means every time we’re doing something because we “should” or it “just has to get done,” we’re potentially digging ourselves into a hole.
Your negative emotions are being generated from either false conclusions, or important guidance that you aren't acting on.
Unless you live in a dangerous environment, (and I’m thinking warzone or abusive relationship) I’m going to propose that most of your negative emotions are being generated by false conclusions, right inside that miraculous, beautiful head of yours.
The rest of the time, it's when your intuition is trying to tell you something isn't right here, but you haven't been able to act on it yet. I want to explore the first case, where our emotions are generated based on false conclusions, because it all comes back to this. The reason we don't act on our intuition is because we're holding false conclusions about what will happen to us if we do.
Some emotions always come from false conclusions. In particular, when we feel stuck, hopeless, ashamed or depressed, we are operating from false conclusions. This is because of the types of beliefs (conclusions) that generate these emotions in particular: they are all limiting beliefs that shut down the heart centre.
Rather than being there to punish you, these negative emotions are there to signal something very important: your heart is shut down and starving for love, connection or meaning. It hurts because it’s supposed to when the heart is closed off. That means your heart is working.
False conclusions (or limiting beliefs) like these shrink our world down from what’s actually out there, waiting for us. We stop perceiving the potential opportunities, the bigger picture. We blame ourselves disproportionately and stop seeing our true worth. And take my word for it, those conclusions are dead wrong.
Conversely, when we feel joy, freedom, gratitude, or love, we are working with the right kinds of conclusions. These are the ones that are in alignment with our higher purpose, or soul path, because they allow love and connection into (and out of!) the heart centre.
These are the conclusions that expand our world beyond the limits imposed by fear or black/white thinking. These conclusions empower us to be vulnerable, to give our gift, to connect authentically in the world. They bring serious rewards.
Anxiety, tension, and anger are the grey area emotions that take a little bit more sussing out. Sometimes we’re feeling fear because of valid conclusions, like a healthy fear of leaping off a building. Fear doesn’t have to be a negative emotion. Of course, sometimes it does come from a false conclusion (example: I’m terrified I’m going to fail at this exam I’ve spent the last 2 weeks studying for like a Type A maniac).
These examples are cases where we need to do the joy/freedom test. Does freaking out about the exam increase my freedom and joy? Probably not if I’ve already prepared enough. Conclusion: Ruining my day. Does not jumping off a building increase my freedom or joy? Substantially. Conclusion: Saving my life.
Same with anger – sometimes we come to the wrong conclusion from a skewed perception (that person is trying to piss me off on purpose) and that generates our anger. And sometimes anger comes from an accurate conclusion (I’ve been doing more than my share of chores and I don’t like it). In the latter case, our anger is telling us our boundaries have been crossed, and it would bring more freedom and joy (and dissolve the anger) to have healthy boundaries. Anger doesn’t have to be a negative emotion.
What if going after my own freedom and joy makes me a narcissist?
Good question (that basically guarantees you’re not a narcissist for asking), but let’s look at it anyway. ;)
According to the DSM-V, someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder:
- Exaggerates their own importance
- Believes they’re special and can only be understood by other special people
- Requires constant admiration from others
- Has unreasonable expectations of favourable treatment
- Disregards the feelings of others, lacks empathy
- Is envious of others or believes others are envious of them.
So based on these characteristics, here are a few conclusions I’ve imagined that a narcissist draws. Read through them and “try them on” as you do – we’re going to test our Emotional Guidance System.
- I’m more important than most people
- Most people can’t understand me because I’m too unique/intelligent/special
- It’s important that I do ____ in order to be admired, as I deserve
- The world ought to treat me with favouritism
- Others’ suffering is irrelevant to me
- Others envy me and I envy some others
If your Emotional Guidance System is working, these statements will make you feel pretty lonely, gross, or insecure.
Why? Your emotions are signalling that these conclusions cause your world to shrink. They actually decrease your freedom and joy. Can you see why? If the world had to constantly be showering you with special attention, and if you never got to use your heart or gifts in service of others, your life would absolutely be less joyful and feel less free.
That’s why following your Emotional Guidance System will actually keep you from being a narcissistic asshole. Great!
Won’t following my freedom or joy get me in trouble? Isn’t that like wishful thinking?
We don’t want to be that person who lives in an alternate universe while the debts are piling up, in favour of doing what feels good in the moment.
Our Emotional Guidance System is there to signal possibilities for us, just as much as it is to steer us away from disaster. When we’re chasing our cravings for fun and happiness, it’s often because we’re trying to run away from our feelings of anxiety or depression. This is not what our Emotional Guidance System tells us to do, if we listen in.
When we’re willing to tune into all bandwidths of the Emotional Guidance System, including the uncomfortable bits, then we don’t miss the messages about balance, risk and responsibility. Remember, crashing and burning doesn’t increase our freedom or joy (getting the idea yet?).
For example, each of us has this feeling, while we’re chowing down on the 3rd piece of cake, or spending beyond our means, of guilt. Why? Because we’ve betrayed our self in some way by doing something that harms us. Our Emotional Guidance System is trying to tell us that – this doesn’t feel right (it decreased my freedom and joy – you knew I was going to say that). As long as we’re willing to listen, we won’t be speeding off the edge of the cliff.
Creating freedom and joy for yourself helps others as well
When we medicate, deny or otherwise try to alter our emotions, we are messing with our guidance system and we are bound to get stuck. We’re counting on the thinking mind to solve our problems, without questioning the basic software that it’s running on.
When we choose to, first off, feel our emotions instead of avoiding or numbing them, we are taking powerful steps toward freeing ourselves. It’s bound to be uncertain and uncomfortable at first, but it’s a way better deal than staying stuck!
Following what brings us freedom and joy puts us on the soul path. We know that real freedom and joy come from living a life with meaning, one full of genuine connection, and one where we can give something from the heart. There’s no reason not to go for that!
Now, off you go! :)