Cam Taylor

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Two Keys to Emotional Health After a Loss

Check out my new book, Detour: A Roadmap For When Life Gets Rerouted! It’s packed full of practical help and guidance for those seeking to recover and heal following a traumatic life event.

Part of the detour journey is learning how to deal with the emotional impact of loss and suffering. Several people I’ve talked to in the last few weeks have resonated with the need address the need to process their emotions in a healthy way after a setback.

In the next two updates, I want to share four parts of the emotional puzzle I wrote about in my book, Detour: A Roadmap For When Life Gets Rerouted.  I give language and a deeper understanding for processing emotions after a traumatic experience.

What is emotion?

To experience emotion is to have “energy in motion.” The word emotion comes from an Old French word meaning “to excite” and from a Latin word meaning “to disturb” or “to move.” 1

When a road ends, when events and circumstances change the smooth road of our former reality into the bumps and dips of uncharted territory, an emotional ride begins. We are disturbed, excited, and moved to respond. The way we deal with this “energy in motion” makes all the difference. The more prepared we are for such experiences, the better.

The roller coaster ride of emotions

When the road I was on ended, I was forced to navigate and manage many different emotions. It was a roller coaster ride unmatched by anything I had experienced to that point in my life. I realized rather quickly that if I was to survive, stay hopeful, and dance with the emotional backlash, I had to make major adjustments. I had to take a crash course on how to deal with emotions and how they could contribute to my growth, not get in the way of it.

In the early days of my recovery, I identified four parts to the emotional puzzle that needed my attention. These four components helped me see emotions as a friend, not an unwelcome guest. I needed emotional self-awareness, the ability to dance with my emotions, emotional self-mastery, and the ability to cry deeply.

Puzzle piece #1: Emotional self-awareness

“Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom.” — Tao Te Ching

For me, emotional self-awareness was the doorway into a whole inner world. Without emotional self-awareness, I would have stayed stuck after my traumatic accident and the subsequent prolonged chaos. The words of Jean de La Fontaine reinforced my need for self-awareness:

“He who knows the universe and does not know himself knows nothing.”

Emotional self-awareness is “the ability to recognize your feelings, to differentiate between them, to know why you are feeling these feelings, and to recognize the impact your feelings have on others around you.”*

Emotional self-awareness is all about increasing your capacity to explore and understand what is happening to you so you can respond appropriately.

When we lack self-awareness, we are more likely to become sarcastic, disrespectful, frustrated, and angry. When I saw my emotional health struggling, it gave me the information I needed to reach out for more help. Had I not seen the emotional pain I was experiencing, I’m not sure I would have been so open to seek and receive help.

During the months of therapy, I can attest to the fact that I made progress as I gained a greater understanding of what exactly was going on. When it comes to emotional healing, it is impossible to treat what you are unaware of.

“When you are looking in the mirror, you are looking at the problem. But remember you are also looking at the solution.” — a Proverb

Puzzle piece #2: Dancing with emotions

Emotional self-awareness is a great starting point but only part of the process. The puzzle piece that goes with awareness is the willingness to dance with what we are experiencing emotionally. Putting a name to the emotion we are experiencing is part of that dance, and there are many partners.

My list of emotional partners included guilt, disappointment, peace, fear, tension, surprise, sorrow, serenity, shock, sentimentality, sadness, resentment, pity, outrage, misery, loneliness, love, joy, homesickness, humiliation, grief, grumpiness, envy, and anger. My emotional dance felt a little like driving in a Saskatchewan snowstorm. My eyes were open, and I was staring out through the windshield, but all I could see were big white flakes and poorly marked lines to the right and left. I was afraid that at any minute I could miss a corner and find myself in the ditch or on the other side of the road in oncoming traffic.

I have never been much of a dance partner, but I do understand the theory. One thing I know from the little bit of dancing I have done is that it is necessary to find a balance between analyzing my movements and feeling the rhythm of the music, which will allow me to enter into the experience I am having with my partner. The dancing metaphor breaks down a little because physical dancing is usually a pleasurable experience while dancing with emotion during recovery can have some significant elements of pain.

I learned to be conscious of the way I felt and to put those feelings into words. I would say to myself, “I feel this way because…” Identifying the trigger to the emotion helped me to dance with the emotion.

I didn’t always dance with emotion alone either. With trusted friends, I told my story and found support and strength while dancing with emotion. Vulnerability hasn’t always been easy for me, but I learned how important it was to the healing process.

[Next week, I’ll talk about emotional self-mastery and the ability to cry deeply.]

Reflect further

  • How would you describe your level of emotional self-awareness?
  • What could you do to increase your emotional self-awareness?
  • Where do you experience the greatest challenge in dancing with your emotions?

*Source: Steven J. Stein and Howard E. Book, The EQ Edge: Emotional Intelligence and Your Success

Go now and buy a copy of Detour for yourself or for a friend.

About Cam Taylor

Life and leadership coach, transition & change specialist, husband, dad, leader, writer, life long learner.

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