Thursday, May 2, 2013

Emotional Honesty

Sometimes, I say things that aren't literally true, but that are true to me because they express the emotion I'm feeling.  Often it's a simple thing, like saying that I can't wait to use my 5-pound accounting textbook as a beach-blanket holder. Of course it would be silly to carry such a heavy textbook to the beach just to hold down a blanket, but I like the symbolism - the fact that when I'm done with the textbook, I'm going to use it for something so insignificant compared to its real purpose, that I'm using it for something pure fun and non-academic, and that I'm using it for something that personally matters more to me than what I'm "supposed" to care about (going to the beach vs. studying). This statement expresses how much I hate studying and how happy I will be to be done with it.

Other times I take it a step further and engage other people. When I was in college, I didn't get into any of the plays or singing groups that I tried out for and was really upset about it. Now, I had heard that chocolate coats your throat and is not good to eat when you're going to sing or talk on stage. In high school I used to purposely not eat chocolate the week of a show. So I told my college classmates that I was going to have a chocolate party, in which we would celebrate the fact that we could eat all the chocolate we wanted, unlike the students who got into plays and singing groups (not that the students in plays and singing groups would actually limit their chocolate consumption, but it felt symbolic). I announced my chocolate party each semester for 3 years. But the thing is, I didn't really intend to carry out my plans. I would have - I was willing to do it if anyone else had been interested, but I ultimately knew that this was just something I was going to talk about. And I know that's dishonest. But it never felt that way to me, because it wasn't really my intention to deceive anyone. That's why I never set a date and time or gave details. If anyone had expressed real interest in coming to my chocolate party, I would have told them that I wasn't really planning to have one. The purpose of saying it was to express an emotion; to me, saying that I want to have a chocolate party was just a way of expressing how upset I was about not getting into shows and how much I wanted to do something about it. It is emotionally honest to me, because the desire itself is very real.

Towards the end of senior year of college, I told people that I was planning to scrub my hands extra-hard when I washed them so that I would shed my dead skin cells faster and the part of me that had touched my school would be gone. The general response was, "It was THAT bad???" Of course it was that bad, or I wouldn't be trying to scrub my skin off.  But what's interesting is that throughout my 4 years, I had told these same people a lot of true stories about what had been going on - stories of what led me to this point. And yet, this desire to scrub the school from my skin is what communicated how I was actually feeling - not the true facts. People often think that my emotions don't "match" the situation, as if there's one way that everyone is supposed to react or feel about everything. And after expressing my emotion for a long time, I get the dreaded "That's ALL?" response when I actually explain what I'm feeling that way about. When you tell a true story exactly as it happened, people automatically think about how they would feel if they were in the same situation. But putting yourself into a situation is not the same as putting yourself into a different person's mindset. For me, these reaction-based plans that I don't always intend to carry out have been much better at communicating how I feel than any of my true stories.

Some things are more important for me to communicate than others. If none of my actions came from a bigger issue - if I just felt like taking my textbook to the beach, inviting friends over for chocolate, or washing my hands more thoroughly, I would not have a pressing urge to talk about these facts with everyone. The fact that I would never remember to spend that extra time washing my hands is insignificant compared to what possessed me to want to scrub them so hard in the first place.

I know it's cryptic. I know that my reactions don't logically relate to the conflict by most people's standards. I know that a lot of these statements aren't clear and force people to ask more questions. And maybe I want that. But I can't help thinking that it is actually an effective form of communication, because it gets across so many true feelings that I could never get across with facts alone. It's emotional honesty, but honest all the same.

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