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So I am a voracious reader.
I think I owe this very much to my mom.
Summers in S. Louisiana are sticky hot. An 80’s kid, we didn’t have internet games, apps, facetime, skype, PlayStations or the like. We had that thing called the backyard–sticks, dirty and when thirsty, the hose. We were forced to cultivate imagination; creativity helped us survive the long, hot days.
When I wasn’t outside with my siblings, I was reading a book.
Early on, Mom–a lover of books– recognized I shared that love.
In a month, I had read through all the children’s section. The next, the young adult section.
So she started pointing me to the “adult-level” reading section. I was in heaven.
All this to say, I read books like some teenagers eat Pringles. (I can’t keep those things longer than a second in our house!)
Books are my drug of choice.
One day, a couple years ago, I went to see my therapist.
She had shared a new insight that was rumbling about in my head & dangerously close to my soul.
Over a dozen or so sessions, Janet (not her real name) had come to know me well; that annoying thing that therapists do that make them so good at what they do.
I say annoying because this particular day was proof.
It went something like this:
Janet: So, Heather, I think I have observed you long enough to identify a pattern. You are a quick learner. I also see how quickly you adapt to subjects we bring up in our work together. You have a quick mind. You process verbally and quickly. It is very helpful in this work, as you know, and makes our time very productive, but I’m noticing something else.
Heather: (internally feeling a bit prideful about her obvious compliment but wary of the “something else” she describes; I know better now than to presume anything) Okayyyy?
Janet: Because of certain behaviors we’ve discussed, I think you have a very complex coping mechanism that has helped you for probably most of your life. You have a very high mental intelligence, and and a very low emotional intelligence.
Heather: (slightly irritated at the word “low”) What does that mean?
Janet: (smiling now with her hands annoyingly folded in her lap, casual and relaxed) You have learned to cope with life by understanding it and adapting to it mentally. With your brain. The brain is a complex, remarkable thing; and you have a finely tuned machine up here (she points to her head).
But…(she pauses and I feel the tightening in my stomach start) emotionally, you have very little emotional intelligence in how to deal with life.
In other words, emotions are not the way in which you understand the world, life and relationships. Behaviorially speaking, you manage issues in your life (relationships, friends, conflict, etc) almost totally with your brain. Not with your emotions.
Heather: But I do feel emotions…
Janet: Oh yes, you feel emotions powerfully, and they impact your behavior. In a rather impulsive, explosive way. You haven’t been taught how to manage your emotions–in healthy ways. I presume you mostly ignore them.
Heather: (I realize what she means and I’m nauseous) So, I’m emotionally immature?
Janet: (smiles and nods) I think so…
At that point in the conversation, I sit silent, emotions are swirling, and Janet allows me to swirl and stew. I like that. She lets me stew without fixing me.
I don’t like when people try to fix me. But I learned I LOVE to fix other people. Curious, right? Janet would say so.
On the drive home, I had a choice. Seriously reflect on what Janet share. Or toss it.
Enter a book. “Rising Strong” by Brene Brown. I had been reading the book for a couple of weeks. It could NOT be coincidence.
Yes, I was annoyed. I could have taken everything Janet said personal. Like I was a reject or failure.
I could easilly fall back into “victim” mode.
Because of Janet, I knew the cost of that. Not this time.
So I chose to get curious.
Brene writes curiousity is an important starting point to understanding ourselves. And yeah, there was more to it.
But I just got curious. I started noticing things about myself. Some things I noticed because of Janet, some things I observed on my own.
The best part? Curiousity invited me to “observe” myself minus the condemnation & self-judgment. I can be deeply critical of myself.
But somehow, being curious felt safe. Funny how a word makes all the difference, right?
I learned (and am still learning) how to be aware of what I’m feeling. I practice daily–sometimes hourly.
That was my first step into really “looking” within. And that was the beginning of a beautiful mess.