The dark emotions: Food for the soul

For this latest post inspired by Miriam Greenspan’s Healing Through the Dark Emotions, I’d like to talk about what she refers to as “affect tolerance” or our ability to feel our dark emotions, to experience them fully, and wherever possible, without judgment.

“To befriend the dark emotions, your intention must be to get close to what you want to run away from. You need to take your time and give yourself permission to let yourself feel whatever you’re feeling without shame, doubt, analysis, or condemnation.”
p. 77

How do we engage with the energy of the dark emotions long enough to learn and grow from the experience? As Greenspan suggests, when it comes to the dark emotions (and perhaps emotional energy more generally), we need to release our shame and our doubt, our need to analyze, and our tendency to condemnation.

Shame. As Brené Brown has highlighted we all battle shame in the effort to see ourselves as “[worthy] of love and belonging” (Supersoul Sunday – Shame is Lethal). To be mature, we are told, is to be free of certain emotions. We are socialized to present a façade which conceals our discomfort or pain when fear, despair and grief strike, not solely because the expression of these emotions could make other people uncomfortable, but also because of our should’s— we shouldn’t feel this way, we shouldn’t react this way, we shouldn’t express ourselves this way, if we want to be seen as a proper grown up people. These should’s keep us stuck in a sense that we are “never enough” (Supersoul Sunday – Shame is Lethal); and, until we let them go, we will find it difficult to absorb the lessons of the dark emotions.

Doubt. When we doubt, we deny the truth of our emotions. We call into question the their very existence. We get caught up in thinking that we are losing our sanity because no one else seems to feel despair, fear or grief. If we believe that we are alone in experiencing these feelings, we may come to question both the validity of our emotions and our right to feel them. Operating from this place of skepticism and distrust, these feelings will appear unreasonable or suspicious. Unless we can adopt a more open perspective that affirms the legitimacy of these feelings, we will struggle to benefit from the transformative power of our dark emotions.

Analysis. When we turn to analysis, we seek to hold back the rawness and the pain of the dark emotions by boxing them up neatly. Instead of despair, fear and grief, we have a problem that can be solved or a list of actions to be taken. Instead of feelings, we focus on facts. We examine the current situation, the wrongs from our past or our concerns about the future, neglecting the emotional and spiritual realm in favor the intellectual one. Yet without an emotional appraisal, we cannot be truly engaged and any solution we do find is likely to be lifeless and uninspiring.

Condemnation. We are brought up to see some emotions as dishonorable, disgusting or even wicked. With these labels comes the sense that we are these emotions incarnate, and, because they are bad, so are we. When we move from saying “I am afraid right now” to “I am a pathetic coward” or from “I am overwhelmed by despair right now” to “I am a pitiful loser,” we condemn ourselves to an understanding of self that is inflexible and limited (a fixed mindset in Carol Dweck’s terms). This mindset blocks our growing and changing through these experiences. Until we can recognize the invitation in our dark emotions— to do something different, to ask for help, to fail better the next time, to develop a richer model of who we are—we will wrestle with them fruitlessly. But when we take a welcoming and appreciative approach and sit with them patiently, full of wonder and curiosity, the dark emotions cease to make us feel as if we are destined to live in hell and instead can reveal a route to the divine.

In truth, we need to recognize that emotions simply are. To accept this idea, it may be helpful to think of them in terms of a physical process like digestion: You take something in and this sets off a cascade of processes where some of what you take in nourishes you and some must be released as waste. Everything deserves to be “chewed on,” however, because the more you can focus on maximizing the value you extract, the stronger you grow.

 


Miriam Greenspan. (2003). Healing through the dark emotions. The wisdom of grief, fear, and despair. Boston: Shambala.

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The Diversity Dividend by Katherine W Hirsh is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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The dark emotions: Food for the soul

Do you seek to demonstrate or develop diversity?

In Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us, Dan Pink has adopted and adapted Carol Dweck’s terminology – her fixed and growth mindsets – to talk about motivation. As I interpret his work, the fixed mindset (or the entity theorist in his terms) compels us to action through external motivators, whereas the growth mindset (or the incremental theorist in his terms) engages our desire to act through internal motivators.

“Equally important, engagement as a route to mastery is a powerful force in our personal lives. While complying can be an effective strategy for physical survival, it’s a lousy one for personal fulfillment. Living a satisfying life requires more than simply meeting the demands of those in control. Yet in our offices and our classrooms we have way too much compliance and way too little engagement. The former might get you through the day, but only the latter will get you through the night.”

p. 112

 

“ To analogize to physical qualities, incremental theorists consider intelligence as something like strength. (Want to get stronger and more muscular? Start pumping iron.) Entity theorists view it as something more like height. (Want to get taller? You’re out of luck.) If you believe intelligence is a fixed quantity, then every educational experience becomes a measure of how much you have. If you believe intelligence is something you can increase, then the same encounters become opportunities for growth. In one view, intelligence is something you demonstrate; in the other it’s something you develop.

p. 121

As I read the passages quoted above, I was prompted to think about how these ideas could be applied to motivating people within the diversity context.

When you operate from a fixed mindset (entity theorists), your goals for diversity work are about demonstrating the existence of diversity. Diversity is something you have or you don’t. To demonstrate it, you create mountains of statistics, you tick off the boxes into which individuals fall and you feel you are doing well when you measure what you’ve got and the total score is a high one.

When you operate from a growth mindset (incremental theorists), your goals for diversity work are about developing the diversity that exists and finding new areas in which you and your team can grow – both by adding new members and by making the most of what is already present. Diversity has always been there and now that you recognize it, you can work to strengthen what you have. You feel you are doing well when you can see an increase in the ways in which you and others identify yourselves and in the ways all of you seek to be identified.

How is your mindset affecting the way you think about and work with diversity?

  1. Do you tend to see identity as something that is flexible or something that is fixed?
  2. Do you find yourself claiming the power to self-identify or do you feel forced live with the identities others grant or impose on you?
  3. Is diversity an ongoing journey of discovery or simply an endpoint to be reached and filed away?

Your emphasis on either the demonstration or the development of diversity has knock-on consequences: When you demonstrate diversity, typically it is a one-time thing; when you develop diversity, typically it is a continuing process. Take a look at where you fall on this continuum in the various domains of your life, and, if you find yourself on the “demonstrate performance” end of the spectrum in one or more areas, consider the follow-up question of how effectively is this mindset “getting you through the night.”

 

Pink, Daniel. (2009). Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. NY: Riverhead.

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The Diversity Dividend by Katherine W Hirsh is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Do you seek to demonstrate or develop diversity?

Educating our palates about development

‎At first blush the German words der Korkenzieher – “the corkscrew” – and der Erzieher – ” the educator” – would seem to have little in common other than their spellings. But break them down into their parts and there is an interesting connection: they both have to do with “bringing something up.” In the corkscrew case, that something is a cork and the “bringing up” is quite concrete. In the educator case, that something is a person or people and the “bringing up” refers to the more abstract notion of “raising” or “pulling” those people up to a higher level – be it intellectual, social, emotional, physical, behavioral, etc.

There are two things I like about this connection. First, when you think about educating as being like using a corkscrew, it implies that development is unlikely to be linear: there will be twists and turns and you will come to the same place repeatedly, but as you grow you navigate this place with a greater level of skill or ease. Thus the corkscrew model of development operates from within a growth mindset (click here for an engaging piece where Carol Dweck describes her model of mindset). There is no set endpoint and you have no limit to how far you can “pull yourself up” other than that of your own vision, your own commitment and the level of energy you bring to imagining that vision and enacting that commitment.

Contrast this with a fixed mindset. You have a gift, characteristic or skill. Or you don’t. With this mindset, your vision is limited and your energy and commitment drain away when you hit that first switchback. Because under a fixed mindset, if bringing that cork up to another level isn’t easy or you can’t make it happen perfectly the first time, then you can’t really have the gift. And if you are the educator or Erzieher with this mindset, you may believe the differences between your charges are evidence for hard-wired limits on their potential and as a result you may not even attempt to “bring them up.”

Second as you consider how an educator and a corkscrew are alike, imagine a sommelier wielding a corkscrew, ready to open a bottle of wine. The wine is presented to the customer with respect. Time is taken to look, smell and taste (and even to describe the “feel” in the mouth); to consider and then detail the wine’s stellar and signature qualities. The process of opening the wine is seen as important because the contents are seen to be important. What if we as educators wielded our tools to make the learning process one that respected all learners and found just the right way to “bring them up” to a new level? What if we took the time to discern the distinctive and special talents of all our colleagues, clients and significant others? If we were to focus not on what is lacking but rather on what there is for us to learn and on how we might learn it best? Uncorking such rare vintages would allow us to drink deeply of the diversity dividend.

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The Diversity Dividend by Katherine W Hirsh is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Portions of this piece appeared in Pull out all the stops, 25/11/2015 http://earthquakewords.com/2015/11/25/pull-out-all-the-stops/ ‎

Educating our palates about development

Diversity: Making it personal while not taking it personally

Diversity is personal. Diversity is about who you are and who I am and all of the ways in which we differ from everyone else in the crowd. Diversity is about our character and our characteristics. We may have many or all of the features that our family circle, work environment or culture deems typical or normal; and yet what makes us the individuals we are is as much about diversity, as much a part of each of us, as it is for someone who does not fit the family, work or cultural molds.

Diversity is also about awareness. Not recognizing the influence of innate or learned aspects of who you are does not mean that these aspects of self aren’t influencing how you think, feel and act. Delving into the sources of your behaviors, be they external and visible or wholly internal, highlights the ways in which you operate differently due to your diversity. This mirror may be cloudy when you first hold it up, however, even a cloudy mirror can reflect back some of the features that make you the unique person you are.

While diversity is personal, it isn’t to be taken personally. That is, your way of being doesn’t have to be wrong for mine to be right – we can both be the way we are and have that be the “right” way to be. However this sense that there is just one right way to be is quite pervasive; I would argue that it flows from our focus on scarcity. With a scarcity mindset, we tend to see things as “either/or” propositions. Under this framework, when your gift, characteristic or choice is recognized as valid, the pool of validation shrinks and leaving less available to validate my gifts, characteristics or choices. In other words, we cannot both be the “right” way: either your gifts, characteristics and choices are the best ones or mine are. This mindset says that my being acknowledged puts me “one up” and you “one down.”

Switching our thinking to a “both/and” standpoint allows us to accept the valuing of others for who they are as a general benefit to all. When your gift, characteristic or choice is recognized, the pool of available validation is enriched. Thus, rather than seeing a personal affront in the celebration of someone else’s way of being, we can rejoice with them in the abundance that exists among us. This alternative mindset says that there is always sufficient validation to go around and that we all are “one up” when any one of us is acknowledged for our value.

In keeping diversity personal and in not taking it personally, three key qualities are openness, curiosity and appreciation. How can I acknowledge the various parts of myself – my gifts, my identities and my challenges – and work to leverage them? How can I acknowledge the gifts, identities and challenges of the important others in my workplace, my team, my home or my playtime – and work to see that we get the best from our joint endeavors? Creating an environment where diversity is truly part of the fabric means that everyone gains when we proclaim the ways in which we differ. Because it is only once our diversities are recognized that we can begin to leverage them. This is the diversity dividend.

Creative Commons License
The Diversity Dividend by Katherine W Hirsh is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Diversity: Making it personal while not taking it personally