“Emotional content needs a welcoming attitude; otherwise it will remain undigested, waiting to jump out at inopportune times.”
As a hungry philosopher, you can see why the above quote would resonate with me. I’ve thought about digesting yummy tastes, good-for-you food and empowering nutrition. I hadn’t thought about a range “undigested emotions” from PTSD to small irritating hooks into our attention. Makes me wonder how I “digest” emotions? What do I absorb, what do I let go and what do I hold on to? Emotional nourishment or constipation. This is just one example of thought-provoking advice from Mark Epstein’s “Advice Not Given: A Guide to Getting Over Yourself.”
One way he recommends to process and digest emotions follows the “Good enough parent model.” In this model, the key is to observe negative emotions (like an angry child) with presence and without retaliation. He explains,
“…would ask me to elaborate on what being a “good enough” parent actually meant. “It means being able to survive one’s child’s rage,” I would answer. “And what does it mean to survive the rage?” they would ask. “Not to be invasive and not to be rejecting,” I would say. “To be able to hold their anger and be open to their experience without abandoning them but without retaliating either.”
Next time, I feel full of anger, self-judgment, envy, anxiety, I’ll try to first of all notice and name the emotion. Tasting and identifying the emotion or often conflicting emotions is difficult enough. The next step that requires a mindful response but no reaction is very, very difficult. We can only practice “the willingness to separate the raw material of emotion from the story we have built up around it,” right? Most of us, don’t even recognize our own “operating system” or inner-narratives.
In therapy, when we show up, we look for feelings, bring them out, and make them the subject of inquiry. We talk emotions over, examine them, wonder about them, and explore around their edges. This willingness to separate the raw material of emotion from the story we have built up around it is a critical aspect of Right Speech. It allows us to speak more gently to ourselves in the face of our most intense suffering, not just in the midst of meditation or in a therapist’s office but in real life, in the middle of the night when we lie awake wondering what is wrong with us.”
It helps to hear the idea of letting go and noticing through as many ways possible. It helps to hear that we just need to show up in our own lives and narratives.
May we all digest our emotions as well as our dinner,
Epstein, Mark. Advice Not Given: A Guide to Getting Over Yourself (p. 73). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.