When Emotions Are Leading Your Decisions – A Letter to My Son in Prison

Son,

Still no communication from you. Still trusting you. Still praying (as you can expect!). I feel led to send this to you. Lots of Dr. Brene’ Brown stuff in here from Dare to Lead. (Do you want the book?)

You were created to thrive–with God making the way before you–wherever you end up. Even where your life is now. This is a temporary place. How did you get here again? I’m asking you to brave up and find out why so this is the last time. You were created to thrive.

When we have the bravery to walk into our story and own it, we get to write the ending. When we don’t own our stories of failure, setbacks and hurt–they own us.

We are emotional beings, and when something hard happens to us, emotion drives.

You are living in a place where vulnerability is seen as a weakness. To feel is going to feel vulnerable. I’m still asking you to feel (and be safe at the same time).

Strong souls are connected to their bodies. We call emotions feelings because we feel them in our bodies. We have a physiological response to emotions. When we are triggered emotionally, strong souls feel it and pay attention. They get curious about it. Hence my curiosity as to what is going on with you. Hoping to inspire your curiosity as to what is going on with you.

Here is a new thought: Most of us were not raised to get emotionally curious about what we are feeling. When we’re triggered our first thought isn’t to do what the wise ones have figured out:  slow down, take a deep breath, and get curious about what is happening.

Instead, we bust out the armor.

Armor has different looks for different people. For some it is hiding. For some it is emotional eating. For some it is rage. For some it is partying. For some it is bullying. The list is long.

What is your armor? What do you use to protect yourself when you feel your world is out of your control?

How does shame cause you to armor up?

(Is this why you are not talking to us?)

Armor takes us out of feeling. As scary as hurt and pain is, our bodies are good to feel it.

So instead of feeling our emotions (any and all of them, not just the ones that others cause) and getting curious, we offload them onto others. We literally take that ball of emotional energy welling up inside us and hurl it toward other people. There seem to be six common offloading strategies. In your curiosity, do you recognize you in any of them? (Taken from pp. 252-255 in Dare to Lead, Dr. Brene’ Brown.)

  • Crashing triggers – We think we’ve packed the hurt so far down that it can’t possibly resurface, yet all of a sudden, a seemingly innocuous comment sends us into a rage.
  • Bouncing hurt – Pain is hard, and it’s easier to be angry than to acknowledge hurt so our ego intervenes and does the dirty work. The ego doesn’t own stories or want to write new endings; it denies emotion and hates curiosity. Instead, the ego uses stories as armor and alibi. Anger, blame, and avoidance are the ego’s bouncers. It’s much easier to say “I don’t give a damn” than it is to say “I’m hurt.” The ego likes blaming, finding fault, making excuses, inflicting payback, and lashing out, all of which are ultimately forms of self-protection. The ego is also a fan of avoidance–assuring us that we’re fine, pretending that it doesn’t matter, that we’re impervious. We deflect with humor and cynicism.
  • Numbing hurt – We keep our armor on–those negative coping behaviors–so that we never have to get curious as to what is going on.
  • Stockpiling hurt – This is different than crashing triggers. The pain is so firmly packed down that your actual body starts to hurt and deteriorate. The body wins every time and will shut you down.
  • False cheer – Instead of staying curious about what is going on everything, and I mean everything, is answered with something cheery. Or some sort of Bible promise. The promises of the Bible are true but when used as armor to protect our hurt they become laughable, a joke. The person becomes a joke.
  • Getting stuck – We deny our feelings by getting stuck in a way that makes it difficult to go forward or backward. The unspoken core of this is feeling out of control because you’ve been hurt (we all have, you are not the exception) so you do everything you can to regain control and that just keeps you stuck repeating the same life behaviors over and over.

When getting curious as to what is going on inside of you, you are going to make a crappy first draft of the story. This is okay but don’t get stuck with that story.

In the absence of data or the whole truth, we always make up stories. Our brain does this naturally (the neuropathways we’ve talked about) to take us out of the discomfort of something not being completed and making sense. So we create a crappy first draft to fill in the gaps.

But the truth is stories based on limited real data and plentiful imagined data, blended into a coherent, emotionally satisfying version of reality, are called conspiracy theories. Don’t get stuck in that first version of what is happening!

I’m sure you live with plenty who have conspiracy theories as their stories!!!

A helpful tip is to write down this version of what is happening. Just the writing process slows your reacting brain down enough to help you see the lack of data that your first draft is missing.

Ok. You’ve stayed curious. You’ve got your crappy first draft swirling in your head. Now comes the time to ask yourself some honest questions. Welcome to the work part.

  • What more do I need to learn and understand about the situation?
  • What do I know objectively?
  • What assumptions am I making?
  • What more do I need to learn and understand about the other people in the story?
  • What additional information do I need?
  • What questions or clarifications might help?
  • What more do I need to learn and understand about myself?
  • What’s underneath my response?
  • What am I really feeling? What part did I play?

See what I mean by work? Here is the moment of growth, changing your neuropathways, leading your brain.

In this you are not letting the institution or that one fool off of the hook. You are writing the ending that won’t own you.

May the Holy Spirit take this and be alive in your soul right now. May you be brave enough to get curious and find out what is going on inside of you. Pay attention to everything that is happening around you because God is at work to heal or you are walking around armored up. It is one of the two. 

Be brave, son. You are so loved.

Ma!

Note to you:  We have received no communication from him still. We have no idea what his response was to all of these hard questions. May you have a response for your life so you can lead your brain.

Be brave, reader. You are also loved.

A heartbroken mom believing better for you

(photo credit:  Wesley Eland, Unsplash.com)