Although most people in the country wouldn’t agree, we in Southern California have been having extreme weather conditions for us: rain and mudslides. You could almost say we’re so used to mild conditions that we become afraid of what others would call “real” weather—weather wimps. Being afraid, ashamed of, or embarrassed by your feelings is like being afraid of the weather, because emotions (tears, panic attacks, angry outbursts, withdrawal, depression, elation, lust, romantic excitement, euphoria) are the weather conditions of the inner self.
Certainly there are weather conditions that are fearsome, such as hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, exploding volcanoes and fierce fires, and we need to control these if we can, and protect ourselves from them. But, like the weather, most emotional climate conditions are pretty mild.
My clients have found it very helpful to use the metaphors of weather to understand how natural and normal all feelings are. Here are my thoughts on the basics of emotional weather. It’s a concept I'm just working out, so please share your ideas and reactions.
Your smile lights up your face the way the sun lights our day. Smiles, too can come from behind clouds or after emotional storms. The smile signals that all is well, pressure is equalized and the coast is clear to be out and open and have some fun.
Like rain, tears can be stormy or just a light sprinkle, and feel angry, cold, dreary and sad, or even come through the sunshine. Rain often follows a change of weather pressure, and tears can be the result of release of inner tension. People frequently cry from relief that they've been heard or that they can see a solution where there appeared to be a problem. Those who suffer from a trauma or a loss normally cry a little after the first shock of finding out, as the awful pressure of the news is absorbed and the grief sets in.
Rain first carries with it the dust suspended in the air, and then washes everything clean as it continues. Emotional rain, too, can first be painful, and then begin to bring release and clarity. A “good cry” is one that really lets go of the held feelings and continues until relief sets in.
When you allow the tears to flow until your natural smile returns, you will feel hopeful again—hope is the rainbow of our internal climate. Like a rainbow, hope doesn't exist until there has been a disappointment, and the disappointment has been accepted completely enough to let the sun shine once more. That smile, coming thorough sadness, brings with it a renewed feeling of hope.
Sometimes reluctance to express unhappiness or discomfort builds pressure that eventually releases in a rush, like a storm. Violent storms shake things up, just as strong anger does. Anger that is allowed to get out of control is as destructive as a hurricane, but anger that is expressed in healthy ways can "clear the air" just as a storm does. The aftermath of a healthy, not too violent storm allows us to appreciate the pleasures of calmness.
Cloudiness and Fog
Emotionally, things are not always very clear. It’s normal to feel foggy and unsure, or depressed and dark from time to time. If you can remember it's just your emotional climate, and explore it to discover the cause, the fog will lift, the clouds will part, it may rain or storm a little, but the sun will eventually come out again. Normal depression that is not allowed to take its natural course, not opened up to let the fresh air in, can turn into emotional smog, or internal pollution.
Emotional smog, like the weather kind, is just the normal cloudy/foggy conditions with man-made junk added. We call it clinical depression. Everyone is down from time to time, but those who attack themselves when down, or have others around who pollute their internal atmosphere with criticism or shaming, become smog-bound, and can't clear up their internal atmosphere. Letting in the fresh air of interest and the warmth of emotional support allows the fog to lift, and the sun to come out again.
If you try paying the same amount of daily attention to your internal conditions as you probably do to the weather report, and begin to regard your feelings as naturally as weather, you'll become much more emotionally comfortable. Like weather, your feelings are easier to accept and live with when you manage them, respond to them and don't try to resist them or deny them. If you understand your feelings as weather, you can have many lovely inner days.
Your Sense of Emotion
Human attributes, we are taught, include five senses: sight, sound, taste, touch and smell. Only in science fiction do we read about a sixth sense, which is usually depicted as a psychic sense. If you think about it, however, your emotions are your real “sixth sense.” Just like your other five senses, your emotions register data about the external world. With your sight, your eyes take in data about colors, shapes and relative sizes of the things in the world around us. Touch tells us how things feel, how warm, cold, soft, hard, sharp or smooth they are.
Your emotions tell you what others’ feelings are. We can sense, in an almost psychic way, how someone feels at a distance, without being told. By comparing what our other senses tell us about others (smiles, frowns, tension, “prickly vibes,” relaxed breathing and an indescribable type of data we call empathy) with what we know about our own inner feelings, we draw conclusions about what other people are feeling. Without being told, we know when someone is angry, when someone has strong positive or negative feelings toward us, and when we are loved.
With conscientious practice, people can improve their use of senses, such as being a wine taster, reading braille, refining your sense of color as an artist, or learning to tell different fabrics by texture. Certain people, such as psychotherapists and actors, practice and refine emotions until they can sense very small changes. As a psychotherapist, I “read” my clients’ emotions and give them feedback to help them sort out emotional confusion. “You say you’re fine, but you appear to be angry,” I might say to someone who is disconnected from his feelings.
Sight is an external sense—we only see what’s outside us. Touch, however, is both internal and external. We can feel food go down our gullet, on occasion we can feel our own heartbeat, and we can feel muscle cramps and movement from inside the body. Emotions are a sense that is simultaneously internal and external. To our emotions, it’s as if there’s no limit to our bodies, and our skin is transparent. We feel our feelings on the inside, and yet they reach out and touch people and tell us what they’re feeling, too. It is a type of psychic sense, especially to people who develop it.
Just as your sight helps you navigate the roads, avoid obstacles, and choose the best route, your emotions are the sense that help you navigate the paths of relationships. If you are knowledgeable about your feelings, and your sensitivity to others’ feelings, you can be much more effective in all your relationships, maximizing your love, your intimacy, your emotional well-being, and your happiness.
You can refine and sensitize yourself to your feelings by “tracking” what you are feeling on a daily basis: Just stop a few times each day and ask yourself, “What am I feeling right now?” Once you get comfortable with that, you can spend some time people watching, and guess what they might be feeling. You won’t know if you’ve guessed right unless you ask, but just practicing paying attention will sharpen your skills.