Last year, on my birthday, I made a bold declaration: 'No more celebrating birthdays at bars; we should be out exploring the world!' Yet, fast forward to this year, and here we were again, clinking glasses at a bar. Was this a failure to follow through on my promise? Not at all. It was a testament to the fact that we are all at the beginning of new journeys, and sometimes, that journey includes a few detours.
I could have forced the issue and meticulously planned a trip to ensure I stuck to my resolution. However, I realized that I might not have had as great a time as I did this year. What changed? I became more flexible with myself, and I patted myself on the back, thinking, 'I have my emotions under control.' It was that same night when I discovered Brene Brown's book, 'Atlas of the Heart,' and I started to wonder, should emotions really be under control?
If we consult the dictionary, 'control' is defined as exercising restraint, while 'manage' means to be in charge of something. So, when people called me 'cold-hearted,' was it because I had my emotions under control but not managed properly?
My journey to becoming 'Tasmanian Leslie' started early in life with my naturally calm temperament due to childhood molestation and the shame of getting "in trouble". However, when I got married at the tender age of 21 to a highly narcissistic man, everything changed. I tried to match his energy just to gain his attention, despite his untreated brain-damaged from being shot in the head at age 17. It's safe to say, my expectations were misplaced. With two kids in tow, I felt the pressure to adhere to my family's code of ethics: 'It's better to marry than to burn.' Regardless of whether it's the right person, they believed marriage would fix everything. Those seven years turned out to be the worst of my life, with the only value in that relationship being the children we brought into the world. I lived in constant uncertainty, and I didn't like it. So, I started controlling my emotions. While my friends and family would express their feelings, I would stick to the facts. My anger was no longer on display, but the energy was still expended.
As I listened to Brene Brown's book over and over again, the concept of 'wise mind' became impossible to ignore. Why did I wake up at 3 am to watch that interview? I couldn't turn the book off, I kept rewinding chapters, and I couldn't ignore the lack of emotional management I had never truly discovered. 'Atlas of the Heart' by Brene Brown, PhD, MSW, beautifully describes the plethora of emotions we all experience. I often tell my clients, 'If you can name the feeling, you can respond differently.' However, I hadn't learned to name my feelings, so I wasn't responding to them.
I had taken it to the extreme, and all along, I thought I had 'arrived.' It's time for me to take another step towards wholeness. If you're ready to increase your emotional intelligence, I strongly recommend checking out this book. It has become my new guide to understanding the emotions I locked up for so many years. Dive into 'Atlas of the Heart' and embark on your own journey of self-discovery. It might just be the new 'bible' for understanding and managing those complex emotions we've all experienced at some point in our lives. Also, check of the HBO Max 5 part docuseries build around the teaching of this book. Our feeling are to help us enjoy our lives NOT CONTROL THEM!
Leslie Ousley MA LPC SAC-IT