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Only too recently, I’ve been diving into emotional intelligence and emotional health.

Emotional sickness is avoiding reality at any cost. Emotional health is facing reality at any cost.” -M. Scott Peck

I am now open to the idea that my emotions can be tools I use to get me to my goals, not just inconveniences to be managed.  But I am experiencing too many emotions at any given moment to process in real time.  And most will be gone within minutes or hours.  I can’t live in a perpetual slavery to emotion regulation.

On the other hand, an emotional thermometer would be really useful.  I don’t like the reality that unknown emotions from unknown origins are using me to get to their goals, while patronizing me and allowing me to think those decisions were what I really wanted all along.

Screw you, emotions!  I see the strings, and this puppet is in training to be the puppet master!

So then, a current analogy of my emotional goals would be my experience with my car: mostly it’s a tool that I use for my own ends.  But I keep a bit of an eye on it.  I am familiar with many of the weird sounds and feelings it presents, and I kind of know what they mean.  I am most intimately attuned to the problems that cost me the most in the past.  Now I am better at preventing, diagnosing, and curing those problems…I hope.

On any given day, that stupid machine can take over and wreck my day, week, or month.  It can even kill me.  But that’s infinitely more likely when I fail to do the routine maintenance.  So I check the tires, change the oil and try not to run out of gas.  I pay attention to the temperature gauge and the warning lights on the dash. I’m no auto mechanic, but I’m good enough for most days.  (And I know where to find a good mechanic when I need one.)

I can’t drop everything and fix each problem I notice. Some people do.  Their cars are immaculate and constantly being cleaned and upgraded.  That seems cool, but in reality, I’m never gonna be that guy.  I own an old Corolla, not a new Ferrari.  So instead, I’ve got a running list of known problems that I’m neither ignoring nor obsessing over.  I’m just prioritizing:

  • The engine is knocking.  I’m gonna need to schedule that deep work really soon
  • The door handle is broken.  That irritates my wife more than me.  I should do something about that.
  • The brakes are a little squeaky, but I’ve had it checked and it’s good for now.  Once that sound changes, I’ll check them again.
  • There’s a crack in the windshield. I’m never fixing that.  In fact, I kind of like it there, for my own twisted reasons.

I could try to constantly regulate the whole thing, but I’d never get to drive anywhere.  So I take advantage of automation and warning signs.  Where the battery gets used, the alternator charges it.  When the engine gets too hot, the thermostat regulates the temperature.  When those systems break down, the car throws me a warning light that my situation is extreme.

For me, car ownership is manageable with the proper regulation, automation, maintenance, and scheduled deep work for larger repairs.

…and the gratitude to be understanding when my 230,000-mile car breaks down and wrecks my week.  It’s hard to remember in the heat of the moment, but she’s been good to me most of the time.  Cars aren’t meant to be driven that hard.  Truth be told, I haven’t done as much maintenance as I could, and there were some warning signs that she was giving me, but I just didn’t know enough about her to interpret the warnings correctly.

And the people whose appointments I miss because of the breakdown are always more understanding than I am. Just saying the words “car troubles” covers the whole thing in compassion, because everyone who has taken responsibility for a car understands car troubles. The only one who is unforgiving of my situation is me.  (The only other ones who would complain about my situation are those who have never owned a car, or the daddy’s girls who just use his Benz when the Beamer’s in the shop.)

Regulation, automation, maintenance, scheduled deep work, and self-compassion.  That seems like a great way to deal with an unmanageable onslaught of emotions.

  • Regulation is the work I’m doing to understand my emotions.
  • Automation is the new systems I’m implementing to process emotions differently.
  • Maintenance is the meditation, devotions, routines and practices I always do, but more so when I can see the need.
  • Scheduled deep work is the therapy and groups I attend, along with the journaling and processing I do with those who are experienced in this journey.
  • Self-compassion is always the hardest to remember.  I frequently expect me to be better than I was.  I don’t know why.  I’m not.  Yet. I guess I’m still the indignant daddy’s girl, “Why isn’t this thing working right!?”

How does this stereotypically-male analogy compare to your view of your relationship to your emotions? What analogy works better?