May 26

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7 Steps to Learn from Emotions at Midlife


Recently, my father passed away at the age of 87. He lived a long good life especially since he didn’t take very good care of himself. I have spent the last 6 years taking care of him and his affairs. As he became less independent, our roles reversed. I was forced to play the role of parent, and he was the child.

After he passed, a whole host of emotions ran through me over the coming days. While in my younger years, I would have just pushed the emotions away and ignored them, I am a little wiser now. I now know that ignoring and pushing emotions away is detrimental to our psychological health and productivity.

Take These 7 Steps

  1. Become AWARE of the emotions you are feeling. When you notice them, observe what they are doing and where they are coming from.
  2. ACKNOWLEDGE the emotions you are feeling. Do not judge the emotions. They are there for a reason.
  3. Focus on FEELING the emotions to their fullest extent. There is great power in emotion. So, feel the feeling and feel the power.
  4. IDENTIFY the emotions and label them. Is it anger, sorrow, guilt, frustration, shame, …. Call them by name.
  5. REMEMBER by noticing the memories that come to you. Emotions are attached to memories, and memories are the key to understanding emotions.
  6. REFLECT on the memories and emotions to determine what you can learn from them. Focus on understanding the reasons why you are feeling these emotions. This is where the potential for growth comes.
  7. REFRAME the memories and emotions as a learning and growth experience. Examine your emotions and memories from your highest present-day self. See them for what they are and re-label them as learning experiences that live in your past.

For example, I felt sad because my father was gone. Even though I had to spend a lot of time taking care of him and we hadn’t had much quality conversation in a long time, I was still sad that he was no longer a part of my life. I felt a hole because now both parents were gone. It felt like a part of me was no longer there.

I felt relief. Anyone who has endured the burden of taking care of a loved one knows the feeling of relief when they pass. It would be easy to feel guilty about being relieved. However, feeling relief does not mean I am not sad for his passing. It is the same relief I would feel after finishing anything that required a lot of work. I can actually look back and say that I did everything I should have to take care of him.

I felt a small amount of guilt. Over the past 6 years, I have been growing more and more impatient with his behavior. As I had mentioned, our roles had reversed where I was the parent and he was the child. I asked myself, could I have been more patient with him? The answer is of course yes. However, I never treated him badly, and I always told him I loved him.

I felt a small amount of pride and satisfaction knowing that I had consciously and ungrudgingly taken care of him over the past 6 years. I took care of him at home for as long as I could. I found him a private assisted living home nearby that felt like a home and not an institution. I took him to every doctor appointment and was in charge of his medical care. I took over all of his financial affairs and handled them soundly. It was a big job, and I did it well.

I turned my thoughts towards positive memories of him. This allowed being to feel joy in celebrating his life. There were many examples of positive qualities he taught me that I now possess. It was so easy to focus on the negative qualities as he aged, but now I can focus on his positive qualities. This has allowed me to honor him properly.

Finally, I felt gratitude. I was happy to be his son. He taught me lessons both with his positive qualities and lesser qualities. Mostly, he taught me through his character. For this, I will be ever grateful.

Conclusion

Emotions are wired into the human body and brain for a reason. Emotions are Energy in MOTION. They help move us and motivate us. Ignoring and pushing away emotions is detrimental if not dangerous to our psychological health. Most commonly, repressed emotions keep us stuck from developing into better people and living a fuller life. The wise person understands that emotions are not a problem to deal with but rather a gift or talent to be cultivated.

While we all want to feel the positive emotions in life, it is just as important to feel the negative emotions as well. In fact, if we are honest, we can learn more from our negative emotions than our positive ones. Taking the time to become AWARE, ACKNOWLEDGE, FEEL, IDENTIFY, REMEMBER, REFLECT and REFRAME will teach us important lessons. With each new lesson we learn, our consciousness and understanding increase allowing us to live with greater purpose, meaning, and passion.

Bruce Fleck

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