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Clearing Off the Emotional Clipboard

Acknowledging our pain, our grief, is healthy. Because ignoring it doesn't mean it disappears. It just means that you lose any bit of control you had over it.

I knew a person who went through something hard. Like, really super hard. But rather than pause and ask herself, "Hey, how do I feel about this?" and sit with those sad, complicated feelings, she instead would just cheerily say, "I'm fine! Really!" She kept doing that, over and over, and it became such a pattern that she really said some ridiculous stuff in her hurry to move on away from any sad feelings.

And then one day, she was in a large group of people, and they all watched a video clip from a funny movie.

Christy Cummings: It's interesting, we have kind of a family dynamic going on here which pretty much mirrors what I grew up with: I'm the mommy slash daddy, the taskmaster, the disciplinarian. Sherri Ann Cabot: Mr. Punishment over here. 
Christy Cummings: Oh, but I also reward. And Sherri Ann is responsible for the unconditional love. Sherri Ann Cabot: And the decorative abilities.  
Christy Cummings: The heart and the soul which was what my mom did. That was her role. She was there for the unconditional love... and it worked for my family, you know... until my mom committed suicide in '81.

It's a throwaway line, funny in context, like "But other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?"

But it so mirrored what this person had been doing, all jolly frivolity, "Everything is great, other than this huge thing, oooh, look at that rainbow!" that tears began rolling down the person's face and she could not stop. Surrounded by a room full of people, and the tears wouldn't stop. For hours. Literally.

(Yeah, the person was me. Of course.)

When I did my chaplaincy education (CPE) that all potential UU ministers have to do, my supervisor explained about the invisible "emotional clipboard." There are times when we can't process our own feelings, like if we're visiting with a patient. Our attention needs to be on that person, but some difficult emotions may get prodded. So, you put that emotion, or memory, on your emotional clipboard, so you can come back to it later, and focus your attention on your patient.

BUT, she emphasized. You must return to the clipboard at another time and clear it off. And the only way to clear it off is to feel it, and think through it, talk to others, cry if you need to. Otherwise, your clipboard gets too full with all the things you divert to it and you wind up losing control. You can no longer control when you process it because it takes over and is processing the heck out of YOU.

(And losing control doesn't look like crying in a giant room of other people for everyone. For you, it may be becoming irrationally angry at little things, or just wanting to sleep 24/7.)

To be able to move on without the encumbrance of that clipboard loaded full, dropping scraps of paper left and right, means freedom.

Tomorrow: The Freedom of Moving Forward


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