My emotional deck of cards

New Dawn. Photo Courtesy of Valeria Vannini.

New Dawn. Photo Courtesy of Valeria Vannini.

I woke up feeling refreshed this morning, having slept 11 hours straight without the sting of little feet in my ribs nudging me out of deep sleep at all hours of the night.

My husband and son had a “sleepover” downstairs in the basement, so I had my bed all to myself for once.

It was my own hunger, rather than my boy’s “gentle” requests for his breakfast that awoke me at around 8 AM today.

While I made my breakfast I got to thinking about a conversation I was having with a friend yesterday that was a repeat of something I’ve discussed many, many times with my sister. I don’t know why I woke up thinking about this, but I thought it would be worthwhile to write it down.

I’ve found in looking around me that we don’t all use the same feelings equally. I remember first noticing this when my son was a baby. Other new moms would talk about their feelings of guilt at not being able to breast-feed exclusively, or not giving their babies organic food, or for the working moms, not spending enough time with their babies. Their guilt would push them to do things that ultimately made their lives SO much more complicated. And I would scratch my head and go, huh??

At the time, I thought I was just a more evolved being (yes, I do have a bit of a superiority complex that rears its ugly head sometimes). Recently, though, I’ve discovered that I just don’t “do” guilt. It doesn’t occur to me to feel guilty about things most of the time. It’s not in my emotional deck of cards.

I also don’t have guilt’s ugly cousin “shame”. I don’t know, I just don’t do things I’m ashamed of. Or maybe I do things I SHOULD be ashamed of, but I don’t have the gene.

That’s not to say, though, that I don’t suffer from my own set of negative emotions that push me to do things that rob me of my happiness. It’s just that they’re Spades, not Clubs. And as I’ve gotten older, I’ve managed to toss some of these cards from my deck, slowly replacing them with better cards.

Here’s what my hand currently looks like:


Oldest of four.

Obligation. I’ve always attributed this one to being the first of four children in my family, but it is RIDICULOUS how much this feeling drives me. The level of obligation I feel to people like retail employees and other random strangers is aberrant.

Unlike guilt, there’s no feeling of wrongdoing per se, and it’s forward-looking rather than retroactive. I am beholden to people, not concepts. I don’t think I’m a bad person for not doing things a certain way, but I do feel a sense of responsibility for making things easier for other people.

So for instance, if I tell someone I’m going to do something, I will do it exactly as and when I said I would – unless I excuse myself from my obligation (in which case, I am done with it and don’t think about it again).

Angst. If you need me to expand on this one you’d probably be better served going back and reading up on my blog. Or better yet, here’s a primer.

Self-Doubt. This mostly manifests itself in email form.

Did I say thaaaat?

Did I say thaaaat?

The main question I ask myself is – “Am I saying the right thing?” and its corollary “Will people think this is weird?” as well as “Is this email appropriate?” If you knew me growing up, you’d know that I was quite well known for putting my foot in my mouth. As I’ve gotten older and my executive functioning has improved, this has stopped being as much of an issue, but I’m also constantly making a conscious effort NOT to say the wrong thing.

Gratitude. I’m not sure how I got to be this lucky, but I’ll take it!

Compassion. This is probably the single most powerful tool I have in navigating my relationships with other people.

Compassion is a combination of empathy and forgiveness. It is having the self-assurance to understand that other people’s behavior is more reflective of them and their struggles than it is of you and your worth.

Hurt people hurt. Ego, attitude, rudeness, hubris and thoughtlessness are all defense mechanisms. Anger is a defensive emotion. More often than not people who set out to get one up on others do it because at some point they felt like victims themselves – and want to avoid feeling that way in the future.

And in my “discard” pile I’ve got:

Bitterness. I used to get SO upset when things didn’t go my way. I would compare myself constantly to the people around me and feel like a victim for not having what they had. In college I would hide out in my room feeling sorry for myself because my high school friends had gone to schools that put them close to each other and I was on the other side of the world from them. I was despondent that the boys I liked never liked me back. I want to kick myself when I think about all the wasted opportunities – all that time I could have been taking advantage of the here and now rather than wishing things were different.

I can’t put my finger on when this one started to fade away. It may have been after my first pregnancy ended in miscarriage when we were still living in Barcelona. We were incredibly saddened by the loss of that baby, but in retrospect it brought us so many good things – such as my son – that I thank the Universe for unfolding exactly as it does, perfectly every time.

Resentment. Just like everybody else, I have people in my life who have hurt me. For a very long time, I held grudges. And then somehow I started to realize that resentment weakened me. It did nothing to the people who had slighted me, but it weakened ME. So I did three things: 1) I forgave and then culled from my life people who didn’t deserve to be in it, 2) I used my compassion lens to humanize people important people I needed to forgive, 3) I made it my mission to try to put myself in other people’s shoes when their behavior offends to prevent me from feeling hurt. It doesn’t always work, but when it doesn’t I can just go back to culling and forgiving.

What about you guys? What’s in your deck of cards?


3 thoughts on “My emotional deck of cards

  1. It’s interesting how people use different words and distinguish them. I might use other words for the same things. This was a lesson in language for me. It shows me to always ask people what they mean because we all might mean something different. I love how you put yourself out there. Sometimes I wonder if we only have two emotions: Love and Fear. I try to practice seeing everything between those two and what a difference it make to simplify this way. I only have one choice to make. (Often I make the wrong one- but can readjust quickly!)


      • Thanks for stopping by!

        I love your perspective on this. You’re right, it really is all in the words.

        I read somewhere that there are two kinds of emotions – primary and secondary. So I guess obligation would be a secondary emotion derived from love, like anxiety and doubt are secondary emotions derived from fear.

        In any event, thanks again for the thought-provoking response. I don’t know how to edit comments but I’ll go try to figure it out and make the corrections you asked for.


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