Identifying Emotions, a Learned Skill

Posted onCategoriesTerri's Thoughts

There is a skill set, an angle to understanding life, which few of us think to consider or request from the Lord. The skill of identifying emotions doesn’t hold the key to making all of life happy or peaceful, nor does it make all things right in the world.

However, it can occasionally diffuse challenging situations and it always seems to quiet the voices in our heads. Not the crazy voices, but the tapes which we continually run through our minds like a song that we replay again and again because we so identify with the lyrics.
This skill set is like a tool in our tool box, or a talent in our back pocket which sure comes in handy as we walk through the journey of life. I would say this skill set is MORE important than the tool of being able to speak in public or write a paragraph or cook a meal.
The talent?
Identifying our own emotions, which eventually grows into the skill which helps us to identify emotions in those around us.
(Wouldn’t that be a handy interpretation skill when someone nearby looks grumpy and we assume we have done something to offend them? How many times has that happened to you? Only to find that the person isn’t upset by you, but by their own regret or bad traffic or a thousand other completely fixable, yet annoying things.)
When did I first notice I lacked this skill?

When my dad died, I was overwhelmed with grief in a way unknown to me before those months, despite previous losses. My grief was not marked by long periods of crying or signs of depression. Grief during that time looked like exhaustion, the inability to focus on a task or the lack of motivation to get dressed in the morning. Honestly, the tape in my head said I was handling the loss just fine; I just needed to stop being so lazy.
Once a counselor named grief for me, I could begin to unravel it, like a string. I could find the end of it. When I saw grief a few years later, I noticed it felt like a familiar coat that I hadn’t worn in a long time. In addition to being familiar, grief was less stressful knowing that it would come to an end. During my first encounter, I believed that life at the core of my soul had permanently morphed.

Knowing that grief only lasts for a season – if we process it correctly – helps us all in immeasurable ways.

This morning God has revealed another instance where the tool of identifying emotions helps silence the mental tapes, helps me accept myself for who I am and helps me live life accepting the boundaries that are called Terri Threadgill.
In the arena of mental abilities, accepting the boundaries called Terri Threadgill means I don’t try to solve rocket science math problems because my IQ isn’t high enough. I’ve noticed that most people don’t normally expect themselves to handle jobs above their IQ – they figure out fairly early the size of their mental abilities. Occasionally a person will dream of medical school, but closed door after closed door, low test score after low test score, will slowly reveal their more exact strengths and abilities, where they can succeed, thrive and make a difference in the world, in an area equally, if not more, significant than earning a medical degree.
The arena of emotions is the same. Same defined boundaries with finite abilities like each person has in the area of mental aptitudes.

Except in this arena, we are more prone to expect too much of our bodies and souls, frequently not recognizing we just don’t have the ability to be more than we are, to do more than we can do. We lack enough of the right proverbial gas in our engine for a specific task or encounter.  How often have I had to remind myself that I am not a robot to perform on command?  Far too often…
For the last few days I have been aware of my inability to sit down and knock off the tasks on my to-do list.
Why can I not accomplish a few simple tasks?
The tapes in my head say it is because I am lazy. (That is one of my personal go to tapes. Maybe or maybe not one of yours.)
Suddenly it hit me. I have mis-identified the emotion or attribute. I am not actually lazy and avoiding work because I don’t like work. My brain says these three items are next on the to-do list while my emotions are saying, hold on sister, we don’t agree with your analysis of the situation.
In this case, my emotions are saying we have some bigger issues at hand.
1) Each of us has a tank that is filled by spending quiet alone time for a stretch of time. Some of us have large tanks in this area; others smaller ones. Regardless of the size, 100% of people do not work optimally if this tank is empty. Nothing in the engine of any person can work unless we get some gas in here. The ONLY way to refill this tank is with alone time in a quiet venue which is unbounded by appointments. That is a hard thing to write on a to-do list if you are a task driven person; nonetheless write it down for long term mental health.
2) Some people are loners; others are extroverts who crave time with people. Despite being a loner who is committed to tasks more often than people, each person still has a tank which is only filled by nurturing others. The last few days I have noticed that a warning light is going off in my brain saying significant people in my world are in need of some Terri Threadgill TLC – husband, children, close friends, parents. These people can find nurturing elsewhere but they cannot replace uniquely designed Terri Threadgill TLC. It is like they have a special tank that can only be filled by time with me, specifically me.

3) The list of  “tanks” in each person are vast, if not infinite.  Those are two examples.  Two more simple examples? My husband functions at his highest when he spends large quantities of time outdoors and when he has consistent exercise.  His ability to function in the most routine of tasks will break down when those two tanks run dry.  Each of us would benefit from having an understanding of what it takes to make our engines run best.  We would then benefit greatly from being sure to schedule those activities on a routine basis, no matter how selfish or insignificant  they may seem to others.
Now that my alter to-do list is taken care of, the mental to-do list is quickly finished.
I propose that the unfolding of our identity in Christ is rooted in the skill of correctly identifying our emotions.
The beauty of seeing both to-do lists complete?

The mental to-do list is now accomplished with feelings of joy, feeding an entirely new tank called self-respect or self-worth which can only be filled by doing important tasks that require use of mental and emotional power given to each of us by the Lord. He created each of us for specific good works.
Ephesians 2:10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.
Warning, use this skill wisely. Never assume you can read the motives or thoughts of another – only the Lord can. Run every use of this skill through the filter of prayer. God is faithful and will reveal truth every time, praying for truth to be revealed is a prayer He answers 100% of the time.