Once upon a time twin babies were born. Because the babies had a full range of feelings, from happy to sad, mad, afraid and every nuance in between, and because the twins showed what they were feeling without hesitation, the adults who raised them named them HeQ and SheQ. The adults loved the twins. They especially loved the twins when they were happy. When either twin was sad, or mad, or afraid, the adults would say shhhhh, and try to quiet and comfort them. In such moments they might also play peek-a-boo or do other things that the baby liked, hoping the baby would shift emotional gears back to happiness. Sometimes, especially in the middle of the night, they would get frustrated and say “Be quiet!”
The same thing happened in reverse. The twins were scared when the adults were mad, sad or afraid. They liked it better when the adults were happy, and so began favoring behaviors that cheered the adults up. Slowly the twins learned to look happy even when they were feeling sad, mad or afraid, because they wanted the adults to be happy.
Years passed and the twins grew up. They had been through many changes, physical, mental and emotional. One day, while walking through the forest, they came upon a small cottage in the middle of a clearing. Oddly enough, there was a sign on the door that said, “Welcome SheQ and HeQ!” Surprised, curious, and a little scared, they entered the cottage. No one was home! The twins explored every room, and then began to get hungry. Their attention turned to three bowls of porridge sitting on a table.
Little did they know, this was magic emotional porridge. The small bowl had too little emotion, the large bowl had too much, and the middle bowl was just right. HeQ felt a little afraid as he took his first bite from the small bowl. His fear diminished to the point of unawareness. He gobbled from the large bowl and was flooded with fear to the point of panic.
SheQ had been eating from the middle bowl, and feeling love for her brother. The love was strong and energizing, yet she could still see clearly and think for herself. She wasn’t blinded by love, as she might have been if she had eaten from the large bowl. When HeQ began to panic, she put her arms around him and calmed him while she calmly considered the risks that they were indeed taking.
“Hush” HeQ she whispered while handing him a spoonful from the middle bowl. “Have a bite of this, and then we should move on.” HeQ took it and trust flowed through him…trust for SheQ but also trust for himself. “She’s right,” he thought. “Why was I so scared?” he thought as he took a bite from the large bowl, that was still in front of him. Wham! He was flooded with shame. “Why am I always so stupid!” he said.
As she often did, SheQ took too much responsibility in that moment for her brother’s feelings. She, too, felt shame as she nibbled from the small bowl. Her shame disappeared, and with it her concern for her effect on others. Shamelessly SheQ said, “You’re right! You are stupid compared to me.”
Still eating from the large bowl, HeQ responded with rage. “That’s right! Admit it! You have always thought you were better than me!” With that, he hurled the large bowl at SheQ, who thankfully ducked. Porridge and broken bowl pieces smashed everywhere. HeQ slumped back, ashamed again, and drained by the anger. “What’s happening to us,” he wondered aloud?
Just then, the three bears came home. HeQ, growing up in a culture that taught that boys aren’t afraid, stood between the bears and his sister. Papa bear mauled him in the head with his big bear arm and HeQ died instantly. SheQ escaped out the back and lived happily ever after…although she did miss her brother and she always had a fear of bears.
The magic porridge is in each of us. If our bowl of emotional porridge is too large or too small, no matter what the emotion, there are consequences. We are born with a perfect balance of the full range of emotions, and complete congruence in showing what is on the inside through our body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions. We all must learn how to restrain our expression of feelings. Otherwise social life would be chaos, with everyone immediately revealing how they feel from moment to moment. Adults assist in this process both consciously (although perhaps without much thought about what they are doing) by hushing infants when they cry and soothing them towards calmer and happier emotions (simultaneously soothing the adults, who would lose their minds otherwise), and unconsciously by reacting to the infant’s emotions that they, the adults, have issues with.
Habits emerge. Some emotions are so well hidden that we lose track of them even within ourselves. Synapses whither (but remain intact!). Denial and/or lack of awareness replaces our original state of congruence. We act off emotion (by avoiding, by opposing, by purchasing) without even knowing what we are feeling. We are impatient and blame others if they reveal emotions we have lost touch with or fear in ourselves.
The right bowl of emotional porridge is still inside, if only we can find it. We have to train ourselves to think about what we feel, even if we are afraid of the feelings. With conscious effort we can rebuild our synapses. We can notice what we are feeling even when the feelings are small, instead of letting emotional energy simmer under the surface of consciousness. With consciousness we can more often choose our behavior and not be prisoner to our emotional reactions. We can reclaim the whole range we were born with. We can consciously decide when to reveal what we are feeling and when to mask our emotions from others. Instead of being a prisoner to emotions we are not even aware of, we can reclaim our emotional being while putting our thinking brain in charge of our behavior.
Excerpted from Gilmore Crosby’s upcoming book, “We All Have Issues.”