How Your Emotional Backlog Colors Your View

The other day my audio interface suddenly died.  It’s a piece of equipment I must have to listen to and record music.

I wasn’t prepared for it obviously.  I didn’t have money set aside to pay for replacement.

I was crushed.  I felt that this was yet another occasion where I’m getting beaten up for doing what I love.

Oh but wait a minute.  That’s my emotional backlog talking.  I didn’t have to view it that way.

My equipment breaking was unexpected, and and it’s an unexpected expense, for which I didn’t have money set aside.  Those are facts.

But “beaten up for doing what I love?”  That’s a very victimized point of view.  Who is doing the beating?  God, the universe, or me?

When you have emotional backlog, the backlogged item will taint your view and make you jump to conclusions.  Have you ever thought stuff like “oh, I haven’t heard from my boyfriend in 3 days!  Maybe he doesn’t like me any more.”  “I only got a B in that class.  I’m just not as smart as I thought I was.”  Notice the first sentence describes the fact but the second is your subjective interpretation, a pessimistic one at that.

Whenever you catch yourself thinking like that, take notice that you have an emotional backlog in that area.

Here is what you do.  Try not to judge yourself and change the way you think.  Instead, pay attention to how you feel.  It may be uncomfortable, as it is raw disappointment, fear, or anger.  If you can, take a private moment and just sit and pay attention.  It’s best if you can cry or use other physical forms to act out your feelings.  I’ve groaned and grunted, punched pillows, yelled.  Just do whatever it takes to fully experience and express the feeling.  If a thought crops up saying that you shouldn’t have to feel this way, push that one away.

Basically you’re allowing yourself to have a tantrum, just like a child.  This is happening because you weren’t allowed to have that tantrum when you were younger.  Something happened where you needed to have fuller, longer, deeper tantrum but you didn’t have the occasion to finish.  Or maybe the incident was so big and traumatic that even extended tantrum-ing wouldn’t have been enough.

No matter, the course of action is the same.  This time you allow yourself the tantrum, ideally until you are done.  The feeling may not all come up in one sitting but don’t worry about that.  Just sit and feel the feeling until it subsides on its own.  No one cries forever, if you stop resisting to cry.

I did just that.  I sat and fully experienced this feeling of getting beaten up for doing what I love.  The injustice, the frustration, the rage, the anguish.  Yes, that sounds dramatic, but tantrums are dramatic stuff, at least for the child experiencing it.  It took me all of two days to come to term with that.

Then I borrowed money from my family, ordered a replacement.  It arrived in 3 days.  I was back in business in all of 5 days.  It is a setback, in that I have to pay back my family.  But not a huge one.

If I still have that “beaten up for doing what I love” feeling, something else will happen where I’ll jump to that conclusion.  No problem.  I’ll feel it then.  At some point the feelings will be all unstuck, cleared out.  Then even when unpleasant unexpected happens I will not rush to judge negatively.  I’ll go straight to the next question, which I did after 2 days this time.  The one where I ask “what’s good about this that I don’t yet see?”  and sit and wait for the answer without trying to figure it out.  (Thanks Tom Volkar for that pointer!)

Here’s the silver lining this time:  I didn’t order the exact same audio interface, I just got something similar.  This new device sounds different, the music coming out of the speaker has a slightly different sound.  That can be good or bad depending on the song I’m listening to, but it feels refreshing to hear the music differently.  Plus this device takes up less space, is simpler to operate, is more portable, and can get louder.  All in all it was a bump on the road but it didn’t wreck me.

That said, don’t try to force a silver lining before you’re finished feeling.  I tried that before — to talk myself out of feeling, to “think positively.”  But the results were mediocre at best.  I would see the silver lining, at least mentally, but emotionally I’d still feel the festering emotions, and worst of all I would continue jumping to the same conclusion every time anything that can be interpreted that way shows up.  Clearing your emotional backlog is the only way to stop that pattern.  Your life will contain less unpleasant drama and you can assess each situation more calmly and objectively without the jerky pull of stuck emotions throwing you off your kilter.

And if that’s not a silver lining, I don’t know what is.