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  • Maura McCarley Torkildson

The Creative Gift of Emotional Awareness


This month I will focus emotional awareness for a couple of reasons. Increasing emotional intelligence helps you respond (rather than react) and for writers, the study of your emotions can lead to better writing and enriched reader experiences. Our emotions show up physically, but we tend to get caught in our story about them. Being aware of the physicality of your emotions can help you process through them, and for writers that awareness can enhance your story telling (whether you are writing fiction or non-fiction). I am a firm believer that emotions are a sacred gift. There is a reason we have them. They help us navigate through life. I encourage my clients to become aware of the physical experience of emotions rather than the stories that come with them. Because emotions can be so uncomfortable, we often repress them. We also learn from our culture that certain emotions are not to be expressed - being an adult means that we just aren’t supposed to feel certain emotions, as if we can grow out of them. Small children, when allowed to express their emotions, pass through them much more quickly. When the unwanted emotion appears, we tend to push it down – out of sight, out of mind. But, it is still there, simmering under the surface. When we are uncomfortable with our own emotions, we are uncomfortable with the emotions of others around us. Hence we tend to rely on platitudes when someone near to us is experiencing an emotion we find uncomfortable. It is difficult for us to just “be with” and so we work to repress their emotions too. The result is that they do not feel heard or seen. Empathy is feeling with. Empathy gets lost when we are uncomfortable with our own emotions and unable to apply it to ourselves. Of course it is important to choose the right time and safe place to express your emotions, depending on the intensity. But being vulnerable is actually misunderstood. It has great power to enhance our relationships (see Brene Brown, Daring Greatly). As I mentioned, one of the techniques that I use with my clients to help them process an emotion is to dive into the physical experience of the emotion. With an emotion like anger in particular, being in the story can re-ignite the anger, over and over. Anger is a protective emotion and it guards our feelings of hurt or fear. Allowing ourselves to experience the hurt or the fear can help us to transform the anger and create an opportunity to change the story we are telling ourselves about it. I have supported my clients go deep into the physical expression of an emotion and observed them move through more quickly. Typically, some kind of resolution arises soon after. Repression of emotion only serves to keep it preserved inside us somewhere, just waiting for the chance to be expressed and often blocking our movement forward. For the writers out there, allowing yourself to fully experience the physicality of your emotional experience is wonderful material for your craft. Not only does this increase your wisdom, but it grounds it in the material experience of life and will speak to your readers on a much deeper level. When I was writing The Curious Magic of Buckeye Groves, I would often embody my characters as I was writing. I felt what they felt and wrote from that place. It made the writing raw and real. I wasn’t worried about the grammar or editing. I knew that could be cleaned up later. What was most important on the first round was to capture the experience as it flowed through me and to be as present as possible with it.


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