We seek out emotional intensity vicariously, because when we are emotionally numb, we need a great deal of stimulation to feel something, anything. So emotional pornography provides the stimulation, but it’s only ersatz emotion — it doesn’t teach us anything about ourselves or the world. ~ Miriam Greenspan, psychotherapist
One of the most popular singers today, Adele seems to unite us all with her deeply felt ballads and powerful, rich delivery, as illustrated so well by this SNL video. It’s a funny premise because it touches upon some profound truth, as she is one of the best-selling recording artists of all time due to her universal appeal; young, old, rich, poor, black, white, purple, no matter your nationality, religious or political affiliation — virtually no one can resist the temptation to be moved and sing along.
The Maori culture of New Zealand has a tradition called haka, an “ancestral war cry, dance or challenge performed by a group, with vigorous movements and stamping of the feet with rhythmically shouted accompaniment.” You can check out the rugby team’s haka for their most famous player’s funeral or this wedding video that went viral around the globe. My guess is that 99.99 percent of viewers had no idea what was being said/sung, but what makes haka and other similar native traditions so powerful is the absolute lack of artifice and 200 percent commitment to the raw, exaggerated emotion expressed; you can’t help but feel something stirred within you and respond emotionally in kind.
Sporting events, especially football, with its expanding audience and the Super Bowl essentially having the status of a national holiday, are one of the only acceptable forums where we can shout and scream and express our emotions to the max — joy, excitement, disappointment, frustration, surprise. If you’re not a sports fan, then stadium rock concerts can offer a similar opportunity as we enjoy head-banging tunes, raging against the machine, and belting our hearts out with longing, hope, despair, anger, passion and, of course, love. This is also what we see stirred up at political rallies, igniting people with emotions, good, bad and ugly.”
And because of the explosion of diverse media outlets, the content being created — movies, TV series, reality shows, and even “news” programs — keeps pushing the envelope to the extremes of sex, violence, revenge, horror and apocalyptic scenarios to get any attention. Social media is getting worse, always in a race to post the most salacious or silly videos, scandalous or outrageous memes and headlines in order attract the most click bait. And most folks can’t help falling for it, getting sucked in more times than they realize or care to admit.
These are also all shared experiences, or varying degrees of tribal experiences, activating a very human part of us that needs to connect and feel part of a bigger group. As we become more and more isolated and only virtually connected, these experiences become more rare and intensified as we advance in our technological age. And remember, emotions are contagious, so choose your tribes and tribal experiences wisely.
Whether it’s an Adele song, a demonstration of haka, a major sporting event, a viral video or a political rally, these experiences awaken emotions that we are becoming desensitized to, are covering up, or are embarrassed to share as we text and type without direct human contact, with our gadgets as legitimized interlopers. We are in danger of becoming robots ourselves.
Being able to feel is the most human trait we possess, and one that will ultimately separate us from artificial intelligence. The good news is that we are inherently rebelling: Our subconscious natural inclination to express our feelings is so strong that it is evidenced by the creation and widespread use of emojis! We simply cannot contain that part of ourselves, as emotion is essential to the way humans communicate if we want to be fully understood.
As I say in my talks, most people walk around emotionally constipated. We need to feel our feelings because the alternative is some unhealthy form of distraction, addiction or even violence. Learn to process your emotions; recognize and honor your feelings as they occur and then express or release them in an appropriate manner. That could mean talking it out; other times it’s just journaling. Sometimes it’s hysterically crying, belly-laughing, running for miles, dancing your butt off, singing, screaming or even moaning. Remember, emotion is “energy in motion,” so you need to let it move through and out of you, which is why those big stadium experiences, scary movies and power ballads feel so good. But they don’t have to be the only game in town if you cultivate your emotional health on a regular basis.
One of my favorite scenes in one of my favorite movies, French Kiss, is when Meg Ryan is frustrated with how French women have a way of interacting with men, masking or manipulating how they really feel rather than just being straightforward. She laments, “If you’re happy, smile, if you’re sad, frown; use the corresponding face to the corresponding emotion!” When we consistently feel our feelings and express them honestly to ourselves and others, we are able to communicate more effectively and gain a sense of inner peace and harmony. That means stop holding back or repressing our emotional selves, hiding behind our smartphones, or relying on “emotional porn” to give us the natural satisfaction and release that we require as conscious, sentient beings.
Not sure if you’re clogged up with a hodgepodge of emotions or if you only feel with the help of some outside stimulus? Give me a buzz and I’ll be your personal Roto-Rooter (wo)man to get things moving along so you can feel your own subtle or not-so-subtle emotions and go with your own flow — without always needing that bigger, bolder, in-your-face experience or to live vicariously through another’s.
(Originally published on www.kristinaleonardi.com on February 11, 2016)
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