Susan David is a major source of my inspiration and said the quote, “Life’s beauty is inseparable from its fragility.” She wrote the book Emotional Agility which I devoured. Brené Brown just interviewed her on her podcast, Dare to Lead and I found myself reading the show notes to capture elements of their conversation again.
For the longest time, I tried my hardest to avoid, ignore or simply not accept life’s fragility. I viewed the “good” things that happened in isolation from the “bad” and felt I was somehow protecting myself if I saw them in a vacuum. While I still sometimes find myself in this headspace, I have more tools now to help me see, accept and dare I say appreciate just how inseparable the beauty and fragility really are.
In my life to date, having kids has been the most poignant example of this complex intersection. I happened to start my journey of having children at the same time that my dad was dying. Fragility and beauty were colliding. And within that already grueling battle, I was having a really hard time getting pregnant. Fragility seemed to be coming out the victor.
However, five and a half years since my dad died and three kids later, here I am. My kids are just as imperfect as any other children I have met. However, they are also pure beauty. I try to be mindful of not making them my life — for all of our sakes — but I’d be lying if I said they don’t fill every space of my heart and then some.
Paradoxically, I have three humans walking around (well, one barely sitting) this incredibly fragile and beautiful world. A world where beauty and fragility are absolutely inseparable and they are my living and breathing examples of that. I’ve mentioned my grandfather’s quote before, “No one’s made it out of this world alive,” and he is absolutely correct. There is no guarantee that they are safe, will die after me, or will continue to be blessed with strong health.
So where does that leave me? On the one hand, disheartened, restless, anxious and slightly discouraged. On the other, proud, energized, grateful and fulfilled. Both/and at its finest. And realizing that I need emotional agility even more than I thought.
What is emotional agility?
David says that at its most basic level, “Emotional agility is about being healthy with ourselves.” She goes on to further define it as, “This recognition that we have these thoughts, these emotions and these stories and that the way we deal with them drives everything. It drives how we come to our relationships, how we love, how we parent, what careers we put our hands up for and how we lead. So emotional agility, at its core, is really the skills of being healthy with the self.”
She goes on to say that it is also about curiosity, compassion and courage around our difficult emotions. “And it’s basically this capacity to hold our emotions lightly and not become locked down into right versus wrong, rigidity with our emotions, or letting our stories or our emotions own us.”
To me, this is everything. Not letting our stories or emotions own us. Constantly reminding myself I am not my emotions. And knowing that the more I accept this truth, the better equipped I am to help my kids understand their emotions do not have to own them either.
The following are tools and strategies that are helping me tackle/accept this messy, beautiful and fragile life.
Dr. Edith Eger reminds us, “Self love is where everything begins and ends. We are born alone. And when you look in the mirror every morning, say, I love me.” Self love is where it’s at. The more I prioritize myself and tune into my own emotions and needs, the more I can show up for my kids. If I am depleted, those around me are impacted. Creating and taking the time and space for myself has been incredible. Exercising, drinking water, getting fresh air, etc. help me be the calm presence my kids need. If I am their tried, run down, hungry mom who continuously ignores herself, my kids will certainly suffer.
Accept the world as it is
David goes on to talk about the importance of living in the world as it is, not as we wish it would be. She explores the idea of false positivity and reminds us that there is no research to support that pretending everything is happy and positive is helpful. We can’t problem solve or effectively deal with the circumstances at hand if we are living in an idealized world. This doesn’t mean getting stuck in our difficult emotions or becoming victims of our emotions or our circumstances. It simply means increasing our awareness and acceptance of what is will serve us in working through our emotions.
Use emotional specificity
I’m very guilty of this. The broader we paint our emotions, they easier it is to avoid them. Overwhelmed, busy and stressed tend to be the front runners. David says, “if we use big labels to describe our emotions, our body, our psychology, doesn’t actually know what to do with it.”
The more I have been trying to dig a little deeper and figure out specifically what I am feeling, the better I am able to process that emotion and determine my next steps. For emotions that are highly pleasant, I spend more time truly feeling that joy, pride or comfort. For less pleasant emotions such as feeling lonely, irritated, or tense, I am better able to accept them for what they are. To flex my emotional agility muscle by holding them lightly; noticing them, not judging them, and determining what might help. Tuning in and recognizing, if I’m feeling lonely, I might need to connect with a friend.
David says, “We know that children as young as two and three years old who are more able to accurately start labeling their emotions have, through their lifetimes, better ability to self-regulate, delay gratification, and have the strongest sense of moral compass.” Two and three year olds? This is amazing. And an incredible opportunity for us to model using a specific emotional vocabulary, talk about our own feelings, and reference a feelings chart whenever possible.
Create linguistic space
This circles back to the idea that feelings come and go; something I tell myself and my kids all the time. We are not our emotions and they don’t control us — well, they will if we are not paying attention. David recommends starting by creating a “linguistic space between you and the emotion, so that you can move beyond the emotion.”
A simple way to do this? Avoid saying, I AM. Don’t place a label on yourself. Instead of I am sad, try saying, “I notice I’m feeling sad.” This subtle difference gives space for clarity. Space to step back, notice, and withhold judgement. This has been the greatest gift I have given myself recently. I’ve tried shifting my language from I am to I’m feeling or I notice I’m feeling. It’s just enough space to help me accept all of the emotions that stop by for a visit.
In between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response.Attributed to Victor Frankl
This certainly is a beautiful and fragile journey. I’m grateful we are experiencing it together.