What animals can teach us about mindfulness.

happy_pets

I’ve always believed animals are our greatest teachers. As humans, we tend to dismiss animals, thinking of them as lesser creatures with limited (or no) intelligence. We think that just because they can’t read, don’t speak, don’t wear clothing, and don’t create art, music, or multi-national corporations, that they don’t have anything to teach us. If anything, we try to make animals conform to us, dressing up lapdogs in cute outfits or teaching them tricks to impress our friends.

Animals have much to teach us, and in many ways, if we acted more like them, as a species we humans might be better off — and a lot happier too. Mindfulness is a skill that helps many of us cope with daily life and eases the symptoms of depression, trauma, and many mental disorders — and there is no person more mindful than a cat, dog, or other animal. Even the Buddha was never as mindful as that Labrador retriever who looks at you with such soulful eyes, or that cat that sits peacefully in your window purring his little heart out.

If you have pets, watch them closely. They don’t worry about the future or fret over things that happened in the past. They don’t obsess over themselves or what others are going to think of them. They don’t beat themselves up over past transgressions or worry that they might not be acceptable. They live completely in the moment, reacting only to what they need to in order to survive and be happy. When they are given food, they happily nosh down on it, thinking about nothing except how good it tastes and how nice a newly-full stomach feels. If you ask your dog if he wants to go out for a walk, he doesn’t sit around sulking because he thought your tone was condescending; he happily jumps up and starts to dance around, sometimes even smiling (I am certain dogs can smile). If you scritch your cat under the chin, she will turn her face up to you, squint her eyes so they are almost closed, and begin to purr. She doesn’t worry that you might think she has bad breath.  She doesn’t care!  Watch a group of otters at play. They are like happy children, enjoying the water and the bliss of splashing around and swimming in it, and the joy of being together as a group.

Humans are the only creatures who unfairly judge their own kind, are cruel and unjust for no good reason except to boost their own egos, and seem to look for things to be miserable about, even when things are going well.

Many people think we make ourselves miserable due to our higher intelligence that makes us think about everything way too much, and that could be true. But what exactly is intelligence? How do we know that animals don’t have just as much of it as we do, even if they have a different kind of intelligence? Just because we can read words and earn a paycheck doesn’t mean we’re better or have a superior way of thinking. Case in point: have you ever witnessed some people with Down Syndrome? While their cognitive abilities may be impaired, they are some of the most joyful and affectionate people on earth. I remember one day standing on line at the supermarket. Ahead of me was a young man who clearly had Down Syndrome, and he was happily smiling and waving at everyone who looked his way. People smiled in reaction, not because they were being “polite,” and not because they were laughing at him, but because he was spreading joy. You couldn’t look at this man and not feel a little of his natural happiness. Studies have shown that people with very high IQ’s are more prone to mental illness and depression. People who aren’t as “smart” do seem to be happier. Sometimes I think too much in the way of cognitive intelligence actually gets in our way and keeps us from living in the moment and just enjoying life.  Children at play have a lot to teach us in that department too. We can learn from them.

I’m not comparing the cognitively challenged with with animals and kids to be offensive, but I do think it’s important to point out that all of these groups seem to be more able to live in the moment, and living in the moment is what mindfulness is really all about. Mindfulness and staying in the present leads to joy. So who really is smarter?

Instant joy:

If you’re depressed or feeling bad, just go to Youtube and watch videos of cute, funny and happy animals (or babies, if you prefer).  There are thousands of them.  They are popular for a good reason: they make us feel better and can make us laugh and smile when we’re down.    It always works for me, at least a little.

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Clarity (or, through a glass, darkly).

Hurts so good.

hurts_so_good

Remember when you were a kid and had a loose tooth, how good it felt to wiggle it with your tongue, even though it bled and hurt like the dickens?  Yet you HAD to keep doing it, because it felt GOOD.

Or remember that scab you just had to pick even though you knew it would bleed and hurt?

Happy feelings can be like that for some of us.  Have you ever been so moved by something, or so touched, or so filled with joy it actually hurt and made you want to cry?

Having been so shut off from my emotions for so many years,  I wasn’t used to feeling anything other than dreary, numb despair, an unnamed dread that something terrible was about to befall me, occasionally relieved by a sudden, irrational rage.

Lately I’ve been experiencing brief moments of sublime, positive emotions.   Flickers of joy (not glee, but real joy), feeling moved or incredibly touched, especially when I’m in therapy.   My therapist helps bring out these feelings in me, and I’m enjoying exploring these unfamiliar but wonderful emotions.  But sometimes they are just so intense and that intensity hurts.   Sometimes even the beauty of them…hurts.

Why would something so human and life-affirming make me feel almost sad?  Is it because I don’t trust these feelings, or don’t trust being vulnerable to feeling them?  Or is it because I know how fleeting such feelings are, and will only be replaced with the unpleasant feelings I’ve grown used to?   Or do they hurt because my soul is unfolding, and in so doing, is breaking down the walls that bound it for so long?  Are these just growing pains?   Will I ever be able to experience these sublime emotions without sadness and pain?

Joyful dancing.

dancing_ballet
Credit: Omar Z. Robles photography

I just had had another dream. I feel like this is important too. It started out terrifying and turned positive.

I’m living in a large, unnamed city that seems a lot like 1970s-1980s New York. Dirty and dangerous. I’ve decided to learn how to dance. It’s very important that I learn to dance, in fact, it’s a matter of life and death. I see a newspaper ad for an excellent dance studio and call them to enroll in their program. The only problem is, the studio is in a walkup tenement in the most dangerous part of town.

I’m afraid but know I must make it there. I try to stay on the main avenue, but obstacles on the sidewalk keep getting in my way. Areas with bombed out buildings, ripped up sidewalks, mountains of trash and rubble. The only way past is through a long, dark alley. Cautiously, I enter. I look around and see shadowy figures in the distance. They look male. Probably gang members or rapists or even murderers. I turn around and find another way. The alley is wide and has other openings, like a maze. I go through another alley and see more sinister male figures in the distance.  I feel alone and vulnerable and scared.  I look around frantically, trying not to look too afraid.  The figures are getting closer.  What if they can smell my fear, like wild dogs?  Finally I find another way. I begin to run, determined to make it out of there and back to the avenue.

Somehow I don’t get lost. Soon I’m back on the main avenue. I run past a tenement building with a rusted fire escape. It’s covered with snow, even though there isn’t any snow on the ground. An old black man asks me for assistance climbing it. He says he has to get into his apartment but the steps are too slippery. I stop, hesitate, think about helping him. But I don’t have time. With my foot I kick some of the snow off the first few metal steps, apologize for not being able to do more, and begin to run again.

Soon I realize I’m not just running, I’m floating about two feet off the ground. I become aware all I need to do is will myself to get where I’m going. Without thinking, I begin to dance. Gravity doesn’t seem to exist anymore. I leap and bound and spin and do pirouettes in the air. I bound weightlessly through another long, dark alley. There are gang members there too. They stop and watch me and soon they are dancing too. Everyone who looks my way begins to dance.

I’ve forgotten all about making it to my dance lesson. Everyone is flying through the air, leaping and spinning and throwing our arms in the air. There’s no fear or despair or fatigue or worry. The whole world is dancing, and it began with me.

4 awesome reasons to cry.

awesome

One of the things my therapist and I have been working on is getting me to cry in session.   I’ve talked before about how hard it is for me to cry, except in private, and even then it isn’t always easy.   As a child I cried all the time.  Because I was usually shamed for my tears, sometime during my teens or early 20s, I pretty much stopped being able to cry and outbursts of anger, seething resentment, or “freaking out” seemed to replace the tears.  Rage and anger, while they have their place, is often destructive to others and yourself, and if used as an outlet where tears would be more appropriate, isn’t really very healing.  Freaking out is never adaptive because it just makes you appear crazy.   Before I learned mindfulness in DBT, I’d act out against others or freak out without thinking about the consequences, and usually feel regret, embarrassment, and shame later, much more so than if I had just cried instead.

Sure, tears can be manipulative.  Narcissists cry to get attention or to manipulate others into pitying them or giving them what they want.   Babies and young children do this too.  That’s the kind of crying that has given tears such a bad reputation.     But if a child is crying for other reasons–because they are hurt, because they are sad or overwhelmed with any other emotion (ANY strong emotion, not just sadness, can cause tears)–parents should never tell them “big boys (or girls) don’t cry” because that just teaches them to stifle their emotions, and stifling emotions is bad for you and can even affect your physical health.  If a child is shamed out of crying often enough, they may learn to turn off the tears and become unable to cry as adults.  This is especially common for boys in a culture that has traditionally frowned on men and boys crying because it’s a sissy or “weak” thing to do.  But this no-crying policy applies to women as well, especially in the business and professional world, where showing softer emotions is a big no-no.

People cry for many reasons, but I think there are four basic reasons for genuine emotional (not manipulative) tears: (1) need for help or care; (2) connection, empathy and love;  (3) awe, gratitude and joy; and (4) stress relief.   I’ll go through each of these and explain why each one is awesome.

1. Need for help or care.

babycrying

When a baby cries, it’s usually because they need something.   They may be wet, in pain, hungry, tired, or just lonely.    A baby’s cry brings mom running to give the baby what it needs, after which the baby stops crying.   We are born into the world crying; tears are a pre-verbal language and the first language we ever learn. When we are born, we cry to communicate our distress or other needs, and get what we need to survive.   If healthy attachment is achieved, a baby learns more sophisticated ways to get their needs fulfilled later on, but there are still times when needy tears are appropriate and NOT manipulative, even for grownups.

It’s always healthy and appropriate to grieve after a devastating loss, such as the death of a friend, family member or beloved pet.  It’s appropriate to cry when hearing very bad news or when in great emotional or physical pain.     There are survival reasons for this.  A crying person usually draws people near them and attracts sympathy.  If we have normal levels of empathy, we have an instinctive urge to touch or physically comfort a crying person.     A person who has just found out their best friend has cancer or Fluffy died needs the comfort of others.  They need to be held and hugged and have their back stroked and their hand held.   They need physical contact.  They need to be able to pour their story out to another person.   It would be cruel to deny someone in great physical or emotional  pain that kind of succor.  Some societies understand this need, and that is why there are public rituals such sacramental wailing in some cultures, or sitting shiva in the Jewish faith after a loved one dies.  Only when it becomes excessive or is done to attract attention to yourself does this type of crying become annoying to others.

2.  Attachment, empathy, and love.

crying_bride

This is closely related to the above, but a bit different because the tears shed aren’t intended to draw help or comfort, but to connect with others or with the world.   Many new mothers find that they become very emotional during pregnancy and for a few months after their babies are born.   Even though as an adult I’ve always found crying difficult, an exception was made when I was pregnant or lactating.  My emotions went into overdrive!   I remember when I nursed my babies, sometimes I became overwhelmed with pure emotion I couldn’t name or explain, and silent tears began to run.  It wasn’t unpleasant at all.  It just felt natural and real.  I think those tears connected me more deeply with my children.   Tears are words an infant can understand instinctively, and when a young infant sees his or her mother’s tears, they understand this means attachment and love with her has been achieved, and a good mother responds to and feels her baby’s emotions too.

Grownups, even men, sometimes just feel overwhelmed with emotion, sometimes very positive emotion.  People who are deeply in love sometimes find as they gaze into their lover’s eyes, their own well up.  It can happen at any moment when the love they feel seems bigger than they are.   This is why sudden tears are common in lovemaking that isn’t merely for sexual release, but to more deeply connect with the lover.

Tears of attachment and connection indicate high levels of empathy.   A person who is able to feel the emotions of a friend who is sad can sometimes actually cry with their friend, and this serves to connect them on a deeper level.  A world in which we can’t share the emotions of those around us–either negative or positive–is a world where no one cares and everyone is out for themselves.    Any society that regards empathy as a weakness is a sick and dangerous one.  If the human race is doomed to self destruction, I’m pretty sure the growing lack of empathy and care for others we see around us today would be the primary culprit.

3. Awe, joy, and gratitude.

KellyClarkson
Kelly Clarkson learns she won American Idol, 2002.

Tears of awe are the kind you shed when you are blown away by an incredible sunset or magnificent landscape.   Some people get very emotional in church or when hearing a certain piece of music or reading a certain poem.   I think these are the kind of tears we shed when moved by something we perceive as being greater than ourselves.  They are humbling and remind us of our insignificance, but not in a bad way, because at those times, though we feel humbled, we also feel more connected to the universe or to God.  Tears of awe connect us with the divine.

People shed tears of joy when something wonderful happens to them, usually a great surprise.  Winning the lottery, winning a contest, your team winning the Superbowl, walking into your house to a surprise birthday party, hearing your baby’s cry for the first time…all these things make people cry.    They’re anything but sad or manipulative!   Tears of joy may also be a form of stress relief, as in some cases, there’s often an element of relief, which I’ll explain more in the next section about stress relief. For example, contestants in singing or dance competition shows or in pageants almost always cry when they win.   For many months, they’ve been under enormous stress.   The moment of winning not only validates all the hard work they’ve done, it’s also a sudden release of months of the built up stress of heavy competition.   It’s okay to let go!

Related to tears of joy are tears of laughter–those times we laugh so hard we begin to cry.  Crying and laughter are physiologically very similar and serve a similar purpose of relieving stress, so it’s not too surprising that sometimes our bodies get laughter confused with tears!

Finally, there are tears of gratitude.  Sometimes we are taken by surprise when someone does something nice for us.   Especially when it’s unexpected, kind words or deeds can bring on tears.   Colloquially, this is known as being touched, which differs from being moved because it’s more human and less spiritual/humbling than being moved.     Tears of gratitude connect us with each other.

4.  Stress relief.

cry_in_shower

Some unpleasant emotions aren’t normally expressed through tears.  For example, people don’t usually cry when they’re afraid or anxious or angry.   To do so wouldn’t be in our best interests survival-wise.  When we’re in danger or there’s some kind of threat facing us, showing vulnerability might get us killed.   So when we’re angry, we want to attack.  When we’re afraid, it’s fight-or-flight.   When we’re worried, we want to remove the source of worry or solve the problem.   But once the danger or stressor has passed, and we feel a measure of relief, it’s common for people to break down in tears.   A child who has become lost doesn’t usually cry while they’re looking for their caregiver, because that’s too dangerous.   They cry the minute they see Mom or Dad’s arms reaching out to them (and very often Mom or Dad cries right along with them!)

Sometimes people cry even when the danger hasn’t passed, when they just feel overwhelmed and have given up trying to fight or escape or trying to solve their problem.   In those cases, crying is a last-ditch effort to solve the problem.   If all else has failed, then crying may bring help or comfort from others.   It’s not necessarily manipulative if everything else has been tried first and nothing has worked.

Sometimes even when the threat is gone or the issue resolved, or the horrible outcome we expected didn’t come to pass, we still cry, because it’s finally safe to do so. The tears shed at those times are really tears of relief because they help release all the emotion that was pent up while we were in danger.  When thought of this way, it makes no sense to tell someone not to cry, because it doesn’t mean they’re upset, it means they’re relieved and finally feel safe enough to release all that bottled-up stress through tears.

And then there are those times when you just need to have a good cry, and you don’t even know why. After a few minutes or hours of sobbing, pouring out snot and tears, you come away feeling like a million dollars. So if you want to cry, go ahead and let it out. It’s good for your body, mind and soul.

The case of the missing purse: a dream.

February 1946, Ohio, USA --- Woman in Straitjacket at a Psychiatric Hospital --- Image by © Jerry Cooke/Corbis

February 1946, Ohio, USA — Woman in Straitjacket at a Psychiatric Hospital — Image by © Jerry Cooke/Corbis


Sometimes I feel this crazy.

I just had an especially vivid and detailed dream and posted it over at Psychforums immediately on waking so I didn’t lose the details and “feel” of the dream. I asked people to try to interpret it for me so I’m going to include those responses too.

I just woke up very upset and angry from a very intense and vivid dream. I’ve been trying to figure out what it means because I feel like it’s important but there are parts that just make no sense if the central theme is correct.

It started out wonderfully. I was in some psychiatric hospital program and had a received a great deal of help in it. Later in the dream it seemed I was an inpatient but at the time the dream started I was an outpatient because my son had to drive me there (for some reason I wasn’t driving my own car or maybe he just wanted to drive) to attend some awards dinner where I was going to receive an award. I was incredibly popular among the other patients and I had a bearded psychiatrist (aren’t they all bearded?) that I loved. I felt like he had saved my life.

So my son and I made several trips, first to a cheap chain restaurant (I don’t know why I was eating dinner twice) and then to another store, then finally to the hospital awards dinner, where he dropped me off. I got a lot of hugs and congratulations and support from everyone. I had many friends in the program. I had no idea what sort of award I’d won and none were given out but I was having a great time. At one point two of my friends (both dx’d BPD) pulled me up on the stage to join them in an impromptu song and dance from a musical. I kept along as if I’d been rehearsing for weeks. At one point it became a medley and we broke into the theme from “Hair” (why?!?) and started throwing flowers everywhere and at each other. It was a great deal of fun and I wasn’t at all self-conscious even though I was dressed in a hospital gown (like an inpatient?). I’d never felt freer or happier. I felt love all around me from the audience and the other people on stage.

My son came to get me later but when I got in the car I realized I couldn’t find my purse. As in real life when this has happened, I panicked. My purse is like my life–and I had special medications in there that eased my psychiatric symptoms too (and that had been hard to obtain), as well as my house keys, car keys, credit cards, ID, money, and the zillion other important things women keep in their purses. I didn’t remember having it at all at the hospital function so we first went to the store and the first restaurant to ask if they’d seen it. They hadn’t so we went back to the hospital and asked the woman at the front desk if she had seen it. She said she had to go talk to someone and to wait a few minutes. After a little while, my psychiatrist came out and said they had found it, but couldn’t just give it to me. I would have to pass a “character test,” of the type they sometimes give candidates applying for jobs to make sure they’re honest or aren’t going to steal or lie or whatever.

Missing Purse

I looked at the test, which was about 40 pages long. None of the questions had anything to do with my purse or even with being “honest.” The questions made no sense and I couldn’t think. I was too upset by not having my purse and angry that I had to pass a stupid irrelevant test to get my own property back. I kept getting distracted by other things and couldn’t focus. After about an hour my psychiatrist asked me if I was done yet but I had only answered 4 questions. I was almost in tears by now and told him how upset and hurt I was that he didn’t trust me. He said he didn’t make the rules and could do nothing. He said don’t worry about passing, just answer the questions the best you can. One of the questions was a multiple choice “story problem” like an elementary school math test and the story was about someone with both my first and last name. I was impressed by that and showed everyone around that my name was used on the test letting them know I’m the only person in the country that has my name. I still couldn’t focus and the questions still didn’t make sense. I finally gave up and took the mangled sheets of paper with holes from too much erasing and rewriting to the person who was scoring, a cold woman in charge of testing. I was so angry and upset I ran down a long hallway into the psych unit and saw people there–really crazy people–dressed in straitjackets and lying around on gurneys and in wheelchairs. They were making strange sounds and babbling incoherently and didn’t seem like they knew what was going on. But then I saw one of my friends and told her what happened, then started crying hysterically. I knew the crying was mostly to get attention and sympathy. It was definitely manipulative, but I was extremely angry and upset so it was a way to vent my frustration too. My friend held me and the other people didn’t even seem to notice or care about my OTT behavior, because they were so out of touch with reality or what was going in.

I went off running to look for my psychiatrist to beg him to let me go and take my purse, after all he knew me and I was the recipient of an award. I finally found him and stood there in the doorway of his office in my hospital gown, sobbing but without tears. He looked at me coldly and said there was nothing he could do, it was hospital policy, and they were still working on the results.

Finally he and the woman who did the scoring came out together and told me I’d failed. I screamed at them that they told me I didn’t have to “pass.” They just looked at me. “What am I supposed to do?” I screamed in frustration. They told me I’d have to keep taking the test (and paying $100 each time to take it) until I passed before they could give me back my purse. I told them I didn’t have the time or the money for doing that and they had my car keys too. Again, they just looked coldly at me. They showed no empathy for my situation whatsoever. I felt so betrayed by this psychiatrist who I’d thought cared so much about me.

In frustration and rage, I ran out of the building and found myself in a slum area of a large city. I was running the wrong way. I’d apparently forgot my son was supposed to wait for me but I’d been in there for hours and maybe he’d left. I wasn’t thinking straight. I ran the other way and suddenly was running through a dark garage but that had neon-sparkly floors and walls and there were young gang members in there just hanging out. They looked threatening but I was too enraged to be afraid. I ran right past them and kept running. I jumped into a hole in the ground and found myself in someone’s slum apartment in the projects, cockroaches running everywhere. I kept running through and climbed out the window on the other side and ascended the fire escape. More gang members were sitting around but I kept running. I don’t even know where I was running; I wasn’t thinking at all, but I just had to run.

I woke up feeling incredibly angry and sad at the same time and decided to write all this down before it dissolved away the way dreams tend to do. I have no idea what it all means but I’m getting a few ideas.

My “purse” could have been my false self I’d recently shed in therapy (in the dream) and have had moments without through blogging and even at random times in real life, but that doesn’t explain why my therapist turned out to be such an asshole and betrayed me. It doesn’t explain the ridiculous test I had to take to get it back. I can certainly understand why I would have wanted the purse/false self back though, because although in the hospital I felt happy and free without it, in the real world I felt naked and victimized and crazy.

My psychiatrist could have represented my family, my mother in particular, who I felt betrayed me a long time ago. The slums represented a bleak and impoverished future that I fear so much. I always feel like I’m running frantically–but never sure if it’s toward or away from something.

I’m going to be thinking a lot more about the dream today, but I wanted to write it down while I was still in the dream-feel that follows awakening from such a vivid dream. I feel like this was really important and I need to understand what was really going on.

crazy_quote

Here are the two responses I’ve received so far.

1. What I get from it is that you are wanting a healing and are proud of yourself for recognizing your problem and work toward the healing, but it isn’t coming. You sometimes say you wish you could go to a facility, and your purse can’t afford it(?) Or, like me, sometimes you feel more normal, your true identity which your purse contains (but you can’t quite hold reliably). The trouble or conflict you are having is reaching the emotions (or cognitive acceptance) which you still haven’t, which is the test with your name on it. It perplexes you. You recognize it but can’t understand what it is you’re still controlled by (what you haven’t accepted yet).

I think the running through the ghetto(?) is your fear of an impoverished future without even the healing (if you give up trying because you leave the hospital, throwing away the test, living without your identity)?

There was a new video [Spartanlifecoach] which you might relate to. It is about he lizard, monkey and human parts of the brain and how the human part can become constricted (his theory, I don’t believe this is science.). And, it is unable to process emotions/memories. The monkey part of the brain (amygdala) being more reactive controls us. (Which matches my self-perception.). He says the human part can be exercised and process more easily things that it couldn’t. Maybe like re-parenting. But, he gives examples. And, mentions how it doesn’t have to be an emotional breakdown, just an acceptance “yeah, that happened.” There could simply be things you couldn’t realize. They were out of your view, yet when you realize them they’re relatively simple?

(I think that’s what happened to me a few months ago when I realized I had been projecting my mother at my ex. I thought it was going to be the worst thing I had realized yet — and it immediately turned into “yeah, that is it.” It seemed anti-climactic compared to what I braced myself for.).

Maybe it *is* just a cognitive test that you need to take. Not the emotional breakdowns (which sound like what I call dysphoria, and have come to see as not healthy to my TS. They can be fake, I think, where I’m sucking emotions out of myself for an unproductive purpose. Which sounds like after you threw the test away, and went to another ward where you spoke to a friend and cried, but not genuinely.).

*****

2. First of all the dream is symbolized in splits, the hospital is the same as the slums, the “two friends” are the same as the psychiatrist and the nurse. it is unclear who the son is, it does seem important though that he drove the car. same goes for the hospital and store. The contents of the purse seems to be your identity, on a deeper level a purse seems to be quite an obvious womb symbol.

So the dream goes from narcissistic perception of a family home, being in the phase of being praised and happy about your good looks (Hair, god.) and awesome achievements to this break with the restaurants and the purse and then suddenly your identity is lost and your parents have (found) your identity, but only want to give it to you when you prove to them that you are “honest”.

You have to pay them for giving you (back) your identity, you feel instead of enriching, they impoverish you. so when you cant pass this mysterious honesty thing you give up and land in an inner world with neither the narcissistic sparkle, nor an identity. everything seems impoverished and youre just running aimlessly.

“Inside Out”: a touching and funny story about the way emotions work.

inside_out_poster

Yesterday I decided to take myself to the movies for a change, and chose to see “Inside Out,” the Disney Pixar animated summer fantasy blockbuster.

Seeing “Inside Out” was a serendipitous choice, because I just happened to have enough money to afford a ticket (which is a rarity for me), and also because, although I didn’t know it right away, this movie has a beautiful message about the way Sadness and Joy, though seemingly polar opposites, when working together make human connection and unconditional love possible. Just as the light can’t exist without darkness, or good without evil, joy cannot exist without sadness. When working in sync with each other, these two emotions create a beautiful life affirming thing called Empathy, and that’s what connects us to each other and keeps the human race from becoming extinct.


Official Trailer


Sneak Preview–Teaser Clips

Riley Andersen is a young girl of 11 who becomes severely depressed after her parents’ decision to move from Minnesota to San Francisco. The movie begins at the moment of Riley’s birth in Minnesota, shown from Riley’s point of view. Her first Emotions (depicted as loveable anthropomorphized characters) are Joy (feeling secure in her parent’s love) and Sadness (when she needs something or feels ignored or in pain). As Riley grows into early toddlerhood, sometimes her needs and desires are thwarted and Anger takes over and she throws a tantrum. Around the same time she is also capable of feeling Fear or Disgust (both necessary for her survival), and it’s at those times those characters become dominant in Riley’s growing mind.

When the five Emotions work together in harmony, not overstepping each other’s boundaries and only doing the jobs assigned to them, this teamwork manifests in Riley as a well-adjusted little girl able to feel all her emotions at the appropriate times.

The five Emotions work in Headquarters, which is the conscious part of Riley’s young mind. Joy is responsible for making sure Riley’s short term memories are sent to Long Term Memory deep in Riley’s subconscious. Her memories are depicted as glowing colored orbs containing a ghostly image of the actual memory. The color of the orbs represent the dominant Emotion Riley felt at the time of the event. Transporting Short Term memories into Long Term Memory happens during Dream Production as Riley sleeps, and sometimes the other Emotions are needed to help Joy do her job getting the memories there (and sometimes discarding certain irrelevant or painful ones.) Occasionally the other Emotions (as well as Riley’s imaginary childhood friend, Bing Bong, who is a jokester) like to play little jokes–and certain irrelevant memories like an annoying gum commercial jingle are sent to Long Term Memory along with the important memories, which causes Riley to occasionally hear the gum jingle in her head at random times years later.

rileys_emotions

At the center of Headquarters is the vault which contains Riley’s Core Memories–important but happy long term memories that are responsible for Riley’s happy go lucky personality. The orbs that represent these are colored gold (Joy’s color) and for Riley’s continued mental health, these core memories must not be contaminated by the other Emotions, which is why they are kept locked in a vault. Each of the Core Memories has a long glowing tube that leads to one of Riley’s Five Islands of Personality: Family, Goofiness, Hockey (which she loves to play), Friendship, and Honesty. Maintaining these islands is necessary for Riley’s continued normal psychological development.

The crisis in Riley’s mind is set off when her family moves from her beloved Minnesota to San Francisco. Moving away is always a traumatic event for even the most loved child. Feeling isolated from her old friends and lonely in a place she doesn’t know, Riley’s Emotions begin to make mistakes and not work in sync. Joy and the other Emotions have never been sure of Sadness’s purpose because she just seems to be a Debbie Downer who is always in the way and always making mistakes. It’s Joy’s job to keep Riley’s happiness intact, but one day shortly after the traumatic move, Sadness goes around touching Riley’s happy memories, turning them blue (sad). Joy frantically tries to undo the damage but the memories already touched cannot be repaired. Desperate, Joy tries to isolate Sadness to prevent her from doing any more damage.

On Riley’s first day at her new school, Sadness takes over and Riley begins to cry in class, which creates a new but painful core memory. Joy frantically tries to keep this new core memory from reaching the central vault, but in her struggle with Sadness, who seems to keep contaminating more memories, she accidentally knocks out some of Riley’s untouched happy core memories, which fall off into the abyss. These memories are almost impossible to retrieve once lost to Riley’s Unconscious. Worse yet, both Joy and Sadness are sucked through the Long Term Memory Tube themselves, and are both lost deep in Riley’s vast and labyrinthine Unconscious.

During Joy and Sadness’s absence, Anger, Fear and Disgust attempt to run Headquarters in their place and make a holy mess of things. They attempt to provide “joy” but of course it’s faked now, rather than genuine. Sadness too is absent, so Riley can no longer longer cry or even feel grief over her loss. Anger, Fear and Disgust manifest in Riley’s new insolent and angry attitude toward her parents and loss of interest in the things she used to love. With the core memories now missing or contaminated, one by one the Five Islands of Personality crumble and fall into the abyss of the Memory Dump, a place deep in Riley’s mind where old memories are forgotten. The first Island to crumble into oblivion is Goofiness (Riley’s sense of humor), followed by Hockey (which she quits), and then Friendship (she no longer has any desire to make new friends).

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Joy and Sadness find themselves adrift after falling through the Long Term Memory tube deep into Riley’s unconscious mind.

Desperate, Anger decides to insert in Riley’s mind the idea to run back to Minnesota. He plugs this into the Control Console, in the belief this can produce new happy memories. This requires Riley to steal money from her mother’s purse in order to fund her trip back to Minnesota, and then she lies about the theft. As a result, the second to last Island left, Honesty, falls away in ruins into the Memory Dump.

Back in the abyss of Riley’s deep Unconscious, Joy and Sadness run into Bing Bong, Riley’s long forgotten childhood imaginary friend. Bing Bong wants to reconnect with Riley, so he tells Joy and Sadness they can all get back to Headquarters by riding the Train of Thought. After a series of failed attempts, they eventually catch the train, but it becomes derailed when the last personality island, Family, falls into the Dump.

At this point, giving any more away would be spoiling the plot, but gradually Joy and Sadness, who have always been at odds with each other, realize that in order for Riley to return to her normal happy state of mind, they must work together as a team and Sadness has the biggest job of all. Riley must be able to experience–and receive–empathy and love (which comprise both joy and sadness) to heal from her near-catatonic depression.

As a blogger about narcissism and personality disorders, I see Riley at this point in grave danger of suicide or developing a personality disorder, even NPD or BPD. Her trauma-induced depression has caused her to become apathetic and unable to feel anything at all. What happens next is so magical and touched me so deeply I sat there in the darkened theater with tears running unchecked down my face and my nose running. I wasn’t alone–I heard sniffles and nose blowing all over the theater, and there’s a safety and sense of connection with total strangers that comes from that, and that’s why going to see a good movie never gets old. There’s something wonderfully liberating about being able to cry in a public place yet unseen by others and unjudged for it because everyone else is crying too. I think that’s why “heartstring tugging” movies are so popular. But the emotions elicited in “Inside Out” feel real–there’s no sappiness or fake sentimentality in this film that make you feel manipulated by the producers.

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The five Islands of Personality.

But for all its poignancy, “Inside Out” has plenty of humor too, and all the jokes are clever and well timed. At times during the movie I was both laughing and crying at the same time. The Five Emotions are all funny characters with their own unique charm. Even Anger is loveable and hilarious in his own irascible way, and the Tinker-Bell like Joy, who could have been incredibly annoying for all her upbeat perkiness, has a depth you don’t expect and over time you realize she is the only Emotion who can feel all the other Emotions. I pictured Joy and Sadness as really being the same person–the two sides of Riley’s True Self–and when they were lost in Riley’s memory dump, Riley’s behavior became quite narcissistic. It wasn’t lost on me that both Joy’s hair color and her “aura” are colored blue–Sadness’ color.

Pete Doctor, the film’s director and screenwriter, was inspired to develop “Inside Out” while trying to come to terms with his own daughter’s psychological changes and mood swings as she approached adolescence. To give the complex psychological concepts presented credibility, well-known developmental psychologists were consulted during pre-production. It’s obvious that a deep knowledge of the way the human mind works fueled both the story and the landscape of Riley’s mind. Kids will adore “Inside Out” because of its lovable characters, fantastic animation, humor, its engaging story about a regular girl, and impressive special effects. In the theater I saw it in, there were plenty of children there, and all of them were rapt in the story.

But adults will love it just as much because of the movie’s deep message of Empathy being born from pain and loss, and the necessity of “negative” emotions to exist in a healthy person’s psyche, working in tandem with “positive” ones. Understanding the movie at this level requires an ability to think in an abstract way about the mechanisms behind personality development and psychological disorders. “Inside Out” is a rare movie that celebrates the human ability to feel, and to love, cry, connect, and laugh. It tells kids that all their emotions are okay, and experiencing them is normal and just part of growing up.

Parents, if you have children ages 4 to early teens, please take them to see “Inside Out.” Both you and they will leave the theater feeling great, and the ideas presented in the story can open up honest discussion about emotions between parents and their children. I’d even go so far as to suggest teachers show this movie to their students, and engage them in discussion afterwards.

I find it encouraging and heartening that such an honest and touching movie with a positive message about genuine emotions and empathy has become the hit of the summer, instead of the usual mindless dreck that passes for summer blockbusters.

“Inside Out” is rated PG. I would not recommend it for children age 3 and younger, due to several quite scary moments that could give a young child nightmares.

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Riley with her concerned parents at the dinner table.

My rating: Five Stars! *****

Facts about “Inside Out”:
via Wikipedia

“Inside Out” is a 2015 American 3D computer-animated comedy-drama film produced by Pixar Animation Studios and released by Walt Disney Pictures. Directed and co-written by Pete Docter, the film is set in the mind of a young girl, Riley Andersen (Kaitlyn Dias), where five personified emotions—Joy (Amy Poehler), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), Fear (Bill Hader), and Sadness (Phyllis Smith)—try to lead her through life as she moves with her parents (Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan) to a new city. The film was co-directed and co-written by Ronnie del Carmen and produced by Jonas Rivera, with music composed by Michael Giacchino.

Docter first began developing Inside Out in 2009 after noticing changes in his daughter’s personality as she grew older. The film’s producers consulted numerous psychologists, including Dacher Keltner[6] from the University of California, Berkeley, who helped revise the story emphasizing the neuropsychological findings that human emotions are mirrored in interpersonal relationships and can be significantly moderated by them.

After premiering at the 68th Cannes Film Festival in May, Inside Out was released on June 19, 2015. It received universal critical acclaim, with many film critics praising the voice performances (particularly for Poehler, Smith, and Richard Kind), its concept and poignant subject matter. The film grossed $90.4 million in its first weekend—the highest opening for an original title, besting Avatar‍ ’​s previous record.

To everything there is a season…

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There seem to be three different kinds of people in the world. Those who are fake-positive, always wearing a plastered on smile and never admitting to failure or to their true emotions; those who walk around wearing their misery like a badge of honor; and everyone else.

Before I became active in the narcissistic abuse community, I really only met the first type of person and the third. I’m all too well acquainted with “positive thinking nazis” — you know, fake and shallow people who don’t want to acknowledge your pain and tell you to “get over it” or “you bring your misery on yourself with your negativity.” These people are often–but not always–narcissists (but even when they aren’t, they are all neurotypicals.) They are good at social skills and making a good impression at all times, and that means they are always smiling. They cannot and will not understand how introverted Aspies like me work–or really, how anyone who has deep emotions and isn’t always happy works. Positive-thinking nazis drive me insane. They lack compassion and understanding. They don’t think or feel deeply–about anything. It seems epidemic these days–people who don’t want to hear your problems because they don’t want to acknowledge that you may be in pain. For them, I don’t think it’s really about “positive thinking” at all. I think it’s about not wanting to be accountable or have to give time to anyone but themselves. They would rather brush your pain under the rug and act as if it’s not there, rather than let it ruin their day.

However, recently I’ve been seeing the opposite too, especially within the narcissistic abuse community. These are the people–usually raised by extremely abusive parents–who seem to wear their victimhood like a badge that proves how deep, emotional or even holy they are. The problem I see with this way of thinking is that they cannot move forward or ever find happiness or peace with themselves. Their Debbie Downer attitudes keep them stuck where they are and they can’t really heal from the abuse that was inflicted on them because they’re trapped in the quicksands of their own misery. A few have even implied that to be a happy person means you aren’t a godly person. They say that being optimistic or believing that God allows suffering or toxic people to come into our lives to strengthen us is a demonic way of thinking, and in fact, that the whole positive thinking movement is a “gift of Satan” in order to fool us.

When I first joined the narcissistic abuse community, I felt like I had finally found like-minded people. I felt like a victim most of the time and my early posts were mostly rants against my narcissists and how much life sucked in general. I couldn’t believe my luck in finding people who thought exactly the way I did–other people whose lives seemed ruined beyond repair due to the damage done to them at the hands of abusive or narcissistic people (usually parents), and that, well…life really sucks. Wow, I thought. There really are others like me! I could relate, and I felt like I was no longer all alone in thinking this way. And at the time, it was exactly the sort of validation I needed. But it wasn’t meant to be permanent!

Recently I’ve been changing and I’m finding myself getting irritated and depressed around people who cling to victimhood like a trophy and refuse to–or can’t–heal from abuse. Don’t get me wrong–I’m not “blaming the victim”–at all–but I have noticed with a great deal of sadness how people who cling to such views don’t seem to be able to heal. Sometimes I think they believe if they let go of their victimhood and allow themselves to pursue and embrace joy, that they are “letting the narcs win.” But in fact, they are letting the narcs win by embracing victimhood because their being happy wasn’t in their abusers’ plans. By stubbornly clinging to their no-hope thinking patterns, they can’t heal and and their abusers get what they want. Because our being happy wasn’t part of the narc’s agenda.

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I have heard some say that happy people who are doing well in life aren’t authentic or “real.” I don’t think this is true, at least not all the time. Yes, I think there is far too much emphasis put on always APPEARING happy and yes, showing human emotions such as sadness, fear or depression seems to have become taboo in our narcissistic society. I don’t agree with that. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with sharing our true feelings, even when they’re not positive. But there is a huge difference between an authentically happy person and one who is faking it. A person who has true joy and feels it in their heart is a person other people want to be around, even people like me who get easily annoyed by “goody goodies” who smile too much.

A genuinely happy person is positive about life, but they don’t force their positivity on others, or make others feel guilty for showing real feelings. They don’t victim-blame or tell you it’s your fault you feel the way you do or have the circumstances you are faced with. They know how to listen–without judgment. The few people I have known who are like this are among the most empathetic people I ever met, and it’s because they’re not so caught up in their own issues that they have nothing left to give to others. I knew a girl like this a few years ago. Even though she laughed and smiled a lot, she was never annoying or obnoxious. I used to see her cry a lot too–often for others, because she was so compassionate and she CARED about other people. You could tell she was a person who was able to love deeply. People went to her with their problems because they knew she cared and wanted to help, and would never judge you for feeling down.

I don’t believe this world is our final destination. I believe our fallen nature and sin makes suffering inevitable. But on the other hand, I don’t think God wants us to be miserable either. I don’t buy the phony Joel Osteen brand of fake happiness or the ugly philosophy of the “Prosperity Gospel.” I can’t stand so-called “Christians” who don’t believe in helping the less fortunate because they believe that “poverty is the result of moral failure” or some such BS and is therefore deserved.

But I do think God does want us to be happy while we’re in this world. This planet, as imperfect as it is, is filled with small and not-so-small gifts and they are there for us to enjoy every day–but we won’t be able to appreciate these gifts if we’re too caught up in feeling like we were born only for suffering. It’s okay to smile when you feel like smiling, to be successful at something, to even be prosperous. I certainly am not what anyone would call “successful,” but I won’t condemn anyone else if they’ve found success and happiness–as long as the happiness is authentic and the success was earned honestly. I don’t think anyone needs to consign themselves to always being impoverished or depressed. No one was born to be a victim. I used to believe I was, but now I know I wasn’t–I just needed to open my eyes. Adversity can even be a teacher if you frame it differently. I have learned from my narcs. No, they aren’t good people, but perhaps God placed them in my life to teach me some hard lessons and to lead me to where I am right now as a writer about narcissism and mental health.

Psalm 16 v 11 path of life bible verses on happiness

The obstacles and obstacle-creating people we meet in life aren’t put there by the devil. They may not have been put there by God, but God allows us to find our own way through the obstacles and become stronger through our pain, perhaps so we can “pay it forward” and help someone else in pain.

The idea of there being a purpose for everything in life–the bad along with the good–is Biblical. One of my favorite Bible passages is Ecclesiastes Chapter 3 (KJV):

1 To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

2 A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

3 A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

4 A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

5 A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

6 A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

7 A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

8 A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

9 What profit hath he that worketh in that wherein he laboureth?

10 I have seen the travail, which God hath given to the sons of men to be exercised in it.

11 He hath made every thing beautiful in his time: also he hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end.

12 I know that there is no good in them, but for a man to rejoice, and to do good in his life.

13 And also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labour, it is the gift of God.

14 I know that, whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever: nothing can be put to it, nor any thing taken from it: and God doeth it, that men should fear before him.

15 That which hath been is now; and that which is to be hath already been; and God requireth that which is past.

16 And moreover I saw under the sun the place of judgment, that wickedness was there; and the place of righteousness, that iniquity was there.

17 I said in mine heart, God shall judge the righteous and the wicked: for there is a time there for every purpose and for every work.

18 I said in mine heart concerning the estate of the sons of men, that God might manifest them, and that they might see that they themselves are beasts.

19 For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity.

20 All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.

21 Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth?

22 Wherefore I perceive that there is nothing better, than that a man should rejoice in his own works; for that is his portion: for who shall bring him to see what shall be after him?

I can’t tell you how many times I have read this and been inspired and comforted by it.
If you feel happy, don’t feel guilty about it! If you don’t, that’s okay too. There’s a time and reason for everything.

This is the post that scared me so much I almost deleted it.

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I have never been so scared to publish a post until this one. I had this set to Private for several days and drove myself crazy trying to decide if I ought to post it. It’s about some of my most vulnerable moments and posting about those is incredibly scary for a person who usually has their guard up. But I longed to post it. Something inside was telling me I needed to and I wouldn’t regret it. I also felt this post was my best written one ever because while writing it I allowed my emotions to flow unimpeded. What to do?

I even wrote a short post asking people if I should post something that made me feel so naked and vulnerable. Ultimately, the decision to make this post public was mine, but the consensus seemed to be that I should.

I read this post over again earlier today from the imaginary perspective of a random reader who just happened on the article and had never seen this blog before. I realized that as this “someone else” it would be something I’d want to read.

So here it is, guys. The post that made me feel like I was going to pass out cold when I pressed “Make Post Public.”

Milk and Open Hearts: Embracing the “Feminine” Emotions

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I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about vulnerability lately. I’m reaching a point in my healing journey where I can start to allow myself to become more open to my emotions and to sharing the feelings of others. It wasn’t my intention to write another post about crying so soon after my last, but I think my interest is due to something that’s happening inside…

For years I couldn’t cry, but wanted to. I was so numb from all the abuse that I had dissociated myself from my feelings. I felt like I was dead and in hell. Recently I’m finding a lump in my throat or tears starting to well much more frequently–usually because I’ve been touched by something or someone in some way, and it’s usually a pretty simple thing. I realize this is a sign that the long term dissociation within my mind is coming to an end because I’ve gained more courage to embrace my feelings instead of pushing them away or denying their existence.

I remember even during the darkest days of abuse by my psychopaths and narcs, when I walked around like an emotional zombie due to all the abuse I endured, there were rare moments of clarity when truth and beauty shone through the murk of depression and PTSD.

During my pregnancies with both my children (I was pregnant three other times–one abortion which I am writing about next–the child would have been a boy born in 1999–and two miscarriages), my brain’s marination in a continuous bath of pregnancy hormones made me very emotional. Not depressed-emotional–in fact, I was happier than I’d ever been. Things just touched me or made me feel some kind of ineffable euphoria or inexplicable sadness and suddenly there would be tears.

I think the increased emotionality experienced by pregnant and lactating women is the result of nature’s opening our hearts to connect deeply and lovingly with our children from the moment we know we are pregnant. The torrents of female hormones–mostly estrogen and progesterone–help wire our brains to to allow the limbic (emotional) system to run things for awhile. The heightened ability to feel is a gift that helps our species survive because under the right circumstances, emotional openness transforms into unconditional love and empathy.

The hormonal bath continued for some weeks after the births of both my children and I remember getting particularly emotional one dark and cold night as I held my firstborn against milk-swollen breasts, with Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” playing on the stereo. I watched as my son rooted for the nourishment he sought and found it. Latched on tightly, dark pink lips pursed in determination and a primitive and preternatural hunger, my baby son began to nurse. As I felt the milk come down, I was overwhelmed with tenderness and love for this completely helpless creature who so recently had lived inside my body and taken nourishment from my blood, and whose wastes were eliminated with my own, and suddenly my face was awash in tears.

I watched as if through antique swirled-glass windows as my tears soaked my tiny boy’s thistledown-fine hair and ran across a petal-soft pink cheek busily working my milk glands. There was a melancholy underpinning to my overwhelming elation and I allowed myself to feel that sadness too–and realized that melancholy welled up from an awareness of how fragile my tiny son was, how fragile we all are–at any age; and how easily a trusting, childlike soul can be stamped out by hurt, abandonment and abuse. I wanted to protect this child from any harm that might ever come his way. I didn’t realize then my son’s own father would set out to destroy his spirit. Thank God he did not succeed.

At the moment the first drop of salt water touched my baby, opaque dark blue eyes fluttered open and gazed at me, seeming to understand my feelings. Sighing a delicate baby sigh, this tiny human being I had created through my love for a man and sustained and nurtured by my blooming, hormone-soaked body, nestled in closer and suckled harder until swept away in blissful sleep. I marveled at the knowledge this tiny boy would one day be a man, taller and probably physically stronger than me, and that I would play a huge part in his journey to manhood. It scared me to pieces but I felt willing and ready to take on the challenge–because of love, the greatest power we have as humans.

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This wondrous connection–this moment of almost painful sweetness–was so honest and magical I almost dared not breathe. The tears poured down. I didn’t wipe the wetness from my face for that would have disrupted the beautiful connection I felt with my child.

It’s during these moments our hearts are open and we allow ourselves to become vulnerable, that we are fully engaged and connected with life and open to the bliss and pain of pure unconditional love. That kind of love is expressed in tears (often combined with laughter or smiles) because there are no words that could ever express the depth of this sublime emotion–an emotion of such beauty, rarity and truth it nearly hurts.

Tears are the mark of our common humanity and connect us with each other. We are pushed into the world crying, and are (hopefully) cried for when we leave it. Crying marks the most important milestones of our lives, whether they are happy or sad. There are always tears at graduations, pregnancy and wedding announcements, falling in and out of love, weddings, births, baptisms, death and funerals. There are tears wherever there is honesty, intimacy and love.

The happiest people in the world are often people who cry a lot. Their hearts are open, so everything and everyone touches them. They’re not afraid to connect and to empathize. Their love sometimes overflows the confines of their physical composure, and so they cry. I used to know a beautiful young woman who said she cried five or more times a day–just because she was so happy all the time. She wasn’t annoying happy. Honest joy never is annoying. She moved through life regally and with dignity and compassion, appreciating everything and loving everything and being touched by everything, and everyone loved her right back because they knew she was an empath. People wanted to be close to her, they wanted to be touched by her, both emotionally and physically. Her large expressive eyes were almost always wet with tears. At first it seemed a little strange, but soon we got so used to seeing her that way it just seemed normal after awhile. And it WAS normal, more normal than anything could ever be.

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I was so envious of that girl for her emotional openness. But she showed me a great truth about myself. I could be that girl because that was me. I just needed to find a way to knock down my thick concrete walls of fear. It’s getting easier. I still have a lot of emotional blockage, but I no longer feel like one of the walking dead.

In the Stephen King movie “The Green Mile,” John Coffey is an autistic man who nevertheless is an empath. He’s been unjustly sentenced to Death Row for the murder of two little girls because he was the last one seen with them (and probably due to his being black as well). You sense Coffey never killed those girls and in fact you realize how empathic this man really is. He has no defenses against the world due to his inability to hide his emotions (some autistic people have trouble regulating their emotions), and at the same time this very defenselessness gives him unbelievable strength and goodness. Coffey cried almost constantly, feeling the emotions of everyone around him and freely giving unconditional love where none existed.

A couple of years ago, there was a very popular video that went viral. It featured a 10-month old baby girl apparently crying from empathy as she listened to her mother sing. I’m not usually a fan of “cute baby” videos but watching this baby was fascinating because she cried like an adult would have–and the purity of her emotion was an achingly beautiful thing to see.

We are born withour hearts unguarded. When life begins to hurt too much (and it always does), children eventually learn to guard their hearts or in the worst cases (NPD, ASPD and some other mental disorders), dissociate themselves from their true feelings so thoroughly there is no turning back to the emotionally open state we were born with.

It’s a sad state of affairs that all the tender (“feminine”) emotions such as sadness, deep connection or friendship, love in all its forms, joy of the non-shallow type, feeling touched or moved, gratitude, and empathy– have been so devalued in modern society and are often seen as proof of weakness in a person when in fact they show a person who has the strength and courage to leave their hearts unguarded when it matters the most.

It’s interesting that all these softer emotions indicate goodness and purity of heart. They possess enormous potential to eliminate or reduce darkness and evil because they are emotions of healing, love, and our human connection with the Divine.

In a perfect world where all human beings had open, unguarded hearts, an alien from another planet upon first meeting a typical human would see smiles and laughter graced by tears. If the alien were to question what these signals meant, the answer would be “Love.”
The angels in Heaven would tell you the same.

Empathic joy

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