Peace. For the last few mornings, as I’ve woken up and the first feeling I’ve been aware of is a heavy sadness inside my chest, all I’ve wanted to feel is peace. Not just peace and respite from pain and internal battles, but a sense of being at peace with myself – contentment, calm, safety, a sense of feeling loved and having a place in the world. What some authors, researchers, and therapists (writers such as Brene Brown and Hilary Jacobs Hendel) might call an open-hearted or whole-hearted state, a state of the authentic, vulnerable, Self.
What struck me a few mornings ago – when it wasn’t Christmas day and I was still at home and not surrounded by family and therefore still had the capacity to reason – is how different my desires and longings are now, to how they used to be. I remember how, in 2012, I described to a CBT therapist the intense emotional highs of obsessive relationship. She asked if I could think of different, better, feelings, and I looked at her genuinely baffled by how anyone could think there was something better than emotional intensity. Why feel less, when you could feel more? Guiltily, as it somehow felt wrong, I told her it was the best feeling in the world.
The next couple of years were horrendous. I was more unwell than I’ve ever been, and though I hated many aspects of the emotional rollercoaster I was on, emotional intensity still felt like a drug that I needed, and sometimes I used self-harm as a way of administering it. In time, I think I came to know that emotional intensity wasn’t ‘the goal’, in the same way that I knew that self-harm was not a healthy coping strategy; but the intellectual knowledge didn’t translate into emotional knowledge, and I hadn’t yet replaced either intensity or self-harm with solid, deep-seated, internalised alternatives.
What struck me a few mornings ago was how firmly and how deeply I now know that there is a better feeling than obsessive relationship, a better feeling than emotional intensity in general. How indubitable is the knowledge that calm, quiet, deep respect, love, and regard for a separate other, both in its giving and in its receiving, is far more fulfilling than an ecstatic loss of sense of self and merger with an ideal. Intensity is about height of feeling – about taking a particular emotion and squeezing it into a peak as narrow and as tall as possible and spearing oneself on it, at a dizzying height. Whereas I’ve discovered through therapy, that what I cherish and long for is a depth and breadth of life and emotion, which has more options, more colour, more shades discernible within it, than are available within a blinding point of intense white light. I want a prism, not a magnifying glass. But much more than that, I want to love and be loved in this new way that simply honours, accepts, and enjoys the other. I want to feel the warmth, joy, and security of knowing I love and am loved for who I am – as is the case with my therapist – and that because of that I have the ability to enjoy and take in the world, and experience myself and others, in a different way. And I want to experience much more often the deeply fulfilling contentment and peace that comes with those things.
What struck me a few morning ago, was not a new realisation, but one I had started to come to gradually, a couple of years ago, and which over time has settled, and deepened, and gained even greater conviction. What was a new realisation – or at least more recent, from the last couple of months – was the thought that intensity takes me away from who I am. It is one of the very many things – which includes internal resistance, self-sabotage, projection, envy, resentment – which take me further from myself, and which separate me from my true Self. Emotional intensity is not just contrary to the kind of emotional experience I now deeply value, it also separates me from an open-hearted, whole-hearted state in which I am vulnerably, authentically me. And therefore it also prevents me from acting in accordance with who I am, and in a way that honours the people and things I hold dear.
There isn’t necessarily anything wrong with strong feeling – strong anger, strong sadness, grief, or joy, for example. There is nothing wrong with a strong, genuine awareness of our authentic self. But what I realised fairly recently is that intense emotion is a state of ‘being caught up’ in something ‘other’, whereas genuine strong emotion comes from deep within our core, and grounds us to ourselves. Strong emotion that comes from within our core, shows us something valuable about ourselves, whereas the first thing that happens when we get caught up in intense emotion, is that we completely lose ourselves. Intense emotion is about disconnection from self; whereas strong feeling, focused activity, or passionate endeavour, can be about immersion in something that aligns with, and connects and gives expression to, who we really are. That seems more obvious now, than it ever has done. And yet I still remember the times when it seemed as though to feel intensely was the same as to feel more truly. But intensity, as I now understand it, has very little to do with truth.
Changes. Peace. I’m grateful for them; I yearn to experience more of them. I also can’t help thinking that much much more of this inner peace, contentment, vulnerability and authenticity, could result in much more of the peace that is wished for and talked about at Christmas time. I wish you both kinds, wherever you are in the world right now.