Or: How emotional life is kind of like science. And Star Wars.
That Newton guy knew a thing or two
Back in the day, when I was an aspiring physicist (I switched to social science pretty quickly! 🙂 ) we learned about Newton’s laws, the ones that specify how things work. Or at least, how Newton thought things worked. (Let’s not get into quantum physics or cats in boxes!)
One of Newton’s most famous laws is his third. It states that:
For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
I was thinking about this, randomly, like I do(!). And I realised that it doesn’t just apply in the physical world. It applies to my emotional world too.
What do I mean by this?
I mean that every action I take is a reaction to something that’s gone before, and I can control the direction of my reaction – the way I react when force is applied.
Emotional reactions are natural, just like Physics
I think that we often react to things that happen to us in an entirely natural way, even if it doesn’t seem like that initially. It’s something I’ve realised from my experience with the blogging community, especially around our experiences of infertility and loss – that we often feel like we are having very extreme or unnatural reactions to our experiences. But when I think about it, I think that an extreme reaction to an extreme experience like infertility or loss is often entirely understandable. We just need to figure out how to deal with it.
If I think of my experiences as physical things, and I think of my reactions as forces, I feel like I can rationalise our reactions as opposing reactive forces. (Maybe this is just the scientist in me but I like to visualise things in order to make sense of them! Maybe this sounds like complete nonsense to you!)
For me, the key to working through these reactions (particularly negative ones) is to recognise them, own them, and ultimately to do stuff to counteract them. To recognise the physical force and react to it in a way that benefits me rather than harms me. Over time, I’ve found that I can neutralise or balance negative thoughts and actions by thinking through what they are and deciding on how I’m going to do things differently in future that is an opposing reaction to the emotional experience. And when I thought about it, I’ve done this throughout my life – I’m sure everybody does. I think it’s part of learning and growing up, to learn from past experiences and to do things differently in future when the present or past experience isn’t the best.
Wait… You’ve lost me with all your blether!
(I’m probably blethering in a slightly incomprehensible way, so let me give you some examples.)
When I was younger, I was quite sad and depressed for a time. That was a reaction to things that had happened to me, particularly being bullied at school (see my back story) and for a while I turned into a fairly angry/negative adolescent, because I didn’t enjoy the experience of being bullied. (A counsellor later told me that this was an entirely rational reaction and for the first time I actually felt validated, rather than irrationally angry/upset. In effect he neutralised it for me by removing my opposing thoughts of always wanting to push back in anger about my experiences.)
I felt trapped in a situation that was outside of my control, but I also understood that at some point it would end – I’d grow up and I’d have the opportunity to go to university, to be in the world, even though I didn’t know what that was. I knew that there were aspects of my personality that I didn’t like that were a way of dealing with a negative experience. (I am very self-critical and often feel like I’m telling myself where I have gone wrong, even if I look outwardly fine.) I also knew that university would be a brand new start. And I decided to do things differently, and people would react to me differently in return. I didn’t always have to be bullied.
When I went to university, I made myself go and knock on every door on my corridor in halls and introduce myself. Maybe they’d all think I was mad, but their first impression would be that I was outgoing, friendly and open to being social. It was a reaction of mine to the times that had gone before and it worked. For something so small (introducing myself) I ended up being friends with most of the people on my corridor. I’m still in touch with some of them now, and I left university ages ago.
Even the smallest people can use force to change direction
Seemingly minor or easy actions can have positive consequences. With that force, the force of being bullied, I used my reaction to that to change direction. To be an active friend maker rather than someone who had bullying done to me. I’m not a new age-y karma person because I actually think you can rationalise the concept in a physical, scientific way. Our actions in life are reactions to our experiences. You can choose to absorb the negative force or you can redirect the action to a positive outcome. You can understand that a negative reaction is a natural outcome from a negative action, and you can bat that b*gger away as if it’s a physical object! You can push back. You can change direction.
Some people are a bit like maggots
I think we react to things in past relationships that can solidify our relationship goals in future relationships. Not just romantic relationships, but friends too.
I used to be the kind of person who was so desperate to be liked that I would do anything to maintain a friendship. It meant that I had some very good friends, but I also had some toxic friends who grew stronger on my desperation. (They’re like maggots… They get fat on rotten stuff!) And toxic people cause negative reactions. You can find yourself bending to their will and doing stuff you don’t really want to do, just because they say they want you to do it. Or you can start to feel bad about yourself because they do things by their actions and words to tell you that.
Until you start to push back, to change the direction of the force. When people are nasty to me, I think about ways to neutralise them. There are a number of ways I can change direction of the force by changing my reaction. I can push back equally and argue with them with words. Pushing back in the opposite direction. I can “kill them with kindness”, pushing back with a different force. (Sadly some people are immune to this one!) Or I can neutralise their effect on me by taking away the physical blockage that they represent. I can stop making their reaction matter to me. Changing direction of the force by taking away the object that’s being forced – me. I’ve got to tell you, there are few things more freeing than ridding your mind of a toxic relationship.
One guy used to keep me hanging on in a bad situation by alternating kindness and attention with meanness and toxicity. I tried everything to improve the situation and how we reacted to each other, but it got worse and worse and was making me ill. I thought that I would miss him if he wasn’t in my life, but my life improved exponentially when I stopped replying to his messages. That’s all it took – a removal of me. Unless you’re in captivity, you can always change your situation, just by removing yourself. The mental freedom of choosing not to engage with toxic people is when you get your life back.
Push smarter, not harder
It’s all easier said than done, but I find that I can work with negativity by imagining that it’s something physical that’s being pushed towards me and squashing me. You don’t have to be exactly as strong as the thing that’s pushing you, if you understand that there are different ways to react to force other than pushing right back in the very same way. I can push back hard physically and change the direction backwards, but that’s not the only way I have at my disposal and it’s the one that takes the most effort. I can push back with another kind of force – the same force but a different type… a push rather than a punch. I could cushion the blow with something soft, absorbing the force and dissipating it. Or I could move out of the way. They’re all reactions and they’re all valid ways to deal with force, and when I realised I was in control of my reactions, I could feel a lot better about my life.
In my personal life, the big one was my life partner relationship. I think very few people go into a lifelong partnership or marriage with a lot of previous experience, and this is why we don’t necessarily know what works for us when we first start out. When I met my future husband, I was just a baby. (Not literally… That would be weird! I mean that I had hardly any life experience.) I didn’t have time or experience to have had a reaction to past experience in a positive and meaningful way. My main criterion for trying to make a successful relationship was to make him happy. I saw it as an academic exercise, a logic puzzle. What does he like? Who does he want? I’ll be that person.
Reacting to past forces
This is not the post for dissecting our relationship, but the point is that I came out of a very long term relationship with a lot more experience and a lot more understanding of how I reacted to forces. I knew that I didn’t want to have a life full of those equal and opposite reactions with both of us pushing in opposing directions. I wanted to get to a stage where I was pushing in the same direction as my partner. Where we could be doubly strong in the same direction and dissipate the negativity. I went into our current relationship with my eyes open, without hiding stuff, or pretending to be anything other than myself. If you have nothing to lose then you have everything to gain, and I did. I owned my reactions instead of seeing them as something that happened to me when forces were applied.
It’s so much easier that way!
It’s not personal
And there are some things I want to say about this, to my infertile friends in the blogging world, and to those who have suffered loss, or both.
I don’t believe in a God, but I believe in Good. I don’t believe that there’s a benevolent being who whimsically wants to punish us for something by preventing us from having children. That’s not how it works. You are no less good than anyone else who has children and you are no less bad. Because there isn’t some kind of rating of good or evil where you have to score a certain amount to get a child. Some people have babies and some people do bad things. Sometimes both. Sometimes none. Good people have horrible, awful experiences that you wouldn’t choose for your worst enemy. (That’s a thought for another post: Don’t give your enemies power by wasting any of your finite minutes on them!) You aren’t infertile because you did something bad. And your baby didn’t die because you’re a bad person.
Your reaction to a friend’s pregnancy news and feeling upset about it, that feeling you beat yourself up about, is an entirely rational reaction. It is the kick-in-the-guts feeling of loss you get when someone else tells you they accidentally got up the duff without even trying. It’s the pregnant bellies on the tube and the mummytalk from your friends. It’s all a force and it’s all something you can learn to deal with by understanding it and rationalising it. Maybe you’ll push it or block it and maybe you’ll deflect it and plaster on your happy face and throw a baby shower, but you can choose how you deal with it. I’m like the most emotionally babyish person in the world and I can make myself understand my reactions and think rationally about a way to deal with them, so I reckon it’s possible even for the emotionally stunted like me. (For example, sometimes I want to slap people but I never would! But I can own the fantasy of doing it! And I can make myself the best damn baby shower hostess ever. I can win at other things than having a baby. And I can take joy in my friend’s baby joy even if I need some emotional breaks now and then to deal with it. That’s okay, people!)
Use the force!
I’m not sure what I’m getting at here – my blog is more stream of consciousness rather than telling you any way to live your life. I don’t think anyone has the answers to that but you. (Heck, I’m the authority on random bletherings but if you want sense, you’ll need to ask someone else!)
What I know is that there are forces in life and we can choose how we react to them, and be kind to ourselves when we have natural reactions to negative things, and change the direction of forces to make our experiences better where we can.
What I know is that there is a whole lot of stuff in life that cannot be explained because a ton of it is just chance, and there are bad things and good and we can try and chase the good and we can make the good for ourselves, like a Jedi mind trick.
What I know is that you are awesome. From the blogs I’ve read and the people I’ve “met” on here, I feel like I can say with some authority:
You are strong.
You are resilient.
You are loved.
You have a story worth telling.
Your life is an adventure.
You can use The Force for good!