Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Can You Be Mad, Sad, Glad or Afraid?

“One loses the capacity to grieve as a child grieves, or to rage as a child rages: hotly, despairingly, with tears of passion. One grows up, one becomes civilized, on learns one’s manners, and consequently can no longer manage these two functions—sorrow and anger—adequately.”

Anita Brookner

The old saying “we teach what we most need to learn” is often cited in training and executive coaching circles. It’s certainly true for me in this subject I keep coming back to in these weekly offerings: learning to recapture and expand as a responsible adult my ability to express what I really feel.

I usually reference my mentor Bob Wright of the Wright Institute in Chicago when exploring the value of becoming more literate in the language of feelings. This week I’ll reference my children, Emily and Levi. Recently we’ve been in conversation about their desire to contact their birth mother for the first time—and it may happen this summer.

A useful question when exploring feelings is “are you mad, sad, glad or afraid?” When I apply it to myself around these recent conversations I notice that what surfaces is my old anger about their birth mom’s behavior; my sadness at some of the pain they’ve endured; my joy erupting as I notice how they are maturing and growing as young adults; and my fear that the possible encounter will not go well for them.

The learning point for me—and I offer it to you for consideration—is that when we heighten our awareness about what we are feeling, when we ask that question about being mad, sad, glad or afraid, the answers are often complex and immensely valuable in our journey toward living an extraordinary life. Comments please.

With love and respect,


P. S. My “seminar in a box,” an 8 CD plus Owner’s Manual program about building a life of meaning and abundance is available at


Bud said...

Hello Robert... thank you for our conversation this morning, I always ponder your perspective and take it to heart. Since you your post today brings up the question of human feelings and our ability to "manage" them. I want to offer some linguistic distinctions I learned from Dr. Fernando Flores many years ago in an ontological design course.

Today we agreed that verbal pollution can be as damaging as toxins in our environment. Therefore, the more rigorous and mindful we are with our language, the better. The first place to begin is identifying the distinction between "feelings" vs. "emotions".

One reason we don't have the competence to manage our "feelings" is that we don't have adequate words to describe what is happening with us internally. We are woefully lacking skillful vocabulary. If we begin recognizing that "feelings" are bodily sensations, i.e. hot, cold, a sharp pain from a scratch etc. and "emotions" are the "sudden interpretation of our minds" regarding what is happening to us.

If we rigorously investigate the source of what makes us sad, glad, mad or afraid, we discover that our minds are rapidly interpreting external circumstances regarding "what's happening". Someone offered that the emotion of anger arises, more often than not from an unmet expectation.

I've checked this out in my own life and find that it is extraordinarily helpful to disarm my anger in the moment. It requires a refined and practiced skill of self - observation. I sincerely hope these comments add to the value of your inquiry. best regards, Bud

Anonymous said...

Hello Robert... thank you for the inspiring quote and note today. I hope you forgive me for adding a light side to it, as it is not meant to take away the value of what you shared. In reference to the part that says: …”One grows up, one becomes civilized, on learns one’s manners, and consequently can no longer manage these two functions—sorrow and anger—adequately.” Being a big soccer fan and after watching the USA game today I can only say, soccer fans have no problem expressing neither sorrow or anger. Of course my favorite part if the expression of joy when your team wins. For those who may need a stress outlet, I highly recommend it.



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