When I began helping others 15 years ago in their recovery from addiction it was the typical start, which I am grateful for. I simply took someone through the 12 steps for recovery practiced in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous. It was a rewarding experience, and a temporary one. For I went back to managing my life, and didn’t care about helping someone else – to me it was just something they told you to do in AA. However, this all changed when I was 6 years sober and decided to go back to basics.
I had to ask myself, what are you not doing that has been advocated? The answer came quick – I’ve never joined a home group (AA’s one meeting you commit yourself to weekly to build relationships, accountability, etc. – quite brilliant), I’ve never taken a service position (AA’s way of saying – make coffee for the group, set up chairs, greet at the door – once again quite brilliant for relationship building and establishing worth by providing an achievable thing to do), I’ve never really helped anyone (AA’s 12th step suggestion to more less give back what has been given to you. I knew at that point, what needed to happen and I got back to basics and did all the above. Within months – 6 to be exact, in the month of April, I had four women come into my life and asked me to mentor them, and guide them through the work. This was the beginning of massive service for me, it was a beginning of self-sacrifice and growth I had never experienced.
The thing about helping multiple people at the same time is you learn we aren’t all that unique. We carry the same issues around with us. The uniqueness in whomever is helping us is their ability to grasp how we tick. What angle do we try to squeeze out of things? How does our mind think? In the rooms of addiction, we are known to call this our “ism”. In everyday terms, people might label this as their “stress” or their “anxiety”. I will go deeper into this in future blog posts.
So, what is the emotional leather jacket? Well, one of the things or issues we all have in common are relationships. Albeit, I’m in going to focus on the difficulties we encounter because these are the issues which tear us down, cause problems for us and the other people in our life. If we don’t look at the difficulties, we can’t work through them to get to the other side of the problem. Every day we come into contact with our partners, our bosses, our children, the guy at the grocery store bagging our groceries, our parents, our siblings, and our friends. Yet, it can be challenging to stay completely upbeat and positive in all those relationships if we feel we have been hurt by them, or we must “deal” with their stuff again, or “if they only would change”. Sound familiar?
Do you ever come home or go to work, and immediately “read” someone’s mood? I think those of coming from difficult childhoods, and upbringings are experts at this because we had to read the mood of the angry person we lived it, or the abuser we lived with. Some had to essentially survive their childhood, you had to have an intuitive guidance to understand that person for safety. Therefore, we are too good at reading others in adulthood. We are so good, we convince ourselves we know what the other person is feeling, and how they are thinking. Sometimes the evidence is overwhelming because they have behaved a certain way for a long time, and we have been impacted by their behavior for a long time. We get to a point, where we almost “wear their emotions”. We think we know what they are going to do next. This is where the emotional hook can snag you.
The emotional jacket is a metaphor for helping someone detach from other person’s emotions. It provides a visual for someone so they can understand their part in the relationship, regardless of the other person’s actions. It goes like this:
Imagine you come home, and your partner is a crappy mood, horrible. The dishes are getting slammed around bit, perhaps they are more quiet than normal. You can tell something is wrong. You then must decide (not cognizant that is what is happening) on how you will now react. Perhaps, you think “I will ask how their day went and see if they want to talk about it”. You try this, it fails. They don’t want to talk about it. Next, you think “I’m just going to go about my evening, and stay positive, obviously, this has nothing to do with me!”. You feel a little annoyed now, because the mood isn’t changing in your partner, in fact it is only growing worse. You make yourself busy, maybe get dinner ready, knowing there is no conversation in the kitchen this evening – you can feel the tension in the air. You partner isn’t coming out of it. Now, you start to get mad or frustrated, or perhaps you internalize and start asking yourself what you did to cause it? You start to imagine you might have done something, or you aren’t doing enough to help them get over it. This example, is only one example – think of your work, your boss or when one of your children behave like this. Think about the relationships in your life. Essentially, what starts to occur is we decide to put on the other person’s emotional jacket. We think it’s ours to wear – I mean it’s within our reach, right? Their emotions are now impacting us – doesn’t it make sense to start to get wrapped up in their jacket. We make a decision to wear their emotions, their frustrations, to start to plan how to “fix” it. After a while of failed attempts, the jacket becomes very uncomfortable, we must conclude there is nothing we can do…. this is not our jacket to wear – it’s theirs. We become pissed at them, for putting on their jacket. We want nothing more to get it off – we might yell at them to knock it off, we might scorn in silence ourselves. What we feel is we are uncomfortable because we have decided to wear someone else’s jacket – a jacket we have no business putting on. It’s uncomfortable, it doesn’t fit, it’s frickin hot – we hate it. AND we are pissed at them for putting it on!
The solution lies in taking off the jacket, realizing we chose to put it on, it was never ours to wear. We are only capable of wearing our own jacket. As soon as we decide someone else’s emotions are for us to fix, we are screwed.
I have helped dozens of women learn to remove the emotional jacket, and better yet teach them how not to put it on. People, and relationships in our lives are going to have bad days, they are not our days to have. We can still show up and be compassionate, loving, understanding, and honest while not trying to fix them. We didn’t cause them to have a bad day, or behave like jerks, sometimes we only showed up.
Those who have had difficult relationships in their life will understand what it is like to get “hooked” by someone else’s emotions. Identifying when this will happen is a great step towards peace.