Trading in Emotional Expenditure

(“Why am I Always So Tired?” – How Discerning the Cost of Anything is Essential to Living Well, Part IV)

This is part IV of a series looking at how discerning the non-monetary cost of things in our lives can help us figure out why we’re so tired – and how we can live better. Read Parts I, II, and III.

Emotional expenditure is probably the trickiest of life-costs to consider. We know how to track our time, and we have physical indicators of how much energy we have (or lack): but how do we measure emotional expenditure?

Thankfully, (because as humans we are body-soul unities and not brains in jars) our emotions, while not physical in themselves, do have real physical effects. Just think of tears. We feel the emotion of sadness or joy and our eyes suddenly release salt water. Of course, some people’s bodies seem to process emotion more closely than others’ – and even the most highly sensitive people can be unaware of the cost of their emotional life.

What’s to be done? The first step, as with any life-cost, is becoming more aware of the affects of our own actions and that of other’s actions around us. We have to know ourselves well to know what affects us emotionally, and how we process and spend our emotions.

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How to Deal with Emotions When You’re Highly Sensitive / Intuitive/ Empathetic

Do you find yourself really sensitive to the feelings of others? Inclined to come away from an encounter with strong emotions you can’t account for? Wondering if others can “sense” the unspoken feelings floating around a room?

If so, you might be what various personality typing systems call “highly intuitive”, an “empath”, or “highly sensitive.” These labels can’t tell you anything you don’t already know, but gaining a deeper understanding of the common experience of others like you can help you to understand yourself better. It can help you to deal with your own experiences better, too.

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Are You an Abstainer or a Moderator?

Giving up milk is tough when you love coffee, but it’s even tougher when brie is one of your favourite foods. Several years ago, a friend suggested that I try giving up dairy as a solution to the cystic acne I had experienced my entire life. Despite my love of soft, French cheese, I decided to give it a go. Within 4 weeks I was starting to see a real change, and 10 weeks later my skin was totally different. I wasn’t in pain from cysts and the red spots on my face and neck had virtually disappeared. Needless to say, I was a convert. 

But a different friend was incredulous. “No dairy? Not even a little milk in your coffee?” She asked. “I could never give it up completely. I just need a bit.” The truth is, I didn’t have a choice- having a little milk in my coffee produced almost the same reaction as eating an entire wheel of brie. And obviously, if I was going to indulge, I’d rather have more than less! 

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Get Over Your Perfectionism by Doing This

If you struggle to do everything perfectly, if you labour over the last tiny detail of every little thing, if you are afraid to ever show your work to anyone before it has reached complete perfection, you might be a perfectionist.

There’s good news for you, though: help is available. Once you realize that you can still pursue excellence without being a perfectionist, and you give yourself permission to embrace the imperfection that comes with making progress, you can take your next step on the path to recovery: increase production, on a deadline.

Perfectionism is a burden, but it’s also a privilege. If you have an entire essay to write in the next 8 hours, labouring over comma placement in one sentence becomes a privilege you no longer have. If your manager expects 10 reports on his desk by Monday morning, you don’t have the luxury of hours spent formatting margins within 1/8 inch.

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Knowing How You Respond to Conflict: Rhino vs. Hedgehog

When a difficult situation arises, what’s your default mode of approach? Are you willing to charge into the conflict, head-first? Or do you just want to curl up in a ball and make everyone go away?

Knowing your tendencies can go a long way in improving your response to conflict in all sorts of relationships. Nicky and Sila Lee, authors of The Marriage Book, offer two pictures of how people deal with conflict: becoming either a rhinoceros, or a hedgehog.

If you tend to be a “rhino”, chances are you’re willing to get aggressive when dealing with difficult issues. You’ll want to ‘have it out’ in a fight, rather than walk away from the problem. A rhino charges straight in, horn pointed and ready to attack.

But if you’re a “hedgehog”, you’re much more likely to want to avoid conflict. When things get challenging, you’ll want to stop the conflict by shutting down. A hedgehog curls up in a ball and sticks its prickly spines out so no one can hurt it.

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