Living in the "Unknown"

“You are unknown” were the words I heard and I began to internalize that news…I was unknown…My mental response was “People know me, I know me…I am not unknown!” and my emotional response was “Am I alone?”

I am relatively sure the words my manager used were not “You are unknown” and it is more likely that she said “Your role is unknown,” however, in people‑centered work like mine, the confluence between what I do and who I am are closely interrelated.

Being in the “Is” is already an “un” time – when things are uncertain, uncomfortable, where we are feeling unseen and unstable – and then adding another “un” on top of this sent me into a spiral of emotions – anger about the decisions made over years that had led to the loss of my team, grief about the loss of colleagues and friends and work I care deeply about, fear about whether I will find another job, and –incredibly – gratitude for the incredible people I now call friends and the opportunity to match my passion with my profession, if only for a brief time.

The emotions we experience during times of change and uncertainty are denial, anxiety, fear, anger, guilt, and eventually acceptance and renewal. See John Fisher’s beautiful graphic explanation of our emotional process in response to change.  What have we been taught about emotions? They’re generally not okay to have…but guess what? We still have them!

Emotional avoidance can make a lot of sense as a short‑term strategy to avoid pain and potentially hurting ourselves and other people we care about. But when we deny our feelings, it prevents us from being able to take action on things that need to change and we get “stuck.” And, the consequences of emotional avoidance are also painful – so we avoid the thing we need to change but instead feel depressed or anxious, we isolate ourselves, we can’t sleep or we sleep too much, we overeat or starve ourselves, and we unintentionally hurt ourselves – and sometimes other people when we just can’t contain our emotions any more and they come out bursting out directed towards other people who may (or may not) have anything to do with the emotions we’re experiencing.

So, what are we to do with all of these emotions?

  • Recognize your emotions as normal and healthy responses to being alive. As the Lumineers sing “It’s better to feel pain than nothing at all…”  Let yourself feel the emotions and don’t rush to “fix” or “change” them. If you find yourself having a hard time feeling anything, then spend some time talking with the little person inside you who is holding everything s/he is feeling and let her/him know that it’s okay to let it go.
  • Share what you’re feeling with others. None of us can go it alone, and what we are feeling is not unique to us. Silence is oppressive, denies our basic humanity, and prevents the life‑blood of information from flowing between us. It becomes better and easier when we share what we’re feeling with others because it lets us know that we are not alone, “crazy,” or somehow disconnected from what others are also experiencing.
  • Let others share without judgement or blame. Just listen and ask “what can I do to support you where you are at?”  That is all most people are looking for from you, and really the best thing you can do to support them where they are.

How do you allow yourself feel your emotions, allow yourself to be seen, and find fellowship with those around you? Leave a reply…