Friday, December 18, 2015

It's Electric (LONG post)

I know how muscle fibers work. There's a sodium/potassium pump that exchanges electrical charges, producing a pulse that stimulates muscle fibers to contract. To build muscle, you stimulate these fibers so much that they break down. When the body goes to rebuild the fibers, it adds more this time so the body is better prepared for the work you're probably going to ask it to do next time. This process hurts some- it definitely produces soreness. And you, as the human in charge, can usually feel it when you're exerting yourself enough physically to get stronger.

So here's my question: how do we get emotionally stronger? Is it a brain-chemical thing? Like you shoot through your chemical connections enough and your body begins preparing a stronger response for the next time?

Here's why I'm asking... over the last few years I've had a bunch of moments when all I can think of is, "This is hard and I hate it." Times when it feels difficult simply to exist in the current situation. It's hard to be in my body. It's hard to breathe in and out and stand up and walk to the kitchen. It feels the same as trying to do 25 squats, or 30, or 50. Toward the end, it's hard and it hurts- physically. Sometimes, life hurts mentally/emotionally.

But then we get stronger. Right? You push yourself to do those last 5 squats- and it's easier the next time you do squats. You get to the kitchen and wash the dishes, and next time it's..... here's where the analogy breaks down. Because sometimes it's easier, but sometimes it's harder and you just never make it into the kitchen and your husband gets home and you're on your 3rd episode of Intervention and you both end up staying awake until midnight cleaning the kitchen and getting ready for the next day.

And here's the other part: parenting. Parenting is the hardest exercise I've ever done. Because there's poop. And laundry, and cooking, and crying, and banged heads/knees/toes, and whining, and more crying and laughing, and kissing, and napping, and snuggling, and loving, and powerful joy, and awe-some pride. All of these things happen in an hour. It's like emotional High Intensity Interval Training.

New Therapist recently told me that the best thing an adult can do with a kid is to witness their emotions. Acknowledge that what they feel is real, live in that feeling so they really learn about it, and help them move through it safely. That's a LOT of 'feeling' every day. As I've been doing it the last few weeks (with three to four kids a day in daycare) I'm wondering if I'm building up my 'feeling' muscles. I have no idea how to answer it. But it's interesting to think about.


Ali K. said...

This is a thought-provoking post. Is getting emotionally stronger truly us getting stronger, or is it just become more immune and desensitized to situations that otherwise would had hurt us in the past? Is it the same thing?

Maybe it's like building a tolerance. Over time, your tolerance for emotional stress and ache is higher, because you've been able to deal with it in the past and survive.

... said...

Ali, that's a really good thought. I hadn't considered desensitization. I feel like that's the opposite of what "getting emotionally stronger" would be. Numbness- simply not feeling- doesn't seem like it's a healthy response to growing emotionally. But I really have no idea.

There's also the concept of "emotional resilience" - the ability to process and move through an emotion and move back to a stable place quickly and easily. Which does seem like tolerance.... Hmmmmmm........