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Emotional cartography a must

Regarding the Journey

I am a total geek when it comes to paper maps! Electronic maps can’t compare. They may dazzle us with their fancy pop-up windows and along-the-route restaurant suggestions onto the screen, but they can’t give the same sense of adventure and joy like a paper map. Can’t you just hear the rustling, folding, and refolding? And don’t even think about buying me a coated or laminated paper map. How can I reminisce about past traveling experiences if all my markings are so easily wiped clean? Part of the story of my journey when using a paper map is all those little notations I make as I go about my adventures. I scribble notations in the margins, I circle areas I want to see, I’ll highlight (in multiple colors no less) potential routes. I’ll even use select spaces on a paper map to jot down scores of our ongoing family car trip travel games. Paper maps are the perfect canvas for a travel diary. They not only help you navigate to where you are going, but they allow you to change direction with a mere glance.

Over the past couple of years, travel has been limited. My hands yearned to hold a map. So, when I was gifted Brené Brown’s new book, “Atlas of the Heart,” it couldn’t have been a more perfect selection. This beautiful book covers two topics I’m acutely aware of: maps and emotions. The latter of these I used to actively avoid. Dr. Brown’s newest contribution to the reading world identifies the most common 87 emotions we experience, what they mean, and why we should care. She quite literally gives us a map to help us find our way through the peaks, valleys, and detours our emotional being creates.

I’ve been captivated by emotions for as long as I can remember. Though, for most of my life, I chose to bury them rather than express them. I knew they existed. I knew they were powerful. But from my vantage point they revealed weakness and vulnerability, if not managed properly. I was not a fan of opening myself up for others to see. Nor was I equipped with the tools to channel my emotions properly.

As children, our emotions are raw and expressed without wonder. We don’t take the time to find out why they happen. We don’t understand the consequences until it’s too late. Many parents do not focus on the educational moments that raw emotion can offer. We should! These teachable moments are beautiful and can strengthen the bond between parent and child. As I matter of fact, I learned so much about my own relationship with emotions just by talking through what my children were experiencing at any given time. We all grow when we invest the time to communicate clearly.

Today I take the time to really figure out why I feel like I do in any given situation. Granted, I can’t always articulate what I’m feeling in the moment, but I can get there eventually. When we invest in ourselves in this way, we can grow both in understanding and the ability to better shape our world. Once we understand our emotions, we have access to a larger, more descriptive vocabulary. It is better to pinpoint a feeling than to stuff all our varied emotions into three limiting categories — mad/sad/happy.

It is important to allow our feelings to move through. Burying them doesn’t get rid of them. Nor does it negate the need to deal with them. Playing Hide-and-Seek with our emotions simply takes control of ourselves from us. This behavior also has the potential to do some not insignificant harm to our mind, heart, and relationships. Instead, take the trip, including all detours, to understand exactly what you are feeling. In the social science world this is known as emotional granularity, the ability to put feelings into words with a high degree of specificity and precision.

Remember the common belief that no one else can truly love us until we love ourselves? The same is true here. The more we understand what we feel and why we feel it the better we are in our relationships. Once we have this descriptive vocabulary of emotions with which to lean on, we don’t have to put experiences in just three limited buckets of basic emotions. The depth of perception we have of ourselves is a predictor to how deeply we can connect with other people. I encourage each of us to navigate through the complexity of emotions we feel to improve our journey. So, grab your highlighters and pencils. Scribble in the margins. Map it out.

Lesslee Dort is a board-certified patient advocate who firmly believes knowledge is power when it comes to being in control of one’s health. She spends her days helping others navigate their health care and her free time exploring. Reach Lesslee via email at lesslee@friendstogethermi.org. Read her here the third Thursday of each month.

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