By Ricardo Márquez, PhD
SAN DIEGO — There are moments and situations that are so overwhelming that one loses energy, strength and spirit wane, faith weakens and hope dims. These days, when the pandemic’s grasp has reached into more homes and family routines have been upended once more, we feel confused and anxious because we don’t know what awaits us.
What to do with the feelings of doubt, sadness and frustration that emerge in these circumstances?
In our schooling, the focus is to learn, memorize, be evaluated and advance through the grades. Rarely that I can recall, in school or college, are emotions taken into account.
What to do with emotions and feelings? How do we explore them to discover their messages? How do we teach the heart as well as the head?
We could begin to do this if we stopped and asked our children or students after they completed a task or activity: How do you feel? What emotions did you feel while doing it? These simple queries would open a conversation to get to know each other better and to create a space where all of us could speak like equals, like human beings, because emotions are universal expressions experienced in a unique way by each person. By speaking about emotions and feelings, we share our experiences and personal lessons, not grades or book knowledge.
When we discuss ideas and opinions, the tendency is to persuade the other person of what we’re thinking with arguments and reason. There’s a dynamic of “ping-pong”: I opine and the other responds. We can reach agreement or confirm our different views. When we share emotions, I’m not trying to persuade the other person of a truth, only offering a glimpse of what’s stirring inside me, what is making me feel joy, fear, sadness. That’s why, when we share our emotions, we prepare ourselves to listen and “empathize,” not to judge, to begin to understand and feel with the other.
Rage and sadness, for example, can be signs to explore more deeply what we desire, what really matters to us. Behind every furious scream, there is a frustration, and beneath that frustration is an unfulfilled desire.
So, when encountering this emotion, a better reaction is not to say, “Why are you screaming?” but rather, “I see that you’re angry. What has so frustrated you?” This takes the steam out of the anger and opens the door to explore, “What is it that you really want?”
Almost universally, I dare say, what we are searching for and what we want as human beings, at bottom, is to be loved and respected. When we don’t have that, we become frustrated, and express ourselves in a way that desperately calls attention to what we really want.
Learning to walk in emotional territory takes practice and reflection about our own experiences, and a greater acceptance of ourselves, of our human nature. This road makes us more patient and compassionate because the emotions I see in the other person I also see in myself.
There are hidden treasures in these times. We get the opportunity to recognize our common humanity and not what divides us, to speak openly about how we feel. We get the chance to strengthen our connection with each other in the face of our shared vulnerability.
In these times, we can connect with the roots of our faith, and drink from the “living water,” the one that Our Lord offered the Samaritan woman, water that recognized her dignity and the power of forgiveness. It’s a time we can live the prayers we recite every day, putting our lives in His hands.
These can be the hidden treasures of this crisis: A profound, comforting knowledge that we are not facing it alone — and that our energy, strength and hope will return.
Ricardo Márquez is associate director of the Diocese of San Diego’s Office for Family Life and Spirituality.