The prospect of a government shutdown over money upsets an awful lot of people. If you look deeper, the upset is made up of a couple of different specific feelings.
The first is anger directed at politicians. We elected our representatives to run the country, not mess it up. They’ve had plenty of time to work this budget mess out. Yet both sides stick to their ideology as if it were a game of chicken. It’s not a game. We feel angry at them for not getting the job done.
The second is helplessness. We handed power to the politicians when we voted for them and won’t have much input again until the next election. The feeling of helplessness is an aspect of the primary emotion sadness. It’s a forlorn feeling. Things are not working out as we think they should, and we feel sad about it and sad we can’t make it better.
The powerful feeling “upset” does not naturally sort itself out into these two component parts. Yet, it may be helpful to tease apart the underlying emotions to help us learn and grow wiser. Especially as concerns personal issues (as opposed to national politics) where how you respond can make a difference.
What can you do? When sadness and anger combine, notice the sad part of the feeling that something is not working out. Honor that quiet, internal feeling. Anger is different: it’s externally oriented and has a target. Determine whom or what you’re angry at so you can decide whether there is something you can or should do. If direct action is not appropriate, at least you’ll know where you stand.
Why is this valuable? Because knowing what’s actually going on when we feel swamped by emotion gives us a tool to navigate times of potent feelings. It helps us get back to balance and stability—the strongest emotional position from which to face the future—more quickly and easily.
Children and teenagers can’t separate feelings this way. As we grow through adulthood, we gain the life experience to be able to recognize our inner process more clearly. Understanding how your emotions work, so that you don’t get confused and stuck in them, is what The Seventh System is about.
The budget battle in Washington will resolve itself somehow. The internal struggle of your own feelings is something only you can learn to master.