• Either/or… or yes/and?

    either or emotionsYears ago at one of the first family holiday meals after marrying my husband, I can remember this brief conversation:
    Mother-in-law: “Do you want a slice of pumpkin pie or apple pie?”
    Cousin: “Yes, and ice cream on top, please.”

    What I like about this illustration (besides the idea that you can have two desserts after dinner!) is that it demonstrates this notion that two things can happen together. We can be served two pieces of pie, we don’t have to decide between one or the other.

    As humans, we like making distinctions between things. It’s comforting to us to be able to label events or people or emotions as good/bad, black/white, happy/sad, comfortable/uncomfortable. We like knowing what something or someone is because that helps us know where we are in relation to it.

    But so few things in life are as clear-cut as being good or bad. Eating a handful of almonds as an afternoon snack is good for me… but can be very bad for someone with a nut allergy.  A call from a friend celebrating a job promotion = happiness.  A call from a friend  distraught over being laid off = anxiety.  Those are all fairly clear examples of easy to identify situations that are good/bad.  But what if you received those two phone calls from two different friends on the same day?  Or what if you received good and bad news on the same day?  Can we be happy and anxious/worried at the same time?  Does experiencing one emotion take away or keep us from experiencing another?

    Do our emotions have to be either/or… or can they be yes/and?

    What if we tried viewing different emotions from the yes/and perspective?  We can allow ourselves to experience happiness and truly feel that emotion, and then we allow ourselves to also experience the anxiety/worry/sadness [fill in the blank] and truly feel that emotion as well.  One doesn’t have to cancel out the other.  We’re capable of experiencing multiple emotions simultaneously.  If your boss is unhappy because your project is over-budget but your significant other sends you flowers because it’s your anniversary– you can feel stressed out and happy at the same time.

    So the next time you find yourself swinging between emotional extremes, just remember to say “yes/and” instead of “either/or” and see how you feel.  If you’re curious about how music therapy and GIM fit into this picture, I’m always happy to answer questions.  Feel free to contact me anytime!


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