Photo Credit: Freddy Marschall,
Photo Credit: Freddy Marschall,

Glass Case of Emotion

Imagine the last time you were so indignant, so furious, so upset that that particular emotion was all you could see. Everything you saw probably felt like it had to pass through the lens of that emotion. Like you were uploading a picture to Instagram and selected an angry filter for it. Some emotions are so overpowering that they seem to almost transport us to a different way of being. We are angry, after all.

My favorite way to illustrate this scenario is with the scene from Anchorman when the biker kicks Ron Burgandy’s dog, Baxter, off of a bridge. In the scene that follows we see the hysterical phone call Ron makes from the phone booth, or as he so aptly describes it, a “glass case of emotion.” Minus the theatrics, this is what it feels like to be overtaken by an emotion. It feels like we’re seeing red and we literally are anger (or disappointment, or jealousy).

It’s as if we aren’t ourselves– just human bodies animated and propped up by this intense feeling. That’s what it is to be an emotion.

So what would the difference be between being an emotion and having an emotion?

What takes more energy out of you: being upset or watching someone else be upset? Obviously, the answer’s being upset. Observing that someone else is upset is an objective observation. That feeling’s something they have– they might also have blonde hair or a watch.

Shifting to cataloguing an emotion as something you have rather than something you are immediately reduces your energetic investment in that feeling. By reducing that investment you reduce the emotion’s control over how you think and act.

An Out-Of-Mind Experience

In Doctor Strange, the Doctor’s able to have his spirit leave his body and observe himself and the scene in general from a third-party perspective.

How would having your own third-party observer affect how you felt emotions? If the next time you’re upset or angry you were able to create your own observer, would you feel less drained? It would depend on the attitude of your observer.

Observing yourself from a third party may not be as foreign as you think. Unfortunately, our observers are usually filled with negative and judgmental commentary. If we’re able to create that separation, it’s usually just so we can barrage ourselves with demeaning self-talk.

However, this isn’t all bad news. If you already have experience creating that observer, all you need to do is change their attitude.

The best attitude for your observer? Curiosity.

My observer is a guy named Dr. Turkel: he wears a lab coat and goggles, and usually stands with his trusty clipboard about 10 feet away from me. He takes notes on all my thought processes and actions. I can usually only hear him say one thing: “Hmm, that’s really interesting.”

He’s not there to judge me; no information he collects is good or bad. It’s just information he gathers in his everlasting quest to figure out why I do the things I do. His nonjudgmental curiosity is infectious and I find myself asking to look at his notes so I, too, can understand my process.

Curiosity’s key. I find it hard to imagine that there are scientists around the world observing lab rats and commenting, “Ugh, that lab rat sucks.” Most likely they’re curious to know why it’s acting the way it’s acting.

Dr. Turkel works for me, but I encourage everyone to create their own third-party observer. They can be someone watching a play from the audience– or a General overlooking a battlefield– anyone who can observe you from a physical distance.

But remember, they’ve never been so excited and curious as they are when observing you.