Everyone has the right to choose the kind of life that they will live. Everyone has varying starting points, due to circumstances outside of their control, and as they reach the age of adulthood, they have increasing opportunities daily for choices in their behaviors, interactions, and lifestyle that shape their present and future situations. Many things happen beyond our individual control throughout our lives, and still, many more things are within our control. Every single action and reaction we execute is a choice- whether made intentionally or unconsciously.
We Choose The Shape Our Lives Will Take With Our Daily Actions
I must reiterate this- EVERYTHING YOU DO EVERY SINGLE DAY IS A CHOICE, WHETHER YOU RECOGNIZE THAT AND USE FULL AGENCY IN MAKING THAT CHOICE, OR JUST RUN ON AUTOPILOT. You have still chosen in each moment, each moment being an opportunity and point of power. Let me piggyback that idea with another important one- what you allow continues. As I said, there are things out of your control in life, one of those things being the actions of other people. However, we have the power to SET BOUNDARIES in our lives, which means, that while we cannot control others, if we find their choices and actions harmful to our own well-being, or feel negatively impacted by their presence in our lives, we have a right and ability to respectfully edit our lives- and if the other party cannot uphold the boundaries you hold for your life, they can leave your life.
We are in charge of a great portion of our lives in these main ways. Every action (and inaction) we choose is just that– a choice, a decision, and a vote that feeds what we want or do not allow into our lives. THIS IS HOW WE SHAPE OUR LIVES- by controlling our conduct and what/who we allow in to our daily lives.
Surviving Versus Thriving
In the light of these facts, I want to introduce the difference between survival and basic functioning, as contrasted with thriving and high quality of life. This is a subjective experience, and no one can really decide the quality of another person’s life experience, as it is an internally felt thing. Many and perhaps most people survive and function everyday. But I would venture that it is a smaller proportion of the population that feels that they are thriving in life, and experiencing a high quality of life. Those that are thriving are the ones that glow, the ones that are kind and well-loved, and radiate a warmth that makes most others feel good in their presence, except for the insecure ones who feel threatened. I believe that we all instinctively want to feel that radiant satisfaction with who we are and the general experience of our lives.
Some of us rule the possibility of thriving out, some feel this is an impossible goal for themselves, and some work to achieve it through vulnerability, honesty, taking healthy risks, tuning in and trusting what feels right to them, and making a commitment to personal growth. But what makes some successful, and some resistant to ever bothering?
I believe one major factor in this is one’s willingness, and capacity, for emotional intensity.
Emotional Maturity & Capacity for Intensity
Growth is an uncomfortable process. Risking being vulnerable, being exposed in the sense of being an individual that stands out for their unique differences instead of conforming, is an intense emotional experience. To feel is to be human and to be alive. But we are compelled to run from uncomfortable sensations. This is, in some aspects, a healthy guidance system and survival mechanism. But the discomfort of consuming a food you are allergic to and thus should be avoiding, is not to be confused with the discomfort of challenging experiences that cause you personal discovery and growth.
Our culture applauds or at least tolerates the emotional nature of women, but shames or emasculates men who experience emotions. Emotions are allotted to the traditional gender roles differently, but the problem is that to feel emotions is to be HUMAN. It has nothing to do with genitalia or sexual orientation. Men are taught as children not to express emotions other than anger, cynicism, humor, or sexuality. These are explosive expression of emotions, and do not allow one to sit in the emotional experience for any length of time. The other societally-condoned method of emotional expression for men is suppression, which is the disassociation or denial of the the emotion… ignoring it. This process traps it somewhere in the mind, but contains it, and rejects or runs from it every time it crops up to actually be felt and healthfully processed. In other words, most men in Western culture, unless they had exceptional circumstances which allowed them a healthy relationship with their emotions, grows to the age of maturity without having a mature relationship with his emotions or any real experience sitting in an intense emotional sensation without immediately reacting. This is why I believe so many men lose their sense of control when they are sexually aroused, and immediately feel they have the right and prerogative to orgasm if they are even remotely stimulated for even a moment- because they are not mature enough through experience to feel a prolonged intense sensory or emotional experience that is not immediately disposed of or ended.
Please do not take these words the wrong way- I am neither saying men are inferior to women, nor am I saying that every woman is emotionally mature, and nor am I saying that no men are either. What I am expressing is a cultural epidemic of emotional immaturity, plenty of women falling into that category as well as men, and stating that the odds are stacked against men in American culture for accidentally becoming emotionally mature without applying vigorous conscious effort to cultivate that maturity by active choice. Capacity for emotional and sensory intensity is like a muscle that does not become strong by theoretical understanding, but by tangible experience.
Emotional Intensity & Quality of Life
If we do not allow ourselves to feel constructive discomfort, we will literally never grow bigger in character. We will sabotage all forms of genuine intimacy in order to avoid facing ourselves, because that process of self-realization and evolution is deeply uncomfortable.
We can survive, as is hold down our basic responsibilities and not die and feel okay, without ever allowing ourselves to experience anything intense emotionally. But if we choose that path, we will have no quality of life, because quality of life is a subjective feeling, and has less to do with material circumstances and more to do with the depth of connections and interactions we share with other human beings. And we cannot remain connected to other humans that inspire us, move us, and spark our hearts, without feeling gigantic and intense emotions, both ours and theirs. We cannot experience true intimacy, which is emotional and not merely physical, if we are obsessed with protecting ourselves from the ache that emotions bring into our lives. It hurts to love, it hurts to be loved and forgive when we make human errors, and it hurts to lose others, which one way or another eventually happens. But if we choose to stay “safe” and avoid emotionally intense experiences, and banish all who make us feel anything that scares us, we will never obtain the nectar of true connection and true humanness. Without allowing ourselves the ability to feel the entire spectrum of human emotions without limitation or resistance, we will only be surviving until we die, instead of allowing ourselves to feel the passion of being fully alive. We fear it most, yet we crave it as well.
Will you choose to overcome your past, your fears, society’s ideals, and allow yourself to be fully alive and feel the fullness of life before you die? Or will you choose to sacrifice depth for a complacent illusion of safety, taking no risks, and experiencing none of the nectar while never truly safeguarding yourself from losses?
I always choose to feel and fully embrace the emotional experience that accompanies growth, heart-felt connection, and dignified vulnerability. For me, that is the source of my quality of life, in addition to the relationship I keep with myself. Nothing less than giving my whole self to being completely alive will ever satisfy me. Don’t save your best clothes for an unknown someday, wear them anytime you wish. Don’t decide that your best days will come when you’ve checked off enough boxes on the life to-do list. The best days are the ones you give your whole heart to, and that means feeling the successes and connections and beauty as well as the losses and rejections and disappointments. Open heart or closed, your choice; but a closed heart cannot let anything in at all. That is being half-alive, to me.
Laura Harrison is a writer, yoga therapist, and life coach, working on her PhD and license as a psychologist in New York State. She is an advocate for new social-emotional models in the modern world. Laura aims to empower and promote the healing of those struggling with trauma, addiction, or trying to find a way to be themselves in a society that does not yet appropriately include those with different neural pathways than the average (autistic, highly-sensitive, etc). See more on her work at LauraInspires.com or follow her on Facebook and Instagram @Laurainspires