If you run a car, you know about all the extra winter maintenance you have to do, especially before long journeys to family at the other end of the country… So I am going to stretch this metaphor a little and say: check your emotional levels this winter.
Inspired by an interesting conversation with Lori and Freja, I’ve been thinking about negative emotions beyond jealousy. Jealousy is often talked about in non-monogamy circles as being a second-level emotion; a feeling that is a signpost to other feelings (not feeling good enough or attractive enough, fear of missing out, lack of support, and hundreds of other possibilities). For me, though not for everyone, this does indeed seem to be how it works – if I get jealous, I can usually poke it about a bit until I arrive at the root of it, which is generally something else entirely (‘actually I wanted to go to that bar with you’ ‘actually I’d cancelled plans that night you went out, but hadn’t told you that I hoped to spend it with you’). So I think my jealousy levels are probably pretty well calibrated – I rarely feel totally irrationally jealous, there’s usually something useful there I can find.
Guilt, though, is the topic that started the conversation, and for me this feels like a really unproductive emotion – because I think my guilt levels are wrongly calibrated. I feel guilty about everything, and apologise for it too; including things that aren’t my fault or sometimes don’t event have anything to do with me. I’m working on it! I tend to take everything on as My Responsibility, which means that if every single thing within my view doesn’t work out perfectly, I tend to think it’s my fault. And say sorry. This must be hard to be around for others; aside from the exasperation with the endless sorries, I fear it may also come across as if I don’t trust anyone else around me to take responsibility for things. Which is not the case. So yeah, I’m working on it.
If my guilt levels weren’t set so high, though, this could be a useful emotion like jealousy. When it’s working right, feeling guilty tells you that you’ve done something wrong, something for which you need to make amends and something you need to avoid in future. So it can be an excellent learning tool and a way of moderating your behaviour with other people. Someone with guilt levels too low would be incapable of seeing how their behaviour negatively affects other people; possibly sociopathic.
Another negative emotion, anger, I’m also not good at – in the opposite direction. I’m not comfortable with expressing anger, so even in situations where I could be rightfully righteously angry, I’m not. Again, anger (when working right) can be an excellent signpost to something that is wrong – someone has been unfairly treated, unreasonable expectations – and it can protect you from accepting situations that are just not ok. If your anger is too low, like me, that might put you at risk of accepting things that really you ought to kick out against, or it might mean that you just have to find other ways of doing that – other feelings to use as a warning signal. And someone with anger levels too high, of course, is that person who rages at everything and is possibly even violent.
Oh, look at that, I seem to have ended up approaching my very favourite form of ethics – virtue ethics – in a sideways sort of way. So, would you be interested in posts from a recovering philosophy student about ethical systems and how they might relate to non-monogamy?