Happy Advice-giving Day, folks! Today we’ve got a pretty intriguing question in our emailbag — one that’s broad, and necessary, and open to interpretation. It’s also one of those grand life questions that no answer will ever really help with. Some paths can’t be described, they just have to be walked. But like, walking is work and I get paid to TALK so fuck it — let’s spout some nonsense!
[Reminder: You can get your own customized nonsense by simply emailing us a question to [email protected]. If you don’t give us topics, I’ll be forced to trawl the darkest corners of the internet for them instead. And none of us want that. Don’t you make me Reddit.]
Here’s a question I fielded last night, which led me to think of your bubbling cauldron of free advice. It comes from the mind of a good-natured young man, who is finishing his junior year of high school. He loves sports, and has a job, several close buddies, and a steady girl friend. He’s fairly empathetic and, therefore, capable of being sensitive. The question was: “How does some one become an emotionally stable human being?”
My answer was something trite about being the recipient of lots of love in a supportive environment that bolsters self-esteem. (I almost said “medication,” but he is still only 17, ya know.)
Seriously, though, assuming “emotionally stable” means something between “blissfully ignorant” and “total basket case,” is there a good answer?
In Over My Head
Dearest In Over My Head,
Damn yo, ‘OverLOADS’ is fantastic and also kinda dirty sounding? Or is that just me? Whatever, I love it — thanks for that! But anyway, about your question: Do you really expect me to believe that some mythical good-natured, sensitive 17-year-old asked about emotional stability? It’s cool to just ask us questions for yourself, and not on behalf of made-up teenagers, ya know? Or wait, are YOU a sensitive 17-year-old? Shit. I’ll, uh, try to be a little more respectable from here on out.
For any adults, teens, or kids in the audience, I think the most important thing to know about becoming an emotionally stable person is that you… won’t. By which I mean that emotional stability is a state that you will work toward constantly and forever. It’s a process, not an endpoint. People change, circumstances change, priorities change, challenges come and go — and finding stability in all of that is an ever-shifting balancing act. Just last week we were talking about how emotions change as you age, leaving you numb one decade and then a weeping ball of feelings the next. So even if a person does achieve emotional stability, it won’t last forever.
So let’s talk about that process, shall we? Growing up is a huge part of it — and not just because your raging hormones might start to chill the fuck out and let you think straight. You need to gain some experience and perspective to better navigate the challenges that life will throw your way — to not overreact to every problem. Think about heartbreak: the first one is killer, but the fifth? Shit, you can get over that in under a week.
But part of facing challenges is challenging yourself. Exposing yourself to new situations, new experiences. Getting out of your own head a bit and trying to understand different perspectives. In some ways, I think the biggest challenge we face as humans is simply trying to understand how other people feel and think, and I do believe that plays a part in emotional stability. Because it’s too easy to think that your problems are paramount, but when faced with, oh I dunno, kids being forcibly separated from their parents at the border or something, it’s a little easier to stay chill about your jerk of a boss making your work late.
And this may seem counterintuitive, but embracing and accepting your feelings is a part of the process as well. You need to be aware of your emotional state, and let yourself feel. If you’re sad, cry. If you’re happy, laugh. If you’re jealous, identify that emotion and think about the cause. Exploring and releasing emotions rather than denying or bottling them up helps you move past them, and helps you understand yourself better as well. After all, you won’t know what your own balanced state is if you don’t understand your extremes, so learn how to embrace the times when you’re NOT emotionally stable and work through them.
Also — don’t compare yourself to others. It’s easy to look at someone and think they’re balanced, but you aren’t privy to the internal struggles they may be going through, and it’s not useful to fall into the trap of feeling worse or weirder than other people based on obscured differences. We all have our own challenges, or things that come to us more easily, so this kind of emotional journey is an inherently individual endeavor. But it’s one that we’re all on, so: talk to people! Friends, family, therapists — hearing how they have dealt with emotionally extreme periods in their life may give you new tools to use in your own life. People are mysteries, and learning about other stories will help you solve your own.
And as some of the Overlords (OverLOADS?) recommended, reading other advice columns is a great way to gain some additional perspective. Sure — sometimes it’s more like “Oh damn, let’s NOT do what that person did” but it’s still a way to hear about other perspectives and solutions, and learn the language of talking about emotions.
And yes, you’re right about loving environments and support (and medication), but I think it’s important to remember that love and support can sometimes shelter us, for good and for ill. I’m not saying it’s better to grow up with negligent parents or anything, but we need to recognize that our history has shaped who we are — and happy homes don’t always prepare you for future hardships. You have to face the hardship, and come through it, and learn from it. Whether that happens as a kid or as an adult, one way or another you’re going to have to face some pain to learn how to face it again. But knowing you have a support system for when you are in pain? That’s priceless. The journey to stability may be yours, but you don’t need to be alone for the ride.