girl-covering-face-with-white-boardsStarting in her late twenties, she had been working at the same job for about 10 years.  She liked her work, it paid well, and her coworkers were easy-going and helpful.  Yet, she wasn’t satisfied; she felt dismayed every time she had to try to sell another product. She was frequently calling in sick to avoid going to work. What she really wanted was to spend her time helping people, rather than trying to force them to spend more money.  She wanted to do something that would make a difference for people and for her community.  What she was doing now didn’t feel meaningful.  But good jobs were scarce, and it didn’t seem practical to leave a good paying job.

On top of that, her relationship was struggling and the fear of being alone was very scary. It made her feel quite insecure of her financial future, so making a career change wasn’t feasible.

Her mom was seriously ill.  The sadness of losing her mother lead her to feel lonely, abandoned and depressed.

As a result of all of this she felt trapped and couldn’t see how things could change.  She was in an emotional ghetto.

An emotional ghetto is a place where we find ourselves as a result of the continual back and forth action between your emotions and feelings. We may react out of emotion or we may feel trapped because of the complexity of emotions that we are trying to process, or we may feel frozen and not take action at all.

For example, a fearful situation may cause us to feel vulnerable.  Fear causes a hormonal response that prepares our bodies to stay and fight or run away.  This emotional reaction happens suddenly and without conscious thought.  We become aware of what occurred after the biological response has occurred, leaving us feeling frightened, anxious or insecure.  Yet we may not realize what had just happened and why we are feeling the way we feel.

Emotions can have strong influence on our ability to make a decision and the actions that follow.  Looking at Paul Ekman’s Emotional Wheel, we can see the relationship between the initial emotion and the feelings that may arise from it.

So how can we leave the emotional ghetto take control of our decisions?

Understanding or being aware of the root cause of our feelings is the first step to leaving the emotional ghetto. In the example from above, fear (emotion) was the root cause and  being frightened or vulnerable were the symptoms (or feelings).  Recognizing what we are feeling and identifying its root cause is essential. Once we sort out the root cause, we can more readily understand our feelings.  The goal is to sort out the root cause emotion in order to process our feelings so that we can figure out a way to cope and/or make a decision. Equally as important is gratitude, being thankful for we have, rather than what we don’t, so that we approach a situation with abundance, rather than scarcity.

To illustrate this further, let’s take a look at the woman’s story from the beginning of this post.

Approaching the situation with gratitude, let’s be thankful that she has a job, she has supportive relationships, and she wants to make a difference for others.  There is a lot of positives in her life.

The root cause of her emotions were fear, disgust and sadness.  Her desire to make a difference for others was clouded by the dismay she felt about her job.  Were there other options available?  Perhaps volunteering one night a week or starting a committee at work that would find a way to make a difference in the community. If her desire to make a difference had been fulfilled at work, perhaps she wouldn’t have been so inclined to avoid going to work.

Realizing her feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and abandonment were a result of sadness about her mother’s illness would be important.  If she could sort that out, she would see that she was actually surrounded by people who could provide emotional support and comfort and that she wasn’t alone. Without this realization, she wasn’t able to see all of the people around her.

From this example we can see how feelings and emotions can become a barrier to making a decision or moving forward. Getting in touch with how we are feeling and why we are feeling it, is a way to look at a situation more objectively and clearly.

In my free ebook, “Leaving the Emotional Ghetto and Taking Control of Your Life”  I offer 15 tips and ideas for taking care of yourself when you are feeling overwhelmed and perhaps trapped, in an emotional ghetto.  I am also developing an online course that will offer concrete activities to dive deeper.  Stay tuned!

~ Lisa