Happy Sunday, friends, and thanks for all of your lovely notes about your own relationship to time from last week’s Soother. Writing about my fraught relationship to time and the stress levels I’m experiencing in relation to doing, striving, productivity gave me some settling space this week. In particular I was able to connect my looming burnout with a concept I heard about recently (I can’t remember where, unfortunately) called the “emotional home.”
From what I understand, the emotional home is the place you feel most comfortable and often retreat to. And it’s not always necessarily good for you. But it’s habitual. For example, somebody who was raised in chaos or dysfunction might find themselves in workplaces of chaos and toxicity over and over again, simply because at some core level, that sort of insanity feels like home. Or a person who ends up in romantic relationships repeatedly with an emotionally unavailable person might be re-enacting a relationship with an emotionally unavailable caregiver. Or somebody who reverts to stressful situations over and over again, and trying to create structure out of the chaos, or ‘over functioning,’ as I do, feels good in that place at some level. Somebody who was raised in anger might resort to yelling, again and again. I know somebody who, immediately as soon as something good or promising happens to her, starts harping on all that’s going wrong in her life. She feels safe when she thinks things aren’t going well, in a way. You get the point.
It’s not that those emotional homes feel like, UH-MAZING or really give us what we need. But boy, do they feel… familiar. Calming, in their own way. “Oh, I know THIS,” your soul might say. “I can do THIS. I am INTIMATELY familiar with how THIS goes.”
I’m self-aware enough to know that my emotional home is like… to-do lists. Stress. Burn out. Over functioning, as I said. But I don’t quite yet seem to be self-aware enough to notice when I’m tending in those directions.
Over on the Wednesday Wisdom, my weekly patreon-only newsletter about compassionate personal growth, I recently wrote about creating an emotional user guide that might give you some alarm bells and warning signs when you’re heading back on the path to an emotional home that no longer serves you.
It seems though that I can teach this concept well to other people, I haven’t quite developed it fully for myself.
But I’m starting to. I’m eager to. I’m a person who knows lots of stuff about herself, her body. I know when I’m hungry, and so I eat. I know when I’m tired, and so I sleep. (I don’t take these for granted because I don’t think we all know these signs, as simple as they might seem.)
But when I’m far away from my emotional home, aka, when I’m faced with free time as I wrote about last week, I’m adrift. Without a litany of things I must or should do, I’m unmoored. And I’m trying at that point to race back to my emotional home because I feel so far away.
So I start creating lists and obligations out of everything and anything I can see in order to get back to my concept of an emotional home. Of what feels normal. Of what feels familiar. Of what feels safe.
It turns out that my emotional home is stressed out productivity. My emotional home is dozens of overwhelming to-do lists. My emotional home is over-structured routines. My emotional home is, lol, 30-day challenges of things that should be nourishing.
My emotional home is taking pleasure and turning it into obligation.
My emotional home is should.
I want change on this front.
I want my emotional home to be cozy joy. I want my emotional home to be responsibility mixed with pleasurable productivity. I want my emotional home to be listening more closely to my heart’s needs. I want my emotional home to be presence and resonance with the moments in front of me, not always thinking ahead to the next thing to do.
I thought leaving my corporate career last fall and the freedom from routine and demands that would offer me might somehow on its own alleviate these habits, but I see now I simply carried them with me and transferred it over. Because we all carry our emotional homes within us, in our hearts, because our emotional homes are the place that feels most comfortable and safe.
My emotional home, as it stands today, is not the place I want to live any longer, but I’m not sure how to leave it and build a new one. I look back at my emotional home like I’m leaving behind a lit-up dollhouse of my childhood, and stepping forward, finally, at age 40, onto a path to create my own place.
But that dollhouse, it beckons. I know it intimately. I’ve arranged all the pieces, from the tiny silverware to the clawfoot bathtub, exactly as I want them. It’s so safe, it’s so comforting. But I am far too big to live there any longer, even if it means living that little family in there behind, and not knowing exactly where I’m going.
Before all… this ~waves hands despondently~… my boyfriend and I were going to do quite a bit of traveling this summer, ending up with a month or two spent in Wyoming, the place where my maternal grandparents are from. I think we’ll still do that if restrictions lighten in July, and I’m looking forward to that promise of a bit of a summer break in the high plains around Laramie. Something about Wyoming, probably because we spent childhood summers there on vacation and also the very spaciousness of the state, feels freeing to me.
And I know too that the time there will test my will to create a new emotional home. If I go there for a break, will I create a structure of having to do meditation and yoga every single day? Will I challenge myself to hike all the peaks, or draw meaning from every single interaction, collecting them in a notepad for a future newsletter or social media caption?
Or will I allow myself to be overtaken and present to the wildness of the land, in a way that reflects my deep longing to access and be present for my own? Will I be able to sit with my desire to rush to contain things, to structure them, to make order out of chaos, to do? Will I be able to simply walk a mountain path without needing to tame or capture it in some way?
It’s time to find out. To that end, I’ll be taking a bit of a spring/summer hiatus from the Sunday Soother newsletter + podcast. I do these a couple of times a year, particularly when I can start to feel the sense that something that generally feels expansive, pleasurable, mysterious, delightful (the creation of the Soother) is tending towards restrictive, obligatory, pressure-filled, should-y. Much like anything that needs space to continue to grow, my writing often needs a break from the structure and obligations I may have put upon it.
In the meantime, I’m still around. There’s my website where I am taking 1:1 coaching clients this and next month; I’ll be on Instagram (strangely, something that is actually giving me a lot of joy these days; certainly hasn’t always been the case!) and on Patreon, writing weekly about self-discovery and compassionate personal growth. I’m also hoping that during this break lots of goodies and ideas for future courses will come my way, which you can sign up to be notified about here. You can also read the archives of the Soother here (its current home at Mailchimp) and on my Medium, too.
So here’s to thinking about your emotional home, while I’m off to tend to and create my new one. Where do you retreat to safety? What serves you, what doesn’t? What connects you and what separates you?
I hope you stay safe, and warm, and well in this weird time. I’ll drop in here or the podcast when I feel ready again to communicate from a place of presence and heart.