Family of Me

by Daphne
Updates Mondays and Fridays

Scene 60: Analytical vs. Emotional

Ivy (The Companion): Good morning, Mom.

Mom (Me): Good morning Ivy. What’s on your mind today?

Ivy: I wanted to talk to you about something that’s been bothering me for a bit now. When we were talking about emotional vulnerability, I mentioned that my partner processes things emotionally, so maybe I need to process things emotionally.

Mom: Oh — yes, I remember. At the time I said it wasn’t exactly the point I was driving at.

Ivy: Right, which feels like it’s still important in another way. It was a key observation, it just wasn’t relevant to that conversation.

Mom: That’s very astute, Ivy. Is that what you wanted to talk to me about?

Ivy: Yeah… I mean, it came up a lot. It seems like every time my partner and I talked about something at all weighty there would be a little friction in the beginning. I was visiting a memory yesterday where she was upset about something and I felt myself getting exasperated as she described how it made her feel.

Mom: Yes, I remember. Because she described how it made her feel first.

Ivy (vindicated): Exactly! She’s explaining how it makes her feel and how she’s so upset about it, and I don’t even know what that something is yet. I’m trying to hold all of her feelings in my head until she finally tells me what she’s upset about. It’s hard, you know?

Mom: I do know, but… It’s a little complicated. There are a couple of factors that intersect to make this difficult, but to be honest, this is something both you and your partner get a lot better at.

Ivy: Thanks to transition?

Mom: That’s a big part of it.

Ivy: So the root cause here must be male entitlement, since I thought I was a man back then…

Mom: I won’t say it’s not a factor at all, but it’s certainly not the root cause. Far more relevant is that you and your partner have different processing styles — you primarily process information analytically, and your partner primarily processes information emotionally.

Ivy: Well yeah, I think through things; I don’t just rely on my gut instincts.

Mom: Sure, neither does she.

Ivy: But… You said she uses her feelings.

Mom: No, I said she processes information emotionally. I think this is difficult to grasp because we absorbed the message that analytical processing — that is, thinking through things rationally and logically — is the only valid way of evaluating information. We grew up sharpening our logical and argumentative skills while devaluing and ignoring our emotions.

Ivy: Of course we did. That’s what we were taught… If you let yourself get emotional, your feelings will cloud your reasoning and prevent you from arriving at the correct conclusion.

Mom: So we believed, and there are some situations where being emotionally invested will keep you from considering important possibilities. But the opposite is also true — there are situations where being emotionally invested protects you from considering harmful possibilities. Emotional investment can be a bulwark against doing inhumane things. Regardless, neither of these philosophical truths is really relevant to your connection with your partner.

Ivy (confused): Wait, they aren’t?

Mom: Not at all. If you were trying to convince your partner that your way of processing information was superior, it might be relevant. And maybe we were trying to do that, at one point — or we were lashing out because we felt criticized. But the fact is that she processes differently than we do, so if we want to communicate effectively with her we need to integrate with that, regardless of whose way is “better.” Which is neither, by the way; both processing methods have their strengths.

Ivy: Hang on, I’m not convinced. What could possibly be the benefit of thinking with your feelings? The only thing that’s ever brought us is pain.

Mom (pained): Ooof, there’s a lot baked into that claim, Ivy. First, processing emotionally isn’t the same as “thinking with your feelings” or letting your gut decide. I’ll explain that in more depth, but for now just pin it in your head. Second, prior to transition we thoroughly suppressed all of our emotions — the only emotions that made it through that suppression were rage and anxiety. So when we tried to think emotionally, for us, that only ever meant thinking with rage or anxiety. It’s no wonder we got bad results doing that. And third, when we were young and we used our feelings to defend our reasoning or actions, we were immediately invalidated. Especially with our parents; our parents’ feelings were dominant at home growing up and there wasn’t much room for our own if they conflicted.

Ivy: That… Goodness that’s a lot. You’re right; I admit that you’re right. So thinking with my feelings was never really an option for me. Except you said that isn’t what emotional processing is.

Mom: Right, it isn’t — not entirely, anyway. Just letting your feelings decide can be valid; it’s basically making an emotional snap judgment. More complex emotional processing is possible though: With analytical processing, you’re thinking through things logically, trying to come to a conclusion based on the facts you have at hand and your understanding of the systems at play. With emotional processing, you’re feeling through things, trying to make peace with how something makes you feel and taking stock of the effects it might have on the relationships around you. That kind of emotional processing isn’t just acting based on how you feel in the moment, it’s working through those feelings until you can accept the thing you’re processing as a part of your world and then acting accordingly.

Ivy: Okay, but emotions are subjective — if someone is disgusted by trans people, for instance, they’re going to act against us if they act on those emotions. If such a person could think analytically without letting their feelings get in the way, that might give us space to coexist.

Mom: Ah, but emotions are not so easily denied. You can’t just rationally decide not to feel them; they have a way of forcing their way into your thoughts if you try to ignore them like that. That person’s transphobia will color into the “facts” that they accept and promote, and since ignoring those feelings means not processing them, their whole reality becomes increasingly built around that emotion. They eventually reach a point where they’re not only fully transphobic but also believe that they’re being completely impartial.

Ivy: That’s the opposite of what we need.

Mom: Just so. After all, isn’t that what we tried to do for decades? We silenced our emotions so anger wouldn’t cloud our thinking and while we muted nearly all of our emotions, we still couldn’t avoid our anger or anxiety. The only way to get closer to impartiality is to process your emotions — even if you can’t overcome them, just being aware of your feelings and how they color your thinking is valuable progress. 

Ivy (awestruck): Huh. I guess there’s something to this… Emotional processing.

Mom: I’m glad you think so, because we’re no closer to accepting your partner’s emotional processing than when we started this conversation.

Ivy (surprised): What!? But if I can accept emotional thinking now, then can’t I see where she’s coming from?

Mom: That’s a foundational piece of understanding, but we haven’t addressed any of the pain points you experience when arguing with her. You’ve only taken the very first step towards processing emotionally within yourself; processing with her is another layer entirely.

Ivy (struggling): I’m… I’m not sure I can absorb any more right now.

Mom: Okay. Let’s take a break and we’ll come back to this when you have some more space.