I was wandering a store the other day and I happened upon the seasonal decorations. Much to my dismay, despite it still being summer, the decorations were for Halloween. Although I truly enjoy Halloween probably more than most, I was not yet ready to give up the lazy hazy days of summer. But my love of the holiday made me wander the area nonetheless. There were my favorite themes- witches and black cats prominently on display. And then I saw the Edgar Allan Poe themed merchandise. My heart went aflutter. I am obsessed with Poe, particularly his life and his short story entitled The Tell-Tale Heart. In front of me, however, were items focusing on The Raven, and it's quote “Qouth the Raven ‘Nevermore”.
The Raven explores the world of emotional battles that each of us face in all walks of life; but more specifically, the fight of control over the feelings we have with regards to grief and loss and the emotional scars they leave behind. The speaker of the poem only asks questions of the Raven that he knows the answer to, and which will only further his despair. He is engaging self-control to feel better, but in reality, only deepening his misery.
As I stood in the store pondering the loss he must have felt to do that to himself, my thoughts went to thoughts of self control as a whole. And then, how I didn't use any when it came to the Halloween section of this store.
When I mention self-control, what do you think of?
Something you need more of? Like when I wandered the section of the store I also wanted to avoid. Or last night when I opened a bag of chips to just eat a couple and before you knew it the bag is empty. Or when my husband took a moment to scroll social media and before he knew it, hours had ticked away.
Or is it something that you have a handle on for the most part?
Thoughts of binging on something is what usually comes to mind when the topic of self-control is brought up. However, self-control means so much more than that.
To put it in simple terms, self-control is the ability to restrain making choices based only on an impulse, a desire or an emotion. Exercising self-control allows us to stop ourselves from doing things we really want to do but that may not be in our best interest.
Let’s take the bag of chips example for a moment. If I opened the bag of chips to just eat a couple and before I knew it the bag was empty, I may just laugh about it especially if it was a one off occurrence. But on the other hand, it could have made me feel nauseated or bloated; or so dehydrated form the salt that I could not quench my thirst. If I had an eating disorder, it may have even triggered binge eating period or worse. The joy that filled me while eating the bag of chips could have been easily overshadowed by the disappointment I later felt in myself.
Some of what I just described with the bag of chips may seem a bit extreme; however, I use it to illustrate a point. Not utilizing self-control over a bag of chips, for the most part, may have a short term negative effect.
But have you ever said something and wished you hadn’t? Have you ever made a rash decision that did not work out? I know I have.
These are examples of where self-control comes into play as well, as emotional self-control. If you have emotional self-control it means that you possess the ability to recognize and exert some control over the subjective, physiological, and behavioral elements that sometime overwhelm us. Basically, it means you are able to manage your emotions and act in your best interest, even in stressful situations.
When we manage our emotions, we do not suppress them, we acknowledge them and take ownership of them. We understand it’s OK to feel the way we feel, however, it’s not OK to take those feelings out in a negative or harmful way, on ourself or on others.
For example: You had a bad day at work. You come home and find that your partner left the toothpaste tube on the bathroom counter that morning, as he/she/they have “every morning that you have been living together”. Your partner then walks through the doorway. Do you …
A. Explode at your partner? Bring up the toothpaste and every other little thing that drives you insane in your relationship. Don’t let your partner get a word in edgewise before you storm out the door, slamming it behind you as get in the car and tear out of the driveway. Result: You are more frustrated. Your partner is now likely upset and frustrated. You may have put your relationship in peril, and you may put yourself and others on the road in a precarious situation.
OR. . .
B. Take a deep breath? Count to ten. Acknowledge that you are mad, maybe feeling disrespected by your partner for this perceived lack of caring. Think for a moment - did your partner really leave the toothpaste tube there yesterday? Or the day before that? Could there be more to your feelings than what meets the eye? See it from another point of view - change perspective. Although the situation upsets you, it’s likely that your partner is not on a one person mission to drive you insane with oral hygiene supplies. Perhaps, maybe a somewhat uncomfortable conversation with your partner about the toothpaste tube, and your bad day at work, may actually make you feel better. Result: Open communication where all parties are heard, understood, and perhaps even bonded more closely together. And, if need be, the toothpaste may even find itself in a better, more convenient home.
Under Option A, our brain, does what it is supposed to do- protect us so we can survive physical threats. It will take in as much information as it possibly can in the very small time frame of milliseconds at best. It will then form a slipshod portrayal of what is going on and react instantly. In this collection and reaction, the brain, or as I refer to it, The Gremlins, often makes mistakes, particularly in todays day and age where the dangers are more likely to be symbolic threats, not physical ones such as being eaten by a Sabertooth Tiger. Following in this reaction forced upon us by our Gremlins, causes us to react in ways we often regret later.
Option B shows us that we can take responsibility for our own survival. We can utilize self-control. The can have power over our Gremlins if we so choose to do so. The results:
We stay focused and able to do what we need to do, and what is in our best interest, even in the most stressful situations
We engage in healthy communication, where varied opinions and ideas are shared in a respectful manner reaching a solution likely to be amenable to all.
We find ourselves engaged in more positive self-talk and in more positive interactions with others.
Now, the above example is a simple one but we can use similar scenarios for more serious situations. For instance:
If we are unhappy, do we throw stuff in a suitcase and runaway, or do we take time to resolve the issue in a way that provides us the best possible outcome in the long term?
If we are mad at someone at work, do we blow up at them or do we use it as an opportunity for growth?
If our choices are in question, do we spew our innocence to anyone who will listen, or do we quietly handle things in accordance with expert advice?
And that brings me back to the Raven, the Poe character as well as the actual bird. He is a silent observer of his environment. His high awareness of thoughts, combined with his intelligence and his persistence, allow his thoughts to be focused on the greater good of his goal. The Raven exhibits self-control because he knows it will get him to where he needs to be to not only survive, but to get what he wants in the process. It is because of this that, in some cultures, the raven is symbolic of self-awareness, self-reflection, and the power of thinking.
As we want to connect with our inner self, decisions can and should be made with emotion behind it – 90% the emotion you want to have once the decision is made, 10% the emotion that caused you to want to make decision. However, emotion cannot be the only thing. It is important to have a strong reason, even if it's just an instinct in your gut, for your decision. and not just have it be an impulse that you act on in order to “survive’. This will allow you to have power and control over your emotions, your actions and the best outcomes possible.
So next time you let your emotions get the better of you, and the Gremlins in your head start giving haphazard advice, think of the birds in black, reach a higher awareness and exercise some self-control. You may find yourself having better outcomes, much less regret, and the opportunity to still have some chips.
According to Greek mythology, Apollo sent a white raven, to spy on his lover, Coronis. When the raven brought back the news that Coronis had been unfaithful to him, Apollo burnt the raven in his anger, turning the animal's feathers black.
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