Calibrating Your Emotional Scales

Imagine this conversation between 2 friends that live in different places.  Bob: “I’m coming to visit.  Is the weather nice there?”  Fred: “It has been 24 for the past week.”  Bob: “Great, I’ll makes sure I pack accordingly.”

Imagine Bob’s surprise when he walks off the plane in his sweater, jeans and jacket and starts sweating in what feels like 75 degree weather.  When he sees Fred he says, “what’s up? I wore my sweater and jacket.  I thought you said it was 24 here?”  Bob responds, “It is.  I don’t start wearing sweaters until it is 7 or 8 degrees outside.”

Obviously Bob and Fred are talking in different temperature scales – Fahrenheit and Celsius.  It seems silly in this example…but that is exactly what can happen with interpretations of emotions.  We just don’t always know to look for it.

What do I mean?  Well, some people have a large range of emotional expression.  I don’t mean different emotions, I mean that the can express the same emotion at many different levels.  Other people have a much smaller range.  For example, Bob might express emotions on a scale of 1 to 100.  But Fred might only use a range of 1 to 10.  When Fred expresses an emotion at his highest level, a 10, It barely registers on Bob’s scale.  To Bob a 10 isn’t a very strong emotion at all. But Fred is being as emotional as he knows to be.

Think this sounds far fetched?  It isn’t.  I hear it from couples all of the time.  One person says “I’ve been ignored and dismissed our whole marriage.”  The other asks for an example.  The examples often come easily.  But the second person almost always has the same type of response – “I didn’t know you really meant that” or “I didn’t realize it was that important to you.”

When you look at the two often one expresses emotions in a big way and the other is much less expressive.  When the less expressive one is doing the equivalent of screaming the big emotion one doesn’t recognize it as being very “loud.”  On the other hand, when someone with a large expressive range expresses at the top, it may flood and overwhelm a person with a smaller range.

Are you in a relationship like this?  It might not have gotten to a point where anyone is unhappy, but do you know if your partner or friends’ emotions correctly?  Are your emotions being “heard”?  It is worth talking about with important people in your life.  Find out if they can tell when you are really serious about something and when you are just tossing out a small reaction.  Find out if you can tell the same about them.

I’m willing to bet that if an important person in your life is saying something with their strongest emotional response, you’d want to know.  You would feel terrible if you dismissed something that was that important to them. So calibrate your emotional scales…learn to be more sensitive to emotional range and and express in ways that can be heard. You’ll both be happier for it in the long run.

About awentherapy

I am Jay Blevins, LMFT (www.awentherapy.com). I am a licensed systems therapist with a private practice in Madison, WI. While I work with individuals and partners around a wide variety of issues, my primary focus in on alternative relationship structures, alternative sex and sexuality, and power dynamics. I am a contributor to various relationship and sexuality blogs and publications and have been a frequent presenter at alternative lifestyle events and psychotherapy conferences.
This entry was posted in Awen Therapy, Change, Communication, Emotions, MFT, Psychotherapy, Therapy and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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