“Circumstances don’t define you, they reveal you.”
Life often seems to challenge our capacity — time, energy, emotional and physical. Let’s just call it the ‘personal capacity challenge.” Personal capacity is a tricky topic. Tricky in that there is no standard measure of ‘capacity’ from which to measure oneself against.
In addition, you can add in the variable of the circumstances with which capacity is dealing with which affects whatever space capacity maintains in oneself.
Oh. And I am speaking of emotional capacity to “deal” as in deal with life — both the mind numbing blows life can deliver and the everyday stuff life stabbing you day in and day out.
And then there are the times when Life gives you any and all at the same time.
Regardless. Life demands that each and everyone of us maintain some sense of capacity.
Well. I imagine this is what I am writing about. Because we all have capacity and we all have capacity enough to handle and manage the typical everyday shit.
It is ‘those times’ I am speaking of … when you look at someone and look at the crappy cards Life has dealt them during some finite period of time.
This finite time represents a small space in which you feel no one should have to bear that much of a burden. And despite the fact I wish I were referring to some theoretical aspect of Life, I am not. Unfortunately Life has a habit of asking some people to carry some fairly burdensome burdens within finite periods of time.
It is one of the unfortunate inherent duties of Life.
“Life is not theory.
It is reality, with inherent duties to everything and everyone.”
Tivadar Csontváry Kosztka
Now. Despite the fact each of us assumes this duty differently every one of us has a different emotional capacity. It’s kind of like walking into the Container Store with aisle after aisle of different shaped, different sized and different ‘strength’ material in its makeup. I say that because I believe we often judge others by either:
what we believe someone’s capacity should be
<which is driven by culture, media, societal expectations>.
And, frankly, we really cannot judge … unless you can place yourself in someone else’s shoes.
Why? Capacity is multidimensional. It is driven by experience and … well … just your own make up.
Some people just deal with all the various stuff well, and some don’t, and some get better as time goes on <although I would actually argue that everyone gets better at ‘dealing’ the more practice they get> and some just have no, or little, capacity.
We currently live in a Life culture, personal & work, that places ever more stress on the individual to achieve and to do more with less, to work longer hours, to make a greater change to the world <and to themselves>, people often find themselves pushed beyond the limits of what they can endure.
And that is just the common everyday stuff.
The ‘unexpected’ Life test isn’t even included.
Inevitably this all leads to personal stress which is actually a physical response to situations. It’s your body trying to find a way through a challenging time. Obviously, ongoing stress actually has an effect on the way you think.
But here is the deal with capacity. Conceptually it is infinite <although we know it is finite>. Let me explain. This concept versus reality issue comes crashing to Life only when we get to the point that we can’t cope with, well, the fact we know we can’t cope anymore. It’s not hard to see in many cases of a meltdown what you’re looking at is someone who maxed out on their capacity. They got so far in the hole that there was no way of getting out.
This means acknowledging and/or containing emotional levels <anger, fear, despair> that are too high or too low <apathy, low motivation> as well as emotional things that interfere with effective change <hostility, anxiety, excessive anger, avoidance>.
“Sometimes we don’t know our own strength. It can be hard to tell just how much weight you can safely bear, or how much will crush you.
I’d like to think you can shoulder as big a burden as you believe you can, that it’s all a matter of will. Certainly a comforting thought.
Other times it’s hard to remember you had any strength at all. Then you can only hope to have someone to remind you … you were once fierce and able.”
There has been some well done research studies on his topic.
In the 1980s, Howard Gardner outlined the presence of seven domains of intelligence; two of them were interpersonal and intrapersonal – these combined were the forerunner of what we now know as emotional intelligence.
The term was first coined by Peter Salovey, professor and psychologist at Yale University, and John Mayer, professor and psychologist at the University of New Hampshire.
In 1995 Daniel Goleman, the leading expert in this field, reported “IQ is only a minor predictor of success in life, while emotional and social skills are far better predictors of success and well-being than academic intelligence.”
Daniel Goleman’s research on social and emotional competencies in his 1995 book Emotional Intelligence, brought this concept into a much needed focus.
Goleman’s work teaches us that children’s emotional and social skills can be cultivated, so that the child will accrue both short-term and long-term advantages in regard to well-being, performance and success in life.
He outlines crucial emotional competencies basic to social and emotional learning:
– Self and other awareness:
Understanding and identifying feelings; knowing when one’s feelings shift; understanding the difference between thinking, feeling and acting; and understanding that one’s actions have consequences in terms of others’ feelings.
– Mood management:
handling and managing difficult feelings; controlling impulses; and handling anger constructively
Being able to set goals and persevere towards them with optimism and hope, even in the face of setbacks
Being able to put yourself “in someone else’s shoes” both cognitively and affectively; being able to take someone’s perspective; being able to show that you care
– Management of relationships:
Making friends, handling friendships; resolving conflicts; cooperating; collaborative learning and other social skills
Emotional Capacity is the facility of our personality and feelings and how they engage with our mental processes and the reality of the world around us.
The various aspects of our emotional capacity is the level of emotional stress we can endure, our ability to monitor our emotions and our skill at modifying our emotions – meaning our ability to eradicate emotions that are dangerous, counter-productive or illogical to have and our ability to foster positive emotions and joy when it is logical or appropriate to do so.
And a person’s emotional capacity is actually a function of their emotional intelligence.
I say all this because many people are quite content to feel what they feel and perhaps as an afterthought to think about what they had felt.
<whew … I had to reread that a couple of times>
Let me try to say it this way. Few people consciously cultivate their emotional capacity, i.e., consciously developing the power of their rational mind on what is appropriate to feel and at what intensity.
Honestly I can see why people don’t.
A soldier doesn’t know how he/she will act & perform in battle.
A mother doesn’t know how she will feel if her child dies.
A pet owner doesn’t know how he/she will feel when their long time companion dies.
It is the actual experience that tests the boundary of capacity.
That said. All this personal experience means that you can control your capacity as long as you can control, well, ‘self’. And I imagine that begins with understanding ‘self.’ What I mean by that is something called ‘understanding your emotional triggers’ or by increasing your awareness of them.
An emotional trigger is an experience that draws us back into the past and causes old feelings and behaviors to arise.
<For example, an ice cream sandwich may remind you of your childhood summer vacations, or gossiping coworkers could bring back images of high school cliques.>
Some triggers are situational and some are social.
Some people smoke more when they are out for drinks with friends.
Most people tend to eat more at holiday or family gatherings.
And then there are internal triggers.
Anyway. Bottom line? Just recognize the fact that we all have triggers. And triggers are individual <often>.
I added this because we tend to try and help people we care for based on our own experiences. That leads to using our own ‘triggers’ as guide posts for what we say, suggest and support our beliefs with.
That can be a mistake.
People can react differently to the exact same stimulus. Taking such variety into account improves communications and relationships.
I share all of this because if you recognize your emotional triggers you are better able to manage <or at least know> your capacity, but not necessarily others.
No matter how strong someone is, how resilient, how whatever … sometimes capacity is stretched to a break point. Or at least close to your capacity’s … well … capacity.
Therapy is not a swear word. Nor is it any sign of weakness. It is simply a sign that you want to get to a better place … by any and all means necessary. The right professional help may make a big difference.
A strong support network. Close family and friends are absolutely vital to feeling validated and nurtured. When you’re dealing with stubborn issues, it’s always a comfort to know that you have people who care about you and want to help you.
All that research and professional thinking aside.
As noted earlier capacity is multi-dimensional. There is capacity within a moment and capacity within the accumulation of moments. And your personal capacity can often be defined <managed> by pushing through and not dwelling.
Sure. Someone could suggest pushing through <or not dwelling> is simply a defense mechanism, i.e., a way of not dealing, a process of ignoring.
Ok. But not dwelling is not the same as not reflecting. Not dwelling simply suggests not lingering too long in that ‘capacity moment.’ Therefore I simply suggest that it is all about pushing through the moment. And you know why you push through these moments and choices?
Because while certain choices define the future direction of your life, choices do not end then & there.
Choices beget choices.
You will then get even more choices, maybe littler ones, but little nudge choices to course correct or make sure the original choice gets aligned optimally for whatever you really decided.
But that is part of capacity.
Despite all this ‘pushing thru’ all these choices and decisions are stored away in your head. And sometimes that doesn’t leave a lot of room for other stuff … grief … happiness … sadness … whatever … it is just all tangled up. And all this choosing shit I am talking about inevitably creates stress … stress on the system <you overall> and stress mentally.
And stress does funny things to us <and our capacity>.
But so do circumstances beyond our control <which I imagine is linked to stress in some way>. We all have a limit as to how far events can push us before something within us pushes back.
But. The thing is most of us never know that limit until we reach it.
“Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lesson afterwards.”
Vernon Sanders Law
This Life capacity test is a hard and brutal teacher.
I imagine anyone’s capacity would be challenged if you spent too much time trying to untangle all the stuff stored in your head. But I honestly am not sure it is worth the energy to try and untangle shit. You should maybe just look at the highlights, maybe invest some energy untangling any knots that are truly restrictive, and move on.
There are certainly moments in time when Life truly tests your capacity – grief, sadness, unhappiness in combination with typical Life demands – and it fills you up to overflowing if not exploding.
I have seen people deal in moments like this and frankly, I am often in awe. I am not sure I would have the capacity. But what I do know is that I see these people take on the capacity tests and those who succeed <not fail the tests> just don’t dwell too long <and too long is defined person by person> and just push through before the burdens of the moment become so heavy they cannot move to push through.
Moving from those moments shifts you as a person.
Call it ‘a passage in life.’
You see the world and yourself differently after you’ve gone through the events and emotional states that define each passage. Not stronger or weaker different, just different. These passages are emotionally and cognitively intense … as a result you fundamentally change as a person.
I am not saying better or worse … you just change.
All that said. Maybe that is what I should have said upfront: personal capacity is often defined by dwelling versus pushing through.
Because in the end, if you dwell, you get squeezed.
In America’s ‘just do it’ mentality we tend to squeeze our capacity almost irresponsibly <despite the fact we believe we are being quite responsible & selfless with our capacity>. I recognize irresponsible is a tough word, but, for a group of people who like planning, milestones and objectives we seem to leave no space for the unforeseen.
We just fill it all up to capacity.
Fill up everything including time, emotion and mental space. This creates emotional capacity challenges <because trying to do everything on our physical list also puts demands on our mental capacity … it is sometimes called ‘stress’>. And by emotional capacity challenges I mean things like grief & unhappiness … the sudden demands that Life puts on you mentally that create capacity challenges. These individual things stress an already ‘filled to the brim’ capacity creating chaos <by overloading the already 24/7 planned and mentally filled> life>.
What this means is that you either “don’t have time” to deal or have to “make time’ to deal all of which exponentially stretches an already maxed out capacity <or what you assume is maxed out>. All of this happening at a time when some focus would most likely help diffuse or diminish the challenges.
I mention all that to say we are often our own worst enemy with regard to capacity. We have immense capacity. More often than not more than what we believe.
However. That doesn’t mean it is limitless. It is finite. Why test the limits?
In the end?
“Lacking even paper
turned inside out.
That is why it squeaks
at night like the earth’s axis
that turns me face to face
with the impossible.” –
Our world squeaks as it constantly turns us toward being face to face with the impossible.
And, yet, face it we do.
And in doing so we constantly embrace our capacity.
Just don’t enjoy the embrace too much. Because personal capacity is often defined by dwelling versus pushing through. And dwelling is bad.