A Secular Devotional Journal

I have a tool for navigating today’s turbulent world. I have what I think of as my secular devotional journal, and I know that’s a thing that is out there, but I don’t know what others look like, or how they go about it. But, I did something with mine recently that was really cool, and I wanted to share it, because it made me feel good, and we all need a little hedonism in our lives. I got through to someone, and it felt excellent.

No scandalous details provided, sorry. Not of the event, nor of the trauma involved. Just the method I used to calm down, and explain my position more clearly. I will, however, admit to being the emotional person. I’ve been in years of therapy, starting with childhood, and have a (dusty and relatively unused) BA in psych. I was talking to someone I know is intelligent and compassionate, but not about the same issues as I am. Nor do they have the same approach to conflict.

The journal is the evolution of an attempt to review my skills. I’ve been sitting at home comfortably, and my ability to maintain my chill during difficult conversations has grown slack. My degree is looking like so many wasted dollars, my ability to explain my opinions based on my education has grown fumbly and weak.

The journal starts with a guided meditation (a prayer or calming motivational passage will do, maybe a soothing poem about nature), followed with topics organized like a bullet journal. The topics are notes on subjects such as de-escalation, differing perspectives, logical fallacies, and (most recently) notes on a webinar I attended for standing up to street harassment (of any type). When I am angry and frustrated at the world, I pick up my journal and read the meditation to get my chill, and then review my notes. That way, I know I am more prepared for discussions that make me angry, frustrated, and likely to panic.

I highly recommend this practice. Those notes are what helped me be more confident and calm during a critical discussion recently (combined with breathing and soothing skills). The discussion itself reminded me of things I wanted to make sure I kept in mind. To give you an idea of what goes in my journal, below is my reaction to that discussion, something that I typed up on the computer and revised, and am now about to transcribe into my journal.

Sometimes what we focus on the most makes it seem as if we are speaking different languages, and we may have different approaches to conflict resolution. Some people come from an environment where feelings were respected, and the phrase, “Stop, that hurts my feelings” is met with acknowledgment, and the behavior stops. This is done out of respect for how people have different comfort zones on different issues, this can be difficult to navigate, therefore the rules of acknowledgment remain consistent, giving the encounter predictability.

Sometimes, the request is met with an attempt to calm the feelings by discussing the problem logically. This strategy tries to cool the waters of conflict with logic, to decide the most productive way to look at the situation. The logical person tries to respectfully explain their perspective to aid balance. When they respond to claims of hurt feelings by trying to discuss their perspective and are told to stop the behavior, this is seen as a selfish attempt to control them.

When the rules of acknowledgment are not met, the emotional person might see it as disrespect, and the attempt at explaining their perspective as telling them that they did not have the right to have their emotion. When they try to explain why their comfort zone has been violated, this is met with being told they are not being logical, even if the emotion stems from a traumatic experience. They feel they feel they are being shamed for having a normal human reaction to events beyond their control. They can become even more hurt and flustered by this, and when their arguments devolve, it is interpreted as an attempt at emotional manipulation. In the environment the emotional person comes from, a mutual immediate respect for emotion allows them to back off and calm down, before discussing things in a more respectful way. If there is lingering trauma, these rules give a person a safe space to react, and regain control, and this becomes valued highly.

To the person from a background that respects logic over emotion, this can represent a power struggle, and emotional immaturity. After all, a breath of fresh air can clear the mind. Many have been through trauma themselves, and their coping skills work just fine. When they tell the emotional person that they need to just let the bad feelings go, or try to offer their motivations to give perspective, those from an emotionally respectful background can become enraged, as the rules of engagement have been broken, their stability is threatened. Those taught to respect emotion are also taught logic, but they are taught to navigate stress and biases differently, and the rules that provide them with stability are ignored, while the other person insults their approach.

It becomes worse when both are compassionate people. The emotional person might become frustrated with what they see as part of a cycle of abuse, feeling they are being told they don’t have a right to feel an emotion or react to stress, and this is part of how manipulative people in their lives have gained control over them. They want to reach out to the logical people and explain what they feel is basic empathy. They want to teach them about how to maintain safe emotional space, and how good it can feel, and they are met with criticism.

The logical person with compassion might want the emotional person to learn how to control their emotions, and feel if they tried harder, they would not need to try to control others around them. They might see discussion of chemical imbalances or psychological distress as signs of a weakness that needs to be combated with better emotional regulation and control. It’s very possible, though, that the person from a supportive emotional environment came to that environment as part of their experience with therapy and their attempts to heal, they might not be at a part of their journey where they are ready to easily dismiss the stress, or there could be a real physiological reason for their emotions, and criticism of their emotional control is seen as an attempt to shame them into feeling worse, until they behave to try to meet approval of someone whose ideals they don’t agree with. They feel giving in would be weakness or a lack of self respect, and they end up in a true power struggle, thus confirming the logical person’s belief that the request for emotional space was an attempt at control all along.

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