Emotional Minimalism: An Introduction

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I don’t know how often I’ll refer to this concept of mine, but I assume more than just this article, thus we’ll consider this an introduction. As well, it relieves me of the OCD flare-up I often feel not including every thought on a subject.

The term “trigger” in the mental sense has been blanketed with allusions to weakness, inability to interact normally with society, and is even brought up in political junk discussion. Of course this makes sense, most people really don’t care much about mental disorders and how people are affected by them—especially when it comes from the outside world of the inflicted, which others exist in.

The concept—or just the word—may very well be overused. I am not one to judge, but I’ll lay off the actual term and stick with a real and recurring situation I can attest to. I have a multitude of mental disorders, all of which have an emotional component to them. That is to say, if you strip away the logic (rational or irrational), there is an extra layer of feeling—less describable—that accompanies my episodes. In fact it may be this emotional component—one of hypersensitivity and infinite loops of thinking—that is itself a mental disorder. Regardless, it does exist, and it can be activated by even the most minute outside stimulus. I know this happens, anyone claiming otherwise I would invite in my head for a day1.

I saw a great documentary on minimal living entitled Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things. It focused on physical stuff, money and the like—and stuck a chord there for me. But it got me thinking again deeply about something I’ve been purposely going through as I changed my life around some three-ish years ago, and began to attack my mental illnesses with vigor. At the time I was consumed emotionally with so many attachments that wove themselves around me like roots of a weed. One would think most emotional attachments are good things—places to bounce your problems off of (if people), places to relax (if things like music), places to escape (if worse.)

However these emotional attachments, I realized, were almost always one-way phenomenon. Either me giving emotional capital out without receiving much in return, or even the reverse—things which stirred up emotions in me that I couldn’t do much with. I cried a lot back then, as I find crying the pinnacle of emotional release which really goes nowhere relevant, but is a final release valve of emotion. There is nothing wrong with crying, do not get me wrong. But, for me, it was a sign of emotions that were not being put to good use—they were overflowing. You’re not going to eat the part of the soup that has overflowed the pot. Figuratively speaking, that’s crying to me.

I was being emotionally activated by non-logic-based things my brain was attached to, and with no balance (equal emotional give and take.)

Thus as I made a sweeping change in my life, dropping a lot of dead weight, disconnecting from most everything I was once connected to. I had to. To attack my complex web of mental disorders, I couldn’t be existing in another complex web.

I eventually came to a life of what I consider “emotional minimalism.”

It’s rather simple2, but quite possibly difficult for some to practice. For me it was easy as my life at the time had crumbled a bit, and I pushed the rotten walls down easily into a new life. Not an easier life! Just new, that’s all.

So with this new slate I decided to distance myself from everything that involved emotion, unless it was very close to perfectly balanced. As one with OCD, I have the capability to measure things others don’t really think of measuring. I don’t have a word or number I would give things to check the balance of in-and-out, give-and-take… but I am sensitive to the feeling, and now shut off anything unbalanced.

For one this includes people. It involved cutting off all but a few people from my previous life. That proved easier for me, as I have massive social anxiety anyway. But this was not in an effort to build an excuse for acting on said anxiety, it was to get rid of places where I was spending a lot more good emotion than I was receiving back. It was, unfortunately, remarkably common wouldn’t you know? I now have a circle of very few friends and am happy with that. I have very little danger of getting caught up in an emotional mess, I do not have near as many external problems leeching into my already existing internal problems. I lack the same number of “friends.” But the ones that are my friends, the bonds are tight, fair, and safe.

Secondly, I have eliminated most entertainment from my life. This may be temporary, I am not sure. It works for now, and I am sticking with it. I listen to almost no music without a very explicit emotional reason—empowerment. This is a rare feeling I get from music, so one can calculate that I listen to music very rarely. However, when I do—it is usually only one song (maybe played over and over—that is the OCD DJ for you) and that one song has reason. This reason creates balance. I am receiving good emotions of empowerment, fantasy at times, at least something coming back to me in exchange for me letting myself free of the grip of a logic-based life. I treat music like friends—a balance of emotional capital flowing back and forth, or I do not need it in my life.

Along with music, I am extremely selective about things like television shows and movies I watch. Many remind me of my old life, and I do not think I need to go back there and replay any emotions from that life. I feel this is a forever thing. Emotions, unlike tangible items or other types of capital—including money—can be recreated by the mind almost as perfectly as experienced in real time the first time.

This the core of emotional minimalism—not allowing emotions to be recreated that are harmful. With that, being constantly careful about what emotional switches are activated, and who is allowed to activate them. This is not necessarily just a coping mechanism. It is or can be. It is a way of living. With purpose. Now “living with purpose” is such an overused phrase, that extends to many areas I explicitly do not want to get into. However, to me it means living with the purpose of only allowing emotions in and out that are balanced with each other. Considering most of the time in the human condition, this is not the case—my emotional capital spent and received is… minimal.


1 You don’t want to be in there.  [BACK]

2 I mean, it is called “minimalism.”  [BACK]