Nearing 40, I am learning things I wish I had learned a long time ago.

I’ve long been able to identify my emotions; I may not have had full emotional intelligence per se, but I had a grasp on what I was feeling and why. I have always found emotions to be philosophically rich, a part of being human that is amazing and frustrating to grapple with in a healthy way.

And yet I never considered my emotions to be indicative of need. I considered them to be indicative of beliefs that I held, but I think I always considered those beliefs malleable, so my emotions were not, in any real sense, good guides for how I wanted my life to go. There were times when I did (my decision to leave Purdue’s PhD program was the biggest one), but I never gave them much credence in most areas of my life.

Now I am starting to look at my emotions as potential signifiers of need. Of my emotional needs. Of being needs themselves! Of indicators that something outside of me needs to change. As in, if something makes me feel bad, I don’t have to meditate more or understand it better or have more grace for the person involved. In a lot of ways I think that I should pursue better understanding and more grace, because I think they are important in general, but another very important option that I have not typically considered is: I can remove this from my life. I can decide that this thing is harmful to me, and that needs to be based on nothing more than how it makes me feel. How something makes me feel can be enough of a reason for me to say “no more.”

Something else I am reminding myself of, is that I don’t need to understand my own emotions in order to give a better reason to the other person for my boundary. I can simply let my emotions in these circumstances be enough. I don’t need to understand them for the purpose of justifying them as good reasons for action. The purpose of understanding and taking seriously my emotional responses to people and situations is not for others; above all, it is for me.

So I can better pursue and aim at my own well-being. My relationships will come into some of my evaluation, and I won’t take each and every emotion as a guide for action, but first of all is how I am able to feel good, safe, and cared for in my relationships. No need to put or keep myself in situations where that is not been demonstrated nor where it is unlikely.

A silly philosophy mug, but truly, we are the only person who can know ourselves deeply. We are our best advocate.

This is one of the most freeing things I have ever come to realize.

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