Contact Emotions: Are your Emotions Actually Yours? ~ Jade Doherty

Via elephant journal
on Aug 17, 2011
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Photo: Jenn Vargas

Shared highs & shared lows

Photo: Filhi Bahthi

I’ve often heard people talk about ‘contact highs.’ For those of you who don’t have pot-head friends, a contact high is when you feel high when you’re around people who are high. I get this all the time; the spliff won’t have touched my lips and yet the higher my friends get, the more giggly, ‘deep’ and munchy I become.

Can the same be said of emotions? I ask this because yesterday I wrote a somewhat frantic, angry and jumbled article for elephant journal about the riots in London, which must have looked like vomit in word form and which I was sure wouldn’t be published. (It was!)

What causes people to become part of an emotional movement?

You can almost see it spreading. At a festival, everyone’s being all ‘peace and love’ is lovely; we all get caught up in the community feel; we are all One, dancing to the music until we forget ourselves.

But what about angry, scared, raw emotions?
Photo: Sean Loyless

You can see them spreading, too. I certainly felt fear and anger spreading through my body yesterday, coursing through my veins and building in intensity until I was pretty much shaking. I felt like the riot was inside my body. Watching the news, seeing extreme images and talking to people sparked something in me. I got caught up in the same mob mentality that is causing the riots to spread. I took my frustration out by writing a strongly-worded article, but when in the grip of a movement, it doesn’t take much to overstep your own moral boundaries.

So, was I feeling someone else’s feelings?

I wasn’t angry or emotional until I watched the news and spoke to people, so it wasn’t my ugly anger, was it?

As much as it pains me to say this, it was. It was all me. What was happening resonated with the anger and fear that usually lies dormant in the bottom of my psyche, and I’d be a fool not to take responsibility for my reactions to what was happening.

In spirituality, there’s a tendency to avoid perceived negativity. I often hear people say that they “just can’t be around so-and-so because they’re too negative/dense/unconscious/egotistical/etc.” But this is just palming the blame of your feelings off onto someone else.

My mum — a very wise woman, if I do say so myself — told me that drugs can only take me to places that already exist inside me; they can’t create a state that doesn’t exist. I might not be able to freely access this state, but it does exist within my repertoire of states.

The same is true of people and feelings.

If I had no feelings of anger or fear, the riots wouldn’t have been able to bring up my anger and fear. If I had no feelings of joy and happiness, the most incredible person would fail to make me crack a smile.

Whilst it may be true that so-and-so is negative or unconscious, if you have a problem with it, it’s hitting on and resonating with your negativity and unconsciousness. If you think that you can only feel happy with a certain boyfriend/girlfriend/person — that only they can make you feel a certain way — you need to know that that feeling exists within you regardless of them; they’re just good at bringing it into play.

Going back to my question…
Photo: Michael Chen

I think we’re constantly experiencing contact emotions; we can’t help it. Happy people spark our happiness; angry people spark our anger. Unless you’re Enlightened or living in cave, having your stuff (both the good and bad) triggered by others is something you’ll have to get used to. Yes, your boss may be aggressive, your gran may moan, and your partner might be negative, but the jewel of being with them is to notice the emotions and stories that they trigger in you, and to follow your feelings back, to see where they resonate with you.



Jade is pretty clueless about life, but seems to have gotten away with it so far. She’s worked as a football coach and an English Teacher, but feels that her calling lies in drinking tea and laughing at herself. Having dipped her toe in the world of new age philosophy and yoga, she got scared and scurried back to her cave/bedroom. She can be found on Facebook, and has a Twitter account, which she mainly uses to pretend that celebrities are her friends.


About elephant journal

elephant journal is dedicated to "bringing together those working (and playing) to create enlightened society." We're about anything that helps us to live a good life that's also good for others, and our planet. >>> Founded as a print magazine in 2002, we went national in 2005 and then (because mainstream magazine distribution is wildly inefficient from an eco-responsible point of view) transitioned online in 2009. >>> elephant's been named to 30 top new media lists, and was voted #1 in the US on twitter's Shorty Awards for #green content...two years running. >>> Get involved: > Subscribe to our free Best of the Week e-newsletter. > Follow us on Twitter. Fan us on Facebook. > Write: send article or query. > Advertise. > Pay for what you read, help indie journalism survive and thrive—and get your name/business/fave non-profit on every page of Questions? Send to [email protected]


8 Responses to “Contact Emotions: Are your Emotions Actually Yours? ~ Jade Doherty”

  1. Jess says:

    I like your idea that people aren't absorbing the feelings of others, but that feelings that are already within themselves are being brought to the surface. I disagree that disassociating with someone who brings up bad feelings in you is just palming it off on them. If someone consistently triggers the negative in you, distancing yourself from that person can be the only thing that allows you to move forward and grow.

  2. […] pretty common knowledge in yoga that heart openers can be intense and release lots of emotion – we’re always told that big backbends can be emotionally jarring, exhilarating, and […]

  3. Karen Eliot says:

    “In spirituality, there’s a tendency to avoid perceived negativity. I often hear people say that they “just can’t be around so-and-so because they’re too negative/dense/unconscious/egotistical/etc.” But this is just palming the blame of your feelings off onto someone else.”

    THANK you. I do feel it is important to accept and cherish fully *all* of ourselves. Stuffing fear and negativity into your darkest mental closet and then blaming others for accidentally triggering your internalised and denied negative feelings is both silly and keeps you from making progress.

  4. ashley says:

    really good, thanks!

  5. Jade Doherty says:

    You're right about stuffing stuff away and them blaming others for triggering it! Silly, keeps us from making progress and is hella tiring!

    Thanks for your comment Karen,

  6. Jade Doherty says:

    Thanks Ashley,

  7. lisa says:

    i really, really like these words!