What’s Your Style?

Style is often understood to be our physical representation of ourselves–the way we dress or wear our hair or how we go about living our lives.  Emotional style may not be so easy to notice.  Only when we allow ourselves and others to accept our feelings do we get a sense of our emotional style.

For some, denial and avoidance are makers of a style that backs away from and minimizes challenges and conflict.  Another style is marked by confrontation and overreaction in a kind of preemptive strike against any threat to the self.  Another style may be characterized as a passive/aggressive approach that presents a mixed message and makes communication very difficult.  Still others struggle to feel anything at all.  Why does this matter?

When we become aware of our default emotional style, we can assess if that style is working for us or causing problems in our own mood and in getting along with others.  If we begin to notice a pattern of avoidance, for example, we may have come to the first step in curing procrastination.  If we begin to notice that we overreact in many situations as a default, we may be able to entertain the idea of holding back our initial reaction until our prefrontal cortex has time to catch up with our amygdala!  If we become aware of a pattern of minimizing pain and loss in our lives, we may be able to at last grieve our losses and move on.

It is not unusual for couples to marry their opposite.  In theory, this is helpful in achieving balance and can be delightful.  On the other hand, if we do not sufficiently understand the emotional style of the other, we may mistake their true feelings.  Grief is an example of how this sometimes happens.  The partner whose style is more emotive may mistakenly come to believe that the partner whose style is more stoic is not feeling the loss.

Thinking through emotional style helps us to understand ourselves better and motivates us to respect the emotional styles of others as well.