Your signature on a piece of paper is as familiar as the back of your hand. Your signature is predictable and uniquely yours. It is something that develops over our pre-adult years before it finally become the fixed mark that states “this is me”. After a while it doesn't change much, if at all. However, did you know that you also have an emotional signature? This is your unique set of reactions to the things that happen to you. Take an argument with your partner for example; my bet is that your partner will be able to predict with a fair degree of accuracy just how you are going to react; whether you’re going to sulk, seethe with resentment for a couple of days, blow your top and walk out or retreat into yourself. They know what you’re going to do because, most of the time, whenever an emotion is stirred up, you do the same thing – repeatedly. The problem is that you no more think about your emotional signature than the squiggle you write at the bottom of the form. So much for spontaneity! Remember the old joke about the definition of insanity? It’s doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.
When something pushes our emotional buttons, like a harsh comment or being cut up on the motorway, the first thing we experience is the feeling in the body. After that, we label it and tell ourselves stories about it. But before all of that, there is only sensation in the body. One of the miraculous things about mindfulness is that it can transform our experience simply by allowing it to be held in awareness. We can recognise the sensation in the body as a signal to act in a more spontaneous and creative way, maybe with humour, maybe with compassion or maybe just heading for the emergency exit before we say something we will later regret. We can step out of our habitual patterns, recognise our emotional signature and change it. The first step however, is to notice what is going on.
Most people find a mindfulness course to be quite a challenging experience; rewarding but not necessarily comfortable. This is because it invites us to turn towards difficult emotions as they arise and really get to know them, without judging them and without avoiding them. There is nothing wrong with having strong emotions; the trouble starts when we let ourselves be carried away by them. We call this tendency to act automatically “reactivity”. However if we bring mindfulness to the situation we can respond instead. As mindfulness teachers this is the key principle we try to communicate to participants on our courses. Stepping out of emotional reactivity, abandoning your emotional signature, is such a powerful and liberating thing to do. It leads to a healthier approach to life, stronger relationships, less stress and a more compassionate attitude to ourselves and others. But it takes practice. If you want to know more about how to cultivate a more balanced emotional life, get in touch with us, consider going on a course or read this book for starters. You’ll not regret it.