When Emotions Become White

July 20, 2022

I’ve been thinking about being overwhelmed and how emotions play their part in this. I’ve talked about F’s riding lesson where it became a bit too much and she’d given up and when we talked about this at home, she said that she was ‘bored.’ Of course, being the mummy in the situation I preceded to talk to her about I saw her experience many emotions at that time and ‘bored’ wasn’t one of them.

Or was it?

Having thought about it I think I should have listened more and respected how F described her own feelings because, actually, I think she was telling me very eloquently how she was feeling.

To start, let’s define the word ‘bored.’

A simple Google search gives me this definition: feeling weary and impatient because one is unoccupied or lacks interest in one’s current activity.

She was definitely feeling weary, and she was kind of impatient and she totally lacked interest in what she was doing so we can see, that from this definition, F really was experiencing boredom at that point. Before that, we’d had the whole rainbow of emotions from frustration to anger and back to sadness that resulted in near tears, not being able to speak and, I could see, a want to just give up and go home.

The range of emotions, I think was F’s brain trying to make sense of the sensory information that F’s brain was receiving, and it was throwing out emotions in a desperate attempt to calm the situation. When this didn’t work and the sensory information was at critical point, I think F’s brain did a clever thing and honed the emotional range back to just the very basics -I’ve noticed this with F and now I also realise that this was the same for H; the longer overwhelm went on the more basic their emotional range became.

Fear became anger which became aggression.

I saw it time and time again with H.

Now if we relate this to our colours analogy both H and F stopped experiencing the full range of emotions and their brains just concentrated on 2 or 3 strong and powerful emotions. If you take colours back to just the 3 primary colours, when they are mixed you get white.

I thought this might be a good way of explaining to F how her emotions affect her. All the emotions we feel (I could get her to name some emotions to check her understanding and also show her how many emotions we have) can be thought of as different colours (we could name our favourite colours and ask the others in the house theirs too). We have many emotions because we can feel so many different things depending on who we’re with, what we’re doing, what’s being expected of us, how tired we are, if we’re hungry and whether we like or understand what it is we’re doing. During a normal day we experience so many emotions, many of which we don’t really realise because they don’t impact us too much and we also have the natural tools and abilities to cope with them.

But if our brains struggle to cope with lots of input that’s when we can become overwhelmed, and the range of emotions becomes too much, and our brains are confused, and this is where our behaviour can also become confused. F’s lesson is an excellent example of this. If the overwhelm continues, we can experience less but more intense emotions and if we think of these as primary colours, when they are mixed, we get white: no colour. I think this is the same for F because once her brain had got to its critical point, she became bored which I think is the white of the emotional world.

White is experiencing no colour at all. The primary colours are still there but you just can’t see them individually and the same can be said for emotions during overwhelm; the emotions are still there; the brain just cannot separate them out and makes sense of anything.

Bored is the emotional colour equivalent of white.

Chatting about this with F may give her a vocabulary that H and I didn’t have. I kind of knew what he was feeling -because I was experiencing it- and I knew he was angry -because he would be throwing things or hitting me- but we couldn’t name what it was, and I really do think this might have helped. That’s not to say that we didn’t eventually find our way but to have this idea of white emotion may have helped us earlier.

The next time F is overwhelmed I will think of her in terms of being in a ‘white’ state in that she just cannot access her emotions at this time and that this, in turn, affects how she will/is behaving. Just like with H, once the whiteness fades the other colours come back as does her rationality and ability to think clearly and *that* is the time to have conversations about what just happened (never do this during an overwhelm or meltdown if your lovely is angry; it’s never productive).

I prefer thinking of emotional overwhelm as white rather than red because to me, the reputation of the ‘seeing red’ or ‘red hot emotion’ focusses too much on negativity which, when you think about it, is always linked to violence and violent behaviour. Starting with white certainly changes my approach to how I deal with overwhelms and frames my thinking to a calmer, more positive approach. It centres my thinking on what she is *unable* to do rather than what she *is* doing.

Thinking back to F’s riding lesson I can see she was definitely in a ‘white’ emotional state, and I can now totally understand why she said she was bored.

White is, ‘I don’t know what I’m feeling.’

I’ll definitely be keeping this in mind the next time F becomes overwhelmed.

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