Colors of Emotions

By Richie Ploesch, Program Director

In my mind and in my teaching I have always viewed emotions as a complex recipe rather than a simple label. The labels never seem to encapsulate everything that is going through my mind. I’m never just happy or just sad. Nervous for me is a mix of excitement, restless energy, eagerness, and fear which is probably different for everyone else. Right now I’m feeling a bit of calm, with 2 parts content, a dash of confidence, and 2 heaping tablespoons of encouragement. What is that called? I have no idea.

I do believe that emotions can sometimes be portrayed by colors. With so many variations of each color, sometimes I might be feeling Canary Yellow and others times maybe Gold or Honey or Blonde. But those are on the Yellow days. I read a book to my kids from the famous Dr. Seuss titled My Many Colored Days and I think that is such a beautiful pontification of the many colors of emotion we face on any given day. I’m never just Blue. Maybe Zaffre, of Tiffany Blue, or Midnight Blue, or Blue Green, or even Turquoise. But never 100% Blue. Like each of those colors, there is a base, but also a complex mixing of other tints, colors and shades to get just the right effect. I’d like to think that our emotional capacity is far greater than one simple box and cannot be easily taught with a picture from a Google images cartoon.

I consider my knowledge of emotions in the same way I consider the Crayola color scheme. There are enough colors there to have diversity and make art, but sometimes what you need just isn’t there. I know I don’t know everything, but I do try to guide others in finding their own ways of describing how they feel. So much of what we do in group is about adopting a new perception. A big part of that is trying to shift the world view from one of angst and struggle to one of gratefulness and hope.

We start each improv class for our teens on the autism spectrum with a simple opening where we share 1 good thing that happened since we saw each other last time. Often we get lost in trying to think of the grandest most momentous occasion that we forget the simple things. If you ate an apple that was really crunchy, take a minute to appreciate that. If you woke up and had enough time to get to the bus without rushing, that is a WIN! If a new friend said “hi” to you, be grateful that you had that interaction. Finding a $5 bill in your pocket seems to change your whole day.

Starting each class with a focus on some seemingly insignificant success is our way of saying, “Screw you, Anger. Forget you, Crimson. I’m going to get up and face the world anyway, because I chose to. Because today, I am Tiger.” It is a small moment of empowerment. The proverbial middle finger to whatever has you down. The choice to just keep moving regardless of how badly you want to give up. Life happens to each of us, but for my students I want to reframe their thinking to make a choice in how they feel.

Maybe it is a bit of Daffodil and Rust and Candy Apple and Mint with a hint of Silver Charm, but the colors of our emotions varies so much, I’d like to think that for one moment before class, we get to focus on something great. Choice and empowerment would be a beautiful color combination.

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