On Emotional Reactivity

Earlier today I posted on Facebook a quote by Adyashanti on Meditative Self-Inquiry. I often like to share the best things I find on the internet with others, which are generally things that relate to spirituality or that have a spiritual undertone. But soon after I posted it, someone I know commented on my post with an image similar to this one:

It hit my pretty hard and I got very angry, much angrier than I thought I would. I have been unemployed for more than a year, and this meme hit me right where it hurt. They knew about my job situation and so I naturally assumed ill intent, which made me even angrier. Not only that, but it was also done in front of everyone I knew, so I also felt humiliated.

I tried to contain my anger but I also wanted to tell this person that what they did bothered me. So I confronted them and I told them that it was not OK, because it would have been like me broadcasting their vulnerability on their Facebook page for the world to see. They told me that they thought the post was written by me and that I could dedicate myself to doing something productive instead of wasting my time and creativity doing something that wasn’t going to help me financially. That still didn’t make me feel better since I didn’t like answering to anyone, so I was still very angry.  Seeing how upset I was, my friend apologized and said that they just thought it was very funny, and they really seemed to believe that and then they removed their comment from my post.

That is when I had a moment where something shifted inside me and I realized that I had a tendency to blame the entirety of that situation on this other person, that I felt self-righteous about it, and that I saw myself as a victim in that scenario. When I understood that there wasn’t ill intent behind her actions, but good intentions executed poorly my attention almost instantly shifted to myself. I was being reminded that every interaction is a two-way street and that it takes two to tango, right?

So what exactly did I find in myself? What was that situation revealing to me? Well… I realized that lately I have indeed been overly dedicated to spiritual pursuits and learning about the nature of reality and esotericism, but then these things, as important as they are, were distracting me from more pressing matters like getting a job and being independent. This should be my #1 priority right now and my friend’s message awoke me from the slumber. Also it made me realize that I’ve been engaging in Spiritual Bypassing – which is using spirituality as a way to avoid accountability – which is something I thought I understood as a concept and that I had under control, but it turns out some aspects of it eluded me, or maybe I refused to admit them to myself.

I also saw how easy it is to get reactive and make it all about the other person’s mistake, how easy it is to assume ill intent and negative motivations and not see your part in the conflict. That’s why if it was intended as a joke, I couldn’t treat at such and laugh about it. It hurt me.

There was also the perception of being humiliated in front of other people which added to it and hurt also. Or the trigger of having to answer to an authority figure which made me feel indignation and anger. It’s very multifaceted.

So the feelings that came up for me were anger, indignation, humiliation and shame. All these came rushing at me in what felt like a boiling anger sensation. But the instant I started taking things back to myself, these feelings started to subside. As though the energy had been reversed from being aimed at the other person to leading me within to their source. It’s like they were the propelling force that guided me in my inner expedition.

Then I started understanding that the mistake the other person made was due to an incomplete understanding of things, not due to bad intentions. When my anger boiled, I had thoughts of revenge, not through harming them, but through succeeding in life (“that’ll show them”), which also subsided once I started looking into myself.  It’s easy to reduce the other person to the role of the persecutor when you don’t investigate the part you play in the conflict. Which is why others mirror to us our own fears and stir within us the spirit of investigation. The Divine Will acts through others to show us to ourselves.

I’m not saying my friend did nothing wrong . From a higher perspective, sure, this is a learning experience and we’re all learning. But at a relative level, they didn’t consider how it would affect me to be made fun of in front of everyone on something I was vulnerable about. I told my friend that the problem was that their reasoning was incomplete. But then that made me think about how we often don’t realize the ways in which we impact others and how it’s up to the other person to let us know where we might infringe on their boundaries, hopefully in a compassionate manner.

I think this is such an important thought to consider… that many and I’d even say most times people hurt us or we hurt them because of an incomplete understanding of things, a failure to see some important aspects of a problem. But then there’s another aspect which is perhaps even more important which is that we must try to seek our own part in the conflict. Many times conflicts arise from assumptions of ill intent coupled with a desire to defend our image so if we give the other person the benefit of the doubt and change the subject of examination to ourselves, we may find an abundance of wounds underneath our elicited emotions. And those wounds surface during unexpected times and in unexpected ways and are the driving forces to our potential emotional reactivity.  Of course, not every negative emotion we experience is due to our wounding, sometimes the fault may be with the other person indeed, which means that discernment is needed to distinguish between the two. But the step of self-inquiry is still necessary regardless of the situation, as we need to discriminate between emotions that arise due to violations of our boundaries and values or those arise due to wounding and assumptions of ill intent.

If we don’t indulge in the feelings the trigger elicits by being reactive and taking it personally and if instead we allow ourselves to feel them, we can redirect our attention to ourselves and use the momentum of the emotional response to understand why those reactions were brought up in us. This can help us understand how our emotions are linked with our wounds and how they can surface and take a life of their own when they are “provoked” or “disturbed”.

Then we can deepen our investigation and connect our wounds with our unmet emotional needs, which can lead us to important revelations, but maybe that will be the subject of another post.

“If you imagine someone who is brave enough to withdraw all his projections, then you get an individual who is conscious of a pretty thick shadow. Such a man has saddled himself with new problems and conflicts. He has become a serious problem to himself, as he is now unable to say that they do this or that, they are wrong, and they must be fought against… Such a man knows that whatever is wrong in the world is in himself, and if he only learns to deal with his own shadow he has done something real for the world. He has succeeded in shouldering at least an infinitesimal part of the gigantic, unsolved social problems of our day.”

– Carl Jung

 

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The Adyashanti quote:
https://awakening-together.org/discovered-meditative-self-inquiry-adyashanti/?fbclid=IwAR0yohxjlAR3-Fh_uPkq0-bARrtAwD3rHml2r1k49EJWqG7YqgX_t3R6df0

Caroline Myss on Avoiding Powerful Guidance:
https://www.myss.com/three-popular-ways-avoiding-powerful-guidance/?fbclid=IwAR2-lf1uE2pyLQbQgaWCvOSBqngugdiwC3Uv3nVKpvJ5st5UN07Zc8MfSOc

3 Great Discoveries [January 2019]

1. Eva Pierrakos – The Pathwork of Self-Transformation

A phenomenal book which describes a clear and practical way to understand our conditioned behaviors, our longings and needs and our wounding from a spiritual perspective. And so so much more.

“Under such headings as “The Idealized Self-Image”, “The Forces of Love, Eros and Sex”, “Real and False Needs”, and “The Spiritual Meaning of Crisis”, the Pathwork outlines the entire process of personal spiritual development. Unlike many over-idealized philosophies, the Pathwork confronts our devils as well as our angels, our all-too-human failings and petty ego concerns as well as our divine strengths. It shows us how to accept ourselves fully as we are now, and then to move beyond the negativity, or “lower self”, that blocks our personal and spiritual evolution. It offers a practical, rational and honest way to reach our deepest creative identity.”

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2. Terrace House

Terrace House is a Japanese Netflix show where 6 strangers – 3 boys and 3 girls – are given a shared place to live in and two cars with no script of what to do. They are filmed every day and an episode is produced each week that the 6 strangers live there (ranging from 25 minutes to 45 minutes). The people living in Terrace House are between 18 and 30 something years old. When a boy leaves, he is replaced by another boy, when a girl leaves, she is replaced by another girl. In addition to this, there is commentary about the events of the week provided by the show hosts who analyze what is happening and note on the dynamics between the people living there.

I know this may appear trivial compared to #1, but I find it not only enjoyable but educational as well. I find it really interesting to see how the 6 people relate to each other, to understand their motivations for acting the way they do, and to see some beautiful displays of character. It is an excellent exercise in understanding psychology and for compassionately observing people’s conflicts and patterns of behavior. It’s wonderful to watch how they try to help each other and how they intervene when they feel one of the people living there is doing something wrong, usually not to blame them, but to help them overcome their limitations or shortcomings. Of course, there are situations where some conflicts cannot be easily reconciled and you can see how some people are falling into bad behaviors despite themselves.

This show offers a seriously great opportunity for the study of character. It’s like it becomes clear how the little things evolve into big developments. I love it and I seriously recommend it!

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3. The BlackPilled YouTube Channel

BlackPilled is a YouTube channel held by Devon Stack where he does social and political commentary through making analogies with movies. His videos have been a real highlight for me lately, I’ve been excited about getting YouTube notifications for them.

Usually in his videos he analyzes one particular well-known movie and he identifies the propaganda that is subtly placed in the narrative. He links his findings with the social and political developments in the world and he makes a connection between how the ideas that are symbolically represented in the movies influence the thinking patterns of society and help produce social changes that are intended and planned in advance.

Moreover, he makes parallels with mythical and mystical ideas as well, offering great insights on the intentions of the director/script writer. Great content, I recommend it!

As an example, see this analysis of the movie Pleasantville below. It’s rather long, but it’s worth it!

 

[Habits of Confusion] 5. Unclear Wants and Needs

Another thing that seems to affect clarity of thought is losing sight of the things we want and need. Sometimes we tend to get so absorbed by what other people want and need or we get so concerned about what the right thing to do is in a situation that we forget about what interests us. This often leads to self-sabotage, self-sacrifice, overthinking and frustration and it ends up being confusing not only to ourselves but also to those around us. It’s difficult for people to know how to react when we aren’t consistent in our behavior and when our intentions are unclear. But bringing awareness to this fact and understanding the importance of keeping in touch with the things we want and need can help us make better decisions and express ourselves better.

I started writing this article because of something that happened recently. I was selling a dress on the Romanian equivalent of ebay and someone wrote to me about a week ago that they wanted to buy it, let’s call this person Person A. When I asked them about how we were going to do the shipping,  Person A seemed unsure about how to proceed next. A couple of times they said they’d think about it and get back to me and they didn’t seem sure about the whole thing. In the meantime I got a message from somebody else, Person B, who was sure they wanted to buy my item. I decided to ask Person A if they wanted to reserve the dress, yet when I saw that I didn’t get an answer the next day, I agreed to sell it to Person B. Soon after this happened, I got an answer from Person A that they agreed to reserve my item. I had to tell them I had already sold it. *Long sigh* Right here I started wondering…. did I do the right thing? What is the right thing to do here? Yet I found that a more important question was… ‘how did this happen?’

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Vortex of Creation by Eduardo Rodriguez Calzado

I found the answer to be threefold:

  1. I rush things. I want to find a resolution too soon.
  2. I forget about what I want.
  3. I am not transparent with people. I keep too much to myself.

The first was clear, since I didn’t even wait 24h to get an answer back. I felt pressured by having to answer to Person B person in reasonable time, a pressure I conjured up myself that was completely unnecessary.

The second manifested as me not considering what I wanted to do. The first person lived in the same city as I did, a bit on the outskirts. I wanted to meet so that I could give the dress personally, but they seemed unsure about when and where they were going to do that. Person B was from another city and I had to use a paid shipping method to send the dress to them, so clearly I would have preferred the first option. However, I didn’t give much weight to this fact, since I was too worried about what the right thing to do was.

The third thing manifested as me not telling Person B that I had a prior engagement and that they had to wait for a confirmation. Many times it is important to be transparent about the situation you are in. People can be more understanding than you’d expect.

Edit: What happened in the end was that Person B postponed the transaction until it just didn’t happen so in the end I didn’t sell my dress.

The state of confusion we find ourselves in can be like sending mixed signals to the world and the world does not know how to respond to that. If you don’t know what to ask for or how to ask for it, then the world doesn’t know what to give you. It’s like a dance between two partners who don’t know how to synchronize their movements, because neither is clear about what steps they want to take. Even though you may aim for an artistic choreography and conscious intelligent movement, what can result instead is awkward stumbling because of uncertain intentions. It’s like not seeing how puzzle pieces match or like the Yin and the Yang disengaged from each other, not acting in unison, but as separate, independent forces.

So… it is good to ask sometimes… what do I want? And then tell the world about it. Or show the world, or live it. Your intentions, wants and needs are your own magnetic field, the more they concentrate in your words and actions, the easier it is to be recognized by others who live the same things or on the contrary, by those who don’t. Expressing who you are is like electrifying your field which can stir that which resonates with it.

I recently signed up for a course in Scriptwriting. The guy teaching the course said something that made an impression on me. He said that in a movie we want as a protagonist someone who wants something ardently, someone who is driven, because that is what is interesting to watch. He said that nobody wants to watch a passive main character and that the audience is engaged with the story when the main character wants something really badly and perseveres in getting it throughout the story. That made an impact on me and it made me feel a bit ashamed because most of the things I want are too abstract and undefined to give me an idea of what direction I’m going in.

But I believe that in clarifying the things we want, in defining our purposes, even if at first they take the form of small goals like cleaning the kitchen or getting a haircut, that can build a momentum of intention which can in turn become the vehicle through which we make bigger positive changes in our lives. I find that making lists helps and journaling helps and setting short term and long term goals helps also. But the most important part is – just like the scriptwriting instructor said – perseverance, the capacity to keep moving forward in spite of the difficulties we encounter (most often through our self-defeating attitudes) and find a way to do that which matters to us.

At first we may be uncertain about the things we are pursuing or that we want to pursue, but we can recognize within us the desire to fulfill a certain mission, to dedicate ourselves to a certain endeavor, even if it may be subtle in the beginning. This recognition, as faint as it may be, can become the foundation on which we build our visions. We may not have a clear outline of the things we want to do, but as long as we are willing to overcome all the obstacles that we find within ourselves which prevent us from manifesting our potentials, as long as we take responsibility and stop finding excuses about why we are not succeeding, we may just have the chance to bring our visions to reality.

“We are not a helpless victim of our circumstances. We all have within us the power to make that to which we are committed happen.

When we have circumstantial reasons why we could not keep our commitment, usually it is because our commitment was not authentic.

We manifest our commitment if it is authentic. Therefore, when we want to know what a person is truly committed to, what we need to do is to look at his/her action and result, not what he/she says.

Inauthentic commitment comes from your mind, your socially conditioned mind. Living your life with the pretense of inauthentic commitment is a form of deception and irresponsibility.

Your conditioned mind thinks that you should be committed to something worthy or good to prove your self-worth. The idea of doing something great or participating in some good cause makes you feel worthy and therefore you think that you should do it.

Nothing that is intended to make you feel worthy or good is ever a genuine commitment coming from your heart and soul. True commitment has nothing to do with proving your worth, greatness, goodness, or virtue.

Authentic commitment is the creative expression of who you are—i.e., your authentic self. When you are truly committed, you will never try to prove how worthy, good, or great you are but will be moved from within to creatively express your soul’s passion and your heart’s love.”

~ Yasuhiko Genku Kimura

Now, I intended to end this article right there but then I went to the second lesson of the Scriptwriting course where I learned another important principle that I want to share. We had been assigned a homework of writing five movies ideas and sending them to our instructor via email. The ideas had to be written a specific way, each had to be one phrase that would contain three important pieces of information: who the protagonist was, what his problem was (the conflict) and a hint to a potential solution. The instructor went through all of our ideas during class and offered important criticism to each one of us about the way we phrased our premises, since he said that most movies fail from the premise stage. Then he said something that, again, made an impact on me. He said that the main character has to have a GOOD REASON to do something. He said that the objective of the main character must come after a major problem and that a character cannot just do something without a GOOD REASON. The audience wouldn’t be as engaged in the story.

That made perfect sense and I love a good idea that has many ramifications. I reflected upon it and I realized that the motivations for doing something, the reason for initiating any action – and I mean in real life – frames the way we will relate to that experience once it happens. It’s like that experiment with the selective attention test where two groups of people wearing different colored T-shirts pass the ball to each other and you have to count how many times the team in white passed the ball, but then at the end of the video you are asked “did you see the gorilla?” and you didn’t because you weren’t actively seeking for it.

 

So… if you don’t know your reasons, then where will your focus be? I often find myself distracted in situations where I don’t know my reasons for being there or where my reasons are too abstract and I start placing my attention on my fears, which isn’t very productive. It’s good to give the mind something to focus on, like letting your kids play on the PlayStation because you have some important work to attend to. It’s like, OK, amuse yourself with this just for a bit, while I deal with this other thing. Or maybe more like, OK brain, I’ll gather the information, but you organize it and link it with our whys.

“We live within a framework that defines the present as eternally lacking and the future as eternally better. If we did not see things this way, we would not act at all. We wouldn’t even be able to see, because to see we must focus, and to focus we must pick one thing above all else on which to focus.”

– Jordan Peterson, 12 Rules for Life

Lastly, this Pathwork Lecture (No. 74) explains hazy motivations and how to dissolve them:

All suffering comes from ignorance, from lack of wanting to face the truth. Therefore, those who honestly do this work must ultimately, in one way or another, affect those who are still submerged in unawareness about themselves and also about their relationship to the entire universe. Those of you who walk this path so courageously should know that all of us in the spirit world thank you for your efforts, not only on our behalf, but on behalf of all other beings.

And now, my friends, I should like to say a few words which may prove helpful for those of you who struggle and try, but always encounter new difficulties within themselves. These words may help you to overcome them and give you a clearer overall view. Such clarification is often necessary at certain stages of your path.

One of the most important things in the course of this work is to recognize when you are confused about a particular subject. Perhaps a confusion exists in you and you do not even know about what. I can see a great need for elaborating on this subject.

You know from our previous talks that any inner problem, in one way or another, manifests as an outer problem sooner or later. The outer problem is the result of the inner one and, at the same time, it can become the tool with which to correct the wrong attitudes which create both the inner and the outer problem. When outer manifestations occur that make you feel disharmonious, unpleasant, anxious or angry, you often forget that there is some confusion in you. You do not know exactly what the confusion is or what is incorrect in your conscious or unconscious thinking.

I cannot emphasize too strongly that you need first to find out exactly what the confusion is. Whenever something bothers you, be it merely a mood, an unpleasant inner reaction, or an actual outer happening apparently caused by other people, try to find out how you are confused; how your thoughts are muddled; how you are not clear about an idea, a supposedly right reaction, about a principle of general conduct. Ascertain if there is a contradiction of right principles. Put this confusion down concisely, in writing:  “I am confused because I do not know…” whatever it may be. Break it down into several questions. The more concise your questions are, the more aware you will become of exactly what your confusion is.

Writing contributes most constructively toward eliminating the confusion, even long before you are able to find the exact answers to your questions. If you then pray for the answers and work with the questions — at the same time checking your inner resistance to receiving the answers — you will make great advances and prepare for most important new insights that will give you new freedom. My friends, never forget the importance of becoming aware of your questions concerning a particular complexity, problem, or confusion. The moment you have the concise question clearly crystallized, you will already feel relief. You will have smoothed the way toward complete clarification.

You who have progressed a little on this path should now stop for a moment and turn around to get an overall view, just as the climber occasionally does when making an ascent. While going forward, your glance is directed toward a particular or partial goal on the way. In doing so, you may forget the distance already covered, the obstacles surmounted, and lose the encompassing view of the whole picture. It is very useful to turn around occasionally and make an overall survey of the terrain.

I say this now with a particular aim. Once again you should investigate what your main problems in life are, but with a more comprehensive view. Write the problems down concisely, describing in clear-cut words whatever area of your life they may deal with. With your findings so far, you may now be in a better position than when you started on the path to determine that wherever your aim is confused and your life-goal muddled with mixed motivations, is where you will find the troublesome area of your life. This recognition will do much to help you further.

The deep-rooted emotional reactions brought to light always show the child operating in you. And that child is self-centered and ignorant. Out of this self-centeredness and ignorance selfish motives arise, unconsciously or sometimes even half-consciously. You are unclear as to what you want in life, or in a particular area of your life. You drift, and all goals are in a fog of confusion and unawareness. Even genuinely unselfish motives are not expressed clearly in your thinking. Whenever or wherever such a condition exists, you are bound to have difficulties, unfulfillment and frustration. The difficulties may either be outer obstacles, or if outer obstacles are not yet on the horizon, you may inwardly feel ill at ease, guilty, tense, full of anxiety or impatience. In other words, even if for the time being things go well outwardly, your inner peace is lacking in this area of your life.

Whenever such condition exists, your motives must be mixed with unconscious selfish motives that produce the negative result. Survey your life once again. See exactly where you have either manifest problems, or inner feelings of anxiety or disharmony. Then check out what your motives really are. Look behind the apparent positive outer appearances. Use your findings, your images and wrong conclusions. Try to crystallize out of them any negative or confused motives and apply them to the trouble area. Or determine if you perhaps have drifted into a certain course without even knowing whether you wanted this particular goal or why you wanted it. Such indetermination is often more damaging than clear-cut negative motives and may apply to any area of life, like professional fulfillment, marriage, or friendship. Indetermination may create tension and conflict in a particular personal relationship.

Check your real motivations behind the conscious ones. Check whether or not you have a clear-cut aim. Check your reason for living. What is your purpose in life?  What do you want it to be, apart from developing yourself to the best of your ability?  Then see what you really want. Why do you want it?  Beware of the error that one motivation necessarily excludes another. You know this is not so. Try to be honest with yourself, in this respect as well as in any other. The relief and the reward you will get from honest answers to your own questions will be tremendous, regardless how negative the answers may prove to be.

One of the most outstanding features of such a procedure will be that the moment you recognize your lack of clear-cut motivations, or the presence of destructive ones, you will see the law of cause and effect operating in your own life. You will thereby instantly lose the feeling of injustice, which may be conscious in some people but is perhaps unconscious in most. When we discussed the general fear of life, fear of the unknown, you learned that it is always the distorted God-image which is responsible for that fear. You may unconsciously fear that there is an arbitrary god who metes out punishment and reward according to his whim. And even if you do not actually believe in such a god, that is your concept of life and your role in it. If you regard yourself as lost, helpless, a prey to circumstances beyond your control, you grasp for “chance” and “luck.”  You feel like a lost little boat on a big ocean. Sometimes the waters are wild and the waves carry you against the current, meaning that life produces unhappiness, and sometimes the waves may be smooth and carry you into “lucky circumstances.”  You say, “There is nothing I can do about either.”  This is a deep-rooted feeling in almost everyone, and it is of utmost importance to make such concepts of life conscious. Some of you have succeeded in doing so, but you do not as yet see the way out. You may say, “All right, and what now?”

You will find the answer by recognizing your hazy or mixed goals that are responsible for whatever it is you lack. This particular confusion and lack of motivation is directly responsible for unfulfillment or lack of success, if you want to call it that. If you then realize that it is you who have caused it, and not a chaotic universe or God, you will automatically lose some of your fear and insecurity. You will know that you are capable of producing favorable conditions, even if you are not yet doing so. You will at least see the road. You will start to think about clarifying your motives and establishing those that you really want, and not those in accord with what you believe you ought to want. Keep such established motivations conscious and clearly defined, working toward their goals. While you may not yet be able to shed the selfish motives, the very admission that they exist, the very honesty and clear vision about yourself will, on the one hand, release an entirely new inner force and energy, and, on the other, you will see your own responsibility for your fate. You will then cease being afraid of an unknown fate, whether your fears be conscious or unconscious.

My friends, it is very important for all of you to consider these questions at this point. What I said today may not be entirely new to those of you who have been following these teachings, but perhaps you will now understand my words in a different light and make better use of them. Now they will sink in deeper and enable you to work more constructively.”

– Eva Pierrakos, The Pathwork Lectures

[Habits of Confusion] 4. Shame and Guilt

We often find ourselves having to make difficult choices. But what makes them difficult? A part of us wants to choose something, yet another one wants to choose something else. What are these parts of us and why do they have different perspectives on what the right choice is? Why are we split in such a way that we are unable to act as a unified whole?

It is as though we can feel the pull of opposing forces, each having a strong claim and we tend to agree with both views, because both views have legitimacy. How are we able to carry these contradictory tendencies and how can we expect to find clarity without elucidating the motivations and reasons of each of these split personalities?

If these sub-personalities had a voice what would they say? What would they really say, if they were radically honest? If they didn’t hide behind good intentions, obligations and blame? If they took full responsibility for the way they feel?

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I think they would sound much different than what they would appear initially.  Many of our internal conflicts stem from the way we frame our problems, from the lack of willingness to take ownership for our problems and from not listening to our intuitive guidance. We often aren’t able to recognize our true motivations for the way we act, because we are blinded by ideas of how things are supposed to be, by what is expected of us and by unconscious fears.

Two of the things that guide our behaviors without us realizing are guilt and shame. We want to do something that would be good for us, yet that would mean letting people down. This conflict causes anxiety, because provoking negative emotions in another person creates the impression that we would be doing something bad. We would have to be bad to disappoint somebody like that, they counted on us for this. If we are used to taking on other people’s emotions, then we feel responsible for the way they feel. We forget that everybody is in charge of their own state of mind and we make it our mission to do whatever is in our power to keep other people’s approval. Then we start getting resentful and bitter because in essence we are shifting responsibilities, we take on the responsibility of other people’s emotions, yet we hold them accountable for our lack of happiness.

The thought behind it is something like ‘fine, I’ll do this to keep you happy, but just so you know, I hate it and you are responsible for making me do this.’ If we were honest about what was happening we would find feelings of obligation, duty, shame and guilt beneath this attitude. If they can be recognized as such, then we need not act on them, since we know that our actions do not stem from love, but from wounding. We would liberate ourselves from these feelings and we would liberate the other person as well from deriving strength/value/security from outside of themselves. They would no longer rely on our actions for those things which would give them the chance to empower themselves. When we take responsibility for the way we feel, we help other people to do the same.

“There’s such a thing as healthy shame. Such shame, which is directed at our behavior, catalyzes our conscience. In stark contrast, unhealthy shame, which is directed at our being, catalyzes our inner critic, which commonly masquerades as our conscience.”

– Robert Augustus Masters, Bringing Our Shadow Out Of The Dark

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Sometimes it is difficult to identify these emotions because the mind can engage in rationalizations and justifications for the way we behave, thinking it is acting on good intentions. But there is a difference between doing something out of love and doing the same thing out of obligation. The former is done wholeheartedly, without any regrets or resistance while the latter needs plenty of convincing to do and plenty of assurances to be given in order to be done. The former feels right and fills you up with joy, while the latter is done in order to be congruent with your idea of what the right thing to do is.

For instance, I once had to decide whether I was going to go back to my old job. I was extremely confused about it and I didn’t know what to do. I spent a whole month trying to figure it out. I knew I needed money, since I was pretty much broke, yet I didn’t really want to do it anymore. In my mind I kept telling myself how I needed to be financially independent and how other people needed to know I was self-reliant and I found all sorts of reasons to justify to myself that going back was the right thing to do. But this didn’t last, because these lies had caused so much friction that I couldn’t take it any longer and I finally decided, in spite of all opposition, that I wasn’t going to go back regardless the consequences. Of course, being independent is important, it’s just that for me going back at that point would not have been a good decision since I needed to move forward.

Other times, I would continue to live up to other people’s expectations and always feel guilty when I wasn’t be able to live up to them. I would find myself feeling suffocated by obligation and I would feel guilty about not being able to do things out of love. The more I did them, the more my feelings grew into resentment and bitterness. And I found myself getting more and more drained and weakened by having to do those things that seemed like the right thing to do. But they weren’t, they were just the shoulds I had internalized to justify the fact that I was doing these things with good intentions.

Shame and guilt can take various disguises. Robert Augustus Masters identified in his book Bringing Your Shadow Out Of The Dark three disguises that they can take: aggression, emotional disconnection and narcissism. Aggression can be elicited when we feel ashamed, yet we are unable to accept that part of ourselves that makes mistakes and so we try to control the world around us into not disturbing us with these perceptions of wrongdoing that we find so difficult to accept in ourselves. Emotional disconnection is another strategy we can employ when we feel shame. Our emotions can be so overwhelming that we cannot accept the things we have said and done and so we resort to emotional disconnection as a form of self-preservation. We unconsciously believe that numbing our shame can stop the pain, but all it does is anesthetize us to the richness of life. The third means of escape from shame is narcissism, where we inflate our sense of self to such a degree that we cannot accept any criticism.  We don’t want to feel shame, we associate it with a feeling of being bad, of being annihilated and instead of accepting these feelings, we often try to hide beneath a mask of authority or competence or importance in order to discourage others from questioning us ever again.

“When I was eight or nine, I proudly brought home my report card. It was packed with As. I showed it to my father, and without looking at me he muttered something about “What the hell good is this when you can’t even screw in a bolt straight?” I slouched beneath the crushing shame I felt at hearing these words. I’d already learned that if I couldn’t master a skill, such as screwing in a bolt straight, right away, he wouldn’t give me a second chance. The lesson, which he drove into me over and over, was that being successful meant being competent in skills that he valued and being incompetent in such skills meant being rejected, hurt, blasted with shame. And the more shame I felt, the more I was pulled to be aggressive with others, especially with regard to besting them physically and academically. I had zero awareness of this connection between shame and aggression at the time, it was completely hidden in my shadow.”

– Robert Augustus Masters, Bringing Your Shadow Out Of The Dark

When we act according to our internalized shoulds we only have two options: either we do what is expected of us and breed resentment or we don’t do those things and we feel guilty. That doesn’t seem like a fair choice, does it? Well, it doesn’t have to be that way. You are allowed to not want to do something without feeling guilty or ashamed. You are allowed to have your own boundaries. And you are allowed to say no to things that drain you. That doesn’t make you a bad person. You can use your creative energy to build the life that you want, the life that brings you joy. And you can choose to direct this energy on a channel that is free from resistance.

The problem with shoulds is that they do seem to have a strong claim on the way you behave and act. But the best indicator of it being the right thing to do for you is whether you can do those things with love, without complaining or blaming other people, if you can do it without any feeling of guilt and shame, obligation or duty, whether you can do it because you simply want to.