On Fearing Emotions

When you fear feeling a certain feeling, you set up all sorts of defenses and strategies to keep yourself from feeling that feeling. For instance, if you fear that you might be bad, you will try to convince others of your goodness by not displaying healthy negative emotions and by allowing yourself to be mistreated, thereby bringing to life various formations geared towards obtaining the confirmation from the outside that you are good. The fear of experiencing that emotion of being bad is what sets everything in motion. As always, the difficulty of it is that it is unconscious, which means you are not aware of the force that is driving you into action, appearing as a spontaneous inner impulse. “I just feel that way.”

But if you observe yourself like you are an objective thing in the world you can ask yourself “what am I trying to get from others?” and it is very likely that you will find that you fear the opposite in yourself. So if you try to convince others you are good, you are probably afraid that you are bad.

So what can you do when you find that fear? Agree to it! Fine, I am bad! And feel whatever pain/fear/anger/etc. might arise in association with that. So, ok, fine, I am bad. Game over. But don’t fall into the trap of judging yourself for it or trying to change it, just feel it as it is. And then you can release it.

The thing is that when you fear an experience on the spectrum of emotions, you bind yourself to it and you filter reality through the fear of being that, but the moment you go through the experience, it dissolves. It has nothing on you anymore. The reason you fear it is that you believe it is a permanent, immutable reality when the truth is that you are maintaining it because you fear going through it.

So back in childhood, because you didn’t allow yourself the feeling/experience of being bad, you carried it with you into adulthood, but feelings are there to be felt and let go, they carry information and then they leave. It is us who turn them into verdicts.

Conflict and Misperceptions

The difficulties/challenges/conflicts we experience occur most often due to misperceptions. It may seem on the surface level that the external trigger is responsible for our emotional response, yet on a closer examination we will find that there was actually something within us – some pre-existing fear, some pre-existing pain – that responded to the trigger. If we go even further with our examination we will find that behind the fear and behind the pain there are false assumptions, misperceptions.

Many if not most of these misperceptions originate from childhood experiences when our concept of reality was narrow and so we drew wrong conclusions about our painful experiences. These wrong conclusions can look like:

  • If I disagree with people, they will withdraw their love from me

Or…

  • I need to defend myself or else people will take from me what I don’t want to give

Or…

  • I have to always be in control, otherwise I am not safe

We often carry these beliefs and attitudes with us into adulthood without realizing, that is unless we are confronted with situations that bring them to the surface. Intellectually we may know that these are not true, yet the emotions have a reality of their own. It is the emotions that need to learn the new reality.

If we use the trigger as an opportunity to look within ourselves, we can trace the emotions back to when they were initially brought up. And by understanding the context in which our coping mechanisms were adopted, we can understand their unreality in our current circumstances. We can understand that they seemed appropriate at the time and that they were based on a false interpretation of reality.

It can be difficult to unearth these attitudes and feelings as they hide in our unconscious. And being aware of them can be challenging too. Yet once they are seen and felt, it is as though you step into a new reality, as though a heaviness is lifted from your shoulders.

And that is so worth it.

There is no need to despair

If you find a negative trait or quality within you, do no despair, it’s only temporary. Through self-observation you can bring the underlying attitude to the surface and examine it. You can use your daily occurrences and interactions to note the reactions that arise within you. And then change arises by itself as a result of understanding (though it takes time).

If you try to force your emotions into how they should be, change won’t truly occur as this would be a superimposition, much like putting a band-aid over a gunshot wound.

Rather than blame, cover up, suppress or deny, it is much more useful to trace these emotions back to their origin, to see why they’re there, not as provoked from outside but as emerging from within (from a certain self-perception). Emotions are information about the inner reality and they don’t respond to shoulds. They are to be experienced just as they are, as dark as they may be.

It is my experience that stuck emotions (which often make us reactive) are often tangled up with false perceptions both of self and the world. We may intellectually know the truth of why we are experiencing certain difficulties, yet the emotions have a “perception” of their own, often causing an inner split. It is the “perception” of these emotions that needs to be made conscious.

On Suppressing Negative Emotions

A couple of days ago I received a very important and unexpected puzzle piece.

I was seeking for something, yet the answer I received was for a different question that I had asked at another time: Am I bad for feeling the way I do?

What I was looking for when that happened was an insight into the problem of what evil is and I wanted to see if I could find some reflections on that problem among The Pathwork Lectures.

I found three articles, but one stood out for me: The Meaning of Evil and Its Transcendence.

At the end of reading it I felt happy and so, so relieved. If before that I was wrapped in anxiety, upon reading that article I suddenly felt… peace! I didn’t know why I was grinning until later when I had an important revelation. It was as though the revelation had already occurred in my subconscious and was working its way up to my conscious awareness. And it was indeed the missing link in the chain.

It is OK to feel negative emotions, as dark as they may be.

The article itself was the catalyst for my realization, but I believe that it all culminated in this fragment, more specifically in one particular sentence – that I highlighted in bold:

“The first step must be applying the theory that destructiveness, evil, is not a final separate force. You must think about this not merely in general, philosophical terms. Rather, you must take the specific aspects of yourself that make you feel guilty and afraid, and apply this knowledge to all that is most distasteful in yourself and others. No matter how ugly some of those manifestations are—whether it be cruelty, spite, arrogance, contempt, selfishness, indifference, greed, cheating, or something else—you can bring yourself to realize that every one of these traits is an energy current, originally good and beautiful and life-affirming.

By searching in this direction, you will come to understand and experience how this or that specific hostile impulse was originally a good force. When you understand that, you will have made a substantial inroad toward transforming the hostility and freeing the energy that has either been channelled in a truly undesirable, destructive way, or become frozen and stagnant. Articulate clearly the insight that these ugly traits, whatever they may be, are a power that can be used any way you wish. This power—the same energy that may now manifest as hostility, envy, hatred, rage, bitterness, self-pity, or blame—can become a creative power to build happiness, pleasure, love, expansion, for yourself and others around you.”

– Eva Pierrakos

When I read that sentence, I had tears in my eyes. I knew I had feelings of envy, of hate, of bitterness and resentment inside and I could not accept having them there. I suffered because of them and I felt guilty because I felt them. I interpreted them as a confirmation that I was bad. And although I thought that I understood the fact that all emotions are valid, and even though I wrote about it in some of my articles,  I still tortured myself with guilt for experiencing them.

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The feeling I was confronted with the other day was hate. I felt hate towards someone. I couldn’t bear to look at them, without getting negative thoughts in my head. Yet I tried to suppress it and hide it because I saw it as an undesirable quality. How could I be good if I had such dark feelings towards someone? So instead, I tried to be nice and polite and all the good things, but it all felt forced and unnatural for both me and the other person. It was as though we were both playing a part, yet both of us could feel the tension behind what was being said and both of us felt drained by the conversation.

But that night, as I was twisting and turning in bed without being able to sleep, I started to inquire into my feeling of hate. I said to myself. OK, I really do feel hate, there’s no point in denying it. I feel hate! And it is OK. Not OK as in I approve of it, but OK as in I fully accept it without judging myself for it.

The acceptance allowed me to realize that behind the hate there was anger, anger that I had denied for a very long time. I had felt guilty about this anger and had suppressed it and so it had turned into hate. And beneath the anger there were probably other feelings too. Like sadness or indignation. And because I had denied those feelings too they had turned into anger. Through denial and suppression I had compounded them on top of each other until they became something dark indeed.

The initial feelings are benign. Yet because we label them as bad or wrong, we think that they must not be felt, so we suppress them and the energy behind them stagnates or is directed on a wrong channel.

you will come to understand and experience how this or that specific hostile impulse was originally a good force

In their initial form –  which is the form they take before we have compounded them with other feelings, like covering sadness with anger – feelings are benign messengers. They let us know what is happening within ourselves. And we can work with that, we can cooperate with this information to get our needs met, or we can go against it and refuse its expression because we believe it is bad and, as a consequence, deprive ourselves of what we need.

The thing I realized that night was that I had my reasons for being angry and that I didn’t have to force myself to forgive. My anger was valid, it needed to be there, it was not an expression of my being bad, it had its own purpose. And there’s no shame in that. It’s a thousand times better to be truthful than to be pleasing. That’s not to say to lash out at people, but to be true to yourself in the things you do. To not lie through word or deed or attitude.

Another piece of the puzzle had come one or two days prior, while reading the book Creating Union by Eva Pierrakos:

“There are particular phases in human development where an entity finds it almost impossible to come out of his or her negative defense system, and of the conviction that this defense is necessary, unless one of those people with whom the person is entangled lets them off the hook by admitting his or her own negative intentionality, destructive attitude, dishonesty, and meanness. Just imagine how you would feel when someone close to you, who has given you pain by pointing out your real and your false guilts, but who has also confused you by the denial of his or her guilt, suddenly said to you: “I realize that I do not want to give you love. I want to demand from you and then blame you, accuse you, and punish you when you do not comply with my demands. But I do not allow you to feel hurt, because although I want to hurt you, I do not want to be made to feel guilty by your hurt.” Just imagine how this would set you free! How such an admission can suddenly clear up many confusions! It is not very likely that you would respond to this act of love by being self-righteous and acting the all-innocent one who has always known this and is now established as the innocent victim.”

– Eva Pierrakos, Creating Union

This blew my mind. I never considered that I could tell another person how I felt about them if those feelings were negative. And yet it made so much sense! When you are this honest with someone, you free both yourself and the other person. And then the hate can revert back to anger and back to the original emotion. Because it is no longer covered up, no longer hidden. And then it can go back to being that creative energy that is an expression of life itself.

Once I understood this, my anxiety subsided and I felt not only peaceful but joyful too. My chest didn’t feel tight anymore and I felt like I could take deeper breaths. I felt liberated. I had tortured myself so much with believing I was a bad person for the negative thoughts I was harboring that I was beginning to fear there was no way out. I felt hopeless. I am convinced that it was the Divine that guided me towards this understanding and I am truly grateful. I have felt this guidance in many ways and I know that I am assisted at all times, even though I may feel alone or discouraged at times.

I realize this is an ongoing process and there is still much to learn about how to express my emotions in a healthy way, so I believe self-compassion is needed. I saw how big the discrepancy was between what I thought I understood and what I actually understood. I knew the theory: it is good to love and accept yourself, no matter what you think, no matter what you feel, no matter what you have done. But practice is a whole different matter and it took me a whole lot of experience and seeking to grasp the meaning of these words, and there’s still much more to learn.

This makes me think of another aspect of denying our negative emotions. The reasons we deny them is because of positive intentionality: we want to stop ourselves from manifesting the negative potential of our thoughts. So our intentions are good. But we act like guardians of our own impulses and to some extent this means we fear ourselves, we fear what we might do, we fear that anybody else might realize that we harbor such thoughts. And most of all, we fear that we might be confirmed as bad people. We don’t realize that this intention in itself is good.

The problem is that our intentions and our ways of dealing with our emotions are based on an incomplete understanding of what is going on within ourselves. We think that the negative emotions should not be there and so we struggle against them. We cannot find peace as long as they are there. And from my experience, a lot of anxiety stems from this. From denying and fighting the way we feel. From using a part of ourselves to oppose another.

Luckily, our experiences are chances of expanding that understanding, of learning more about ourselves. They allow us to see new facets of who we are and to see that we are not the bad people that we imagine ourselves to be. We just don’t have the right tools to deal with our emotions. And this realization can be the beginning of self-love.

So yeah, this is something I’ve been confronted with lately and from my research and experience I can say that each emotion needs to be felt in order to be transformed. It reminds me of that quote that goes like “nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know”. In that sense, each emotion brings with it its own wisdom, it is on a mission so to speak and it cannot leave until we heed its message. If the five senses give us information about the outside world, emotions give us information about the inner world and we need both to function as whole human beings.

For anyone having read this far who is interested in shadow work and self-knowledge, you can access The Pathwork Lectures, which I have referenced in this article, here. They are one of the most important things that I have had the luck to find on my journey.

 

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