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.

 

Steps to Handling our Anger

Steps to Handling our Anger
from The Surprising Purpose of Anger
by Marshall B. Rosenberg

“When it comes to managing anger, NVC [Nonviolent Communication] shows us how to use anger as an alarm that tells us we are thinking in ways that are not likely to get our needs met, and more likely get us involved in interactions that are not going to be constructive for anyone. Our training stresses that it is dangerous to think of anger as something to be repressed, or as something bad. When we tend to identify anger as a result of something wrong with us, then our tendency is to want to repress it and not deal with anger. That use of anger, to repress and deny it, often leads us to express it in ways that can be very dangerous to ourselves and others.”

“The NVC approach involves several steps. I will go over these steps in part by using an example of a young man in a prison in Sweden. I was working with this man in a prisoner training session, showing the participants how NVC can be used to manage their anger.

The First and Second Steps

The first step in handling our anger using NVC [Nonviolent Communication] is to be conscious that the stimulus, or trigger, of our anger is not the cause of our anger. That is to say that it isn’t simply what people do that makes us angry, but it’s something within us that responds to what they do that is really the cause of the anger. This requires us to be able to separate the trigger from the cause. In the situation with the prisoner in Sweden, the very day that we were focusing on anger, it turned out that he had a lot of anger in relationship to the prison authorities. So he was very glad to have us there to help him deal with anger on that day. I asked him what it was that the prison authorities had done that was the stimulus of his anger. He answered, “I made a request of them three weeks ago, and they still haven’t responded.” Well, he had answered the question in the way that I wanted him to. He had simply told me what they had done. He hadn’t mixed in any evaluation, and that is the first step in managing anger in a nonviolent way: simply to be clear what the stimulus is but not to mix that up with judgements or evaluation. This alone is an important accomplishment. Frequently when I ask such a question I get a response such as, “they were inconsiderate” which is a moral judgement of what they are but doesn’t say what they actually did.

The second step involves our being conscious that the stimulus is never the cause of our anger. That is, it isn’t simply what people do that makes us angry. It is our evaluation of what has been done that is the cause of our anger. And it’s a particular kind of  evaluation.”

“In the case of the prisoner , when he told me that he was angry and that the trigger for his anger was that the prison officials hadn’t responded for three weeks to his request, I asked him to look inside and tell me what the cause of his anger was. He seemed confused, and he said to me: “I just told you the cause of my anger, I made a request three weeks ago and the prison officials still haven’t responded to it.”

I told him “Now, what you told me was the trigger for your anger. In our previous sessions I’ve tried to clarify for you that it’s never simply the trigger that creates our anger. The cause is what we’re looking for. So I’d like you to tell me how you are interpreting their behavior, how you are looking at it, that is causing you to be angry.”

He was very confused at this point. He was like many of us: He had not been trained to be conscious of what was going on within himself when he was angry. So I had to give him a little help to get an idea of what I meant by how to just stop and listen to the kind of thoughts that might be going on the inside of us that are always at the core of anger.

After a few moments he said to me: “OK, I see what you mean. I’m angry because I’m telling myself it isn’t fair, that isn’t a decent way to treat human beings. They are acting as though they are important, and I’m nothing.” And he had several other such judgements that were floating rapidly through his head. Notice he initially said it was simply their behavior that was making him angry. But it was really all of these thoughts that he had within himself that were making him angry, any one of which could have created his anger. But he was ready with a whole series of such judgements, “They’re not fair; they’re not treating me right.” All such judgements are the cause of anger.

Once he had identified this, he said to me, “Well, what’s wrong with thinking that way?” And I said: “I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with thinking that way. I’d just like you to be conscious that it’s thinking that way which is the cause of your anger. And we don’t want to mix up what people do – the trigger – with the cause of anger.

Now, this is very hard for many of us to keep straight: to not mix up the trigger, or stimulus, of our anger with the cause of our anger. The reason that that’s not easy for us is that we may have been educated by people who use guilt as a primary form of trying to motivate us. When you want to use guilt as a way of manipulating people, you need to confuse them into thinking that the trigger is the cause of the feelings. In other words, if you want to use guilt with somebody, you need to communicate in a way that indicates that your pain is being caused simply by what they do. In other words, their behavior is not simply the stimulus of your feelings; it’s the cause of your feelings.”

“If we are to manage anger in ways that are in harmony with the principles of NVC, it’s important for us to be conscious of this key distinction: I feel as I do because I am telling myself thoughts about the other person’s actions that imply wrongness on their part. Such thoughts take the form of judgements such as, “I think the person is selfish, I think the person is rude, or lazy , or manipulating people, and they shouldn’t do that.” Such thoughts take either the form of direct judgement of others or indirect judgements expressed through such things as, “I’m judging this person as thinking only they have something worth saying”. In these latter expressions, it’s implicit that we think what they’re doing isn’t right.

Now, that’s important, because if I think this other person is making me feel this way, it’s going to be hard for me not to imagine punishing them.”

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The Third Step

“The third step involves looking for the need that is the root of our anger. This is built on the assumption that we get angry because our needs are not getting met. The problem is that we’re not in touch with our needs. Instead of being directly connected to our need, we go up to our head and start thinking of what’s wrong with other people for not meeting our needs. The judgements we make of other people – which cause our anger – are really alienated expressions of unmet needs.”

”Let’s go back to the case of the prisoner from Sweden. After we had identified the judgements he was making that were creating his anger, I asked him to look behind the judgements and tell me what needs of his were not getting met. These unmet needs were actually being expressed through the judgements he was making of the prison officials.

This wasn’t easy for him to do because when people are trained to think in terms of wrongness of others, they are often blind to what they themselves need. They often have very little vocabulary for describing their needs. It requires shifting attention away from judging outward, to looking inward and seeing what the need is. But with some help, he was finally able to get in touch with his need and he said: “Well, my need is to be able to take care of myself when I get out of prison by being able to get work. So the request that I was making of the prison officials was for training to meet that need. If I don’t get that training, I’m not going to be able to take care of myself economically when I get out of prison, and I’m going to end up back in here.”

Then I said to the prisoner, “Now that you’re in touch with your need, how are you feeling?” He said, “I’m scared.” So when we are directly connected to our need, we are never angry any more. The anger hasn’t been repressed; the anger has been transformed into need-serving feelings.”

“After I pointed out to the prisoner the difference between getting in touch with his needs and the feelings that he had, he was then aware of his fear. He could see that the anger was because of the thinking about the wrongness of others. I then asked the prisoner, “Do you think you’re more likely to get your needs met if, when you go in to talk to the prison officials, you are connected to your needs and the fear, or if you are up in your head judging them and angry?”

And he could see very clearly that he was much more likely to get his needs met if he were to be communicating from a position of connection to his needs, rather than separated from his needs and thinking of others in ways that implied wrongness. At the moment that he had this insight into what a different world he would be living in when he was in touch with his needs as opposed to judging others, he looked down at the floor and had about as sad a look on his face as I can recall any person ever having had. And I asked him, “What’s going on?”

He said, “I can’t talk about it right now.” Later that day, he helped me understand what was going on in him. He came to me and said: “Marshall, I wish you could have taught me two years ago about anger what you taught me this morning. I wouldn’t have had to kill my best friend.”

Tragically, two years before, his best friend had done some things and he felt great rage in response to his judgements about what his friend had done. But instead of being conscious of what his needs were behind of that, he really thought it was his friend that made him angry, and in a tragic interaction ended up killing his friend.”

“This is a very important step that I have just outlines: To be conscious of the thinking that is creating anger. And as I said, the prisoner at first was totally oblivious to all of the thoughts that were going on within him that made him angry. The reason for this is that our thoughts go on very rapidly. Many of our thoughts go so quickly through our heads that we are not even aware that they are there, and it really looks to  us as though it was the stimulus that was the cause of our anger.

I have outlined three steps in managing our anger using NVC:

  1. Identify the stimulus for our anger, without confusing it with the evaluation. 
  2. Identify the internal image of judgement that is making us angry. 
  3.  Transform this judgemental image into the need that it is expressing; in other words, bring our full attention to the need that is behind the judgement.”

The Fourth Step

“The fourth step includes saying to the other person four pieces of information. First, we reveal to them the stimulus: what they have done that is in conflict with our needs being fulfilled. Secondly, we express how we are feeling. Notice we are not repressing the anger.  The anger has been transformed into a feeling such as sad, hurt, scared, frustrated, or the like. And then we follow up our expression of our feelings with the needs of ours that are not being fulfilled.

And now we add to those three pieces of information a clear, present request of what we want from the other person in relationship to our feelings and unmet needs.

So in the situation with the prisoner, the fourth step on this part would be to go the prison officials and say something like this: “I made a request three weeks ago. I still haven’t heard from you, and I’m feeling scared because I have a need to be able to earn a living when I leave this prison, and I’m afraid that without the training I was requesting it would be very hard for me to make a living. So I’d like you to tell me what is preventing you from responding to my request.”

If we’re sufficiently trained in getting in touch with the need behind the judgements, we can take a deep breath and very rapidly go through the process that I led the prisoner through. In other words, as soon as we catch ourselves getting angry, we take a deep breath, stop, look inside, and ask ourselves quickly, “What am I telling myself that’s making me so angry?” We quickly get in touch with the need that is behind that judgement. When we’re in touch with the need we will feel in our body a shift away from anger to other kinds of feelings, and when we’re at that point we can open our mouths and say to the other person what we’re observing, feeling, needing and make our requests.”

These are some fragments from a short but valuable book (40 pages) that you can find online. Like here.