A few weeks ago a lady I was chatting to before a Body Attack class asked me “Can you help with guilt?”
I replied “Yes guilt, anger, shame, resentment” and then went on to say something that I often say to clients which this lady found helpful so I thought I would share it, here goes:
I think the problem is that emotions tend to get labelled positive or negative and “negative” ones like guilt, anger, shame, resentment etc are considered not OK. The way I see it though, Evolution is very efficient, if these emotions weren’t useful we wouldn’t have them, Evolution would have got rid of them years ago so rather than working like mad to get away from emotions we have been taught to believe are bad perhaps we’d be better off asking ourselves “what is this emotion about, what is it trying to tell me?”
Think of emotions like motorcycle couriers trying to get a vital message to you. They’re trained to chase you all round town until they get the message through. Just as a black clad biker with a black visor wordlessly and determinedly tracking us wherever we go and lying in wait for us as we come out of meetings, or wake up in the wee smalls or in the morning, appears quite threatening so do feelings like anxiety, anger or depression. We want to get away from them which just seems to make them all the more determined to catch up with us when in fact the poor thing is desperately trying to do its job and get a message to us.
Next time then, when you feel an emotion you want to run away from, think of it as just doing it’s job and consider pausing, smiling, taking the envelope and reading the message, reading what Anger or Anxiety (or whatever emotion it is), is trying to tell you and letting it go on its way. Generally Anger rides into town when something has gone from being OK to not OK, Anxiety when something feels off and so on.
I think the trouble starts when emotions are overexpressed because we have been taught that they are bad so don’t greet them with a grateful “thank you for bringing x or y to my attention”. Rather we go to great lengths to avoid them in a “La la la I’m not listening” sort of way which seems to make them bigger and even more determined to the point we can’t contain them anymore, they manage to sell our defences a dummy and burst out in an uncontrolled way.
When we read the envelope, sometimes it is our shit in that the other person is, actually, behaving normally and they have, unknowingly (and maybe we didn’t know this was in us either) touched on something we experienced in the past and all the emotion from that is flowing from there through a wormhole into the present so, having taken this moment to pause, observe what is going on inside ourselves, observe them (their body language, their face, their words) and reflect we might decide, “actually this is my shit, I am right back in primary school and that awful memory in Year 3” and share with the other person “oh my, when you did that I got a real ‘blast from the past’ when my teacher did x or y and shamed me [insert situation + person = emotion as appropriate] that I am feeling a bit wobbly, please give me a moment” and then we stand a chance of getting what we need, an empathic soothing “OMG what a bitch / bastard they were to you”.
Equally we may think “no, actually, I think if anyone was in this situation they would agree that actually it is the other person’s shit” in which case the fact you have taken that pause to observe what is going on in you means you are in a much better state to give them the benefit of the doubt and say “oo, I am not quite sure I got you there, please would you say that again” giving them the chance to say “yeah, I am so sorry that came out all wrong, what I meant was….” or say the same thing and then you can think “am I prepared to go to the mat on this or might it be they have just had a different upbringing and set of experiences that have brought them to this moment with that attitude and, you know what, it’s not worth any consequences that might arise from engaging, I’m going to let it go”.
Either way we are reflecting then acting rather than reacting (and the good thing about that is we are less likely to OVER-react).
So, next time you feel an emotional motorcycle courier pulling up beside you in response to something someone says, does or does NOT do (not holding the door open for you a real hot one here!) consider pausing, letting it kick down the side-stand, hand you the envelope, opening it, reading what your motorcycle courier emotion is trying to tell you and create a bit of space in which you can choose what you do (or don’t do) next.
Claire Dyson is a BACP accredited Integrative Relational Counsellor based on the outskirts of Weybridge, Surrey. Claire helps individuals, couples and those seeking freedon from eating they experience as compulsive, addictive even, through her practice Untangle Your Life. To find out more please visit http://www.untangleyourlife.co.uk, call +44 (0)7950 986 085 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you.
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