Posts Tagged ‘feelings’

There are times when the reactions we get from others make us either upset or angry, or both. I am going to suggest something difficult to accept: that we may have contributed to our own discomfort. This is not an easy idea to accommodate. My theory about our contribution is that I think we actually get something from the outrage we feel – I haven’t ever fully understood the “brown stamps” concept in transactional analysis but maybe my pattern is an illustration of what other people manage to articulate more succinctly with that concept.

You do, say or write something; someone responds in a way that you find unpleasant, upsetting, infuriating, unjust … all the things you associate with feelings you prefer not to experience. You feel outraged and possibly misunderstood. You relate the story to someone else, the metamessage being, “Isn’t it unfair? Haven’t I been mistreated here?” You feel righteous in your indignation. With a bit of luck (from your point of view), the person you relate the story to says, “Absolutely!”, “It’s awful!” or similar, so that your righteous indignation feels endorsed and justified. You then go on to repeat the experience … over and over again.

If you really are lucky, however, at some point you will get a challenge rather than an endorsement. I put it that way because I think, in my own case, I have to take some responsibility here and I’d like to try to change my pattern. My feelings have not occurred as a consequence of a situation with no input from me. Whether I like it or not, I have actually gone to the playing field and put myself on it. Maybe I didn’t learn the rules of the game first. Or maybe I made the assumption that I simply could play, could handle the game and be good at it, just because that was what I wanted. Sticking with the analogy, maybe I then found that the way I played the game meant I didn’t score any goals, I got injured, or I got pulled up for fouls and got sent off. In other words, maybe my approach was ineffective or at any rate yielded the opposite of what I intended. What to do?

I think there are various strategies to consider. Some are:

  • Get tougher and roll with the proverbial punches (with apologies for the mixed metaphor!)
  • Commit fewer fouls and therefore get penalised less often
  • Learn to take evading action so that you get tackled less and maybe both avoid injury and get to score.

(This is obviously not an exhaustive list.)

What you do in real life, rather than in the game analogy, depends on what you really want. If the bottom line is that you want to have a story to tell like-minded people, who will empathise with your outrage and agree with your response to it, you will keep doing the same thing and put up with the discomfort of getting there. If not, you have to change something.

I’ve decided that the fun of telling the story is punctured too much by the feelings I have to go through to get to tell it (remember this is cyclical; if you do the same thing, you’re likely to get the same result). I’ve also always found “learning to roll with the punches” more desirable than achievable – call it frailty of character if you like, I just know I don’t find it easy. So I’m going to try to go for sparing myself the feelings in the first place and foregoing the fun of telling the story. Another way of putting it is that I’m going to try to take responsibility for how I feel, and do something about my contribution to that, rather than engineering righteous outrage at how I contend someone else has “made” me feel.

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I spent years trying to “create my own reality” and feeling slightly frustrated at the fact that all my reality creation didn’t seem to be affecting my reality that much and was actually making me feel worse for the fact that I thought I must be doing something wrong. I’d got my head round the fact that my reality was my world as I saw it and experienced it, but it took a while for it to seep in that whilst I could certainly change my attitude to things that happened to and around me, there were plenty of things that I didn’t seem to have any control over at all.

Eventually I realised that actually what I wanted to be able to do was control events around me so that I could avoid negative feelings. Difficult. Difficult and counter-productive, not to mention a long way removed from reality. So I decided to start over and see whether I could get to a position that was more viable and connected with reality. The preface to Charlotte Joko Beck’s “Nothing Special: Living Zen” helpfully provided the following:

“Living Zen is nothing special: life as it is. Zen is life itself, nothing added. … When we seek … the fulfillment of our fantasies, we separate from the earth and sky, from our loved ones, from our aching backs and hearts, from the very soles of our feet. Such fantasies insulate us for a time; yet in ten thousand ways reality intrudes, and our lives become anxious scurrying, quiet desperation, confusing melodrama. Distracted and obsessed, striving for something special, we seek another place and time: not here, not now, not this…

“Living Zen means reversing our flight from nothingness, opening to the emptiness of here and now. Slowly, painfully, we reconcile to life. The heart sinks; hope dies. “Things are always just as they are”, observes Joko. This empty tautology is no counsel of despair, however, but an invitation to joy. … Abandoning magical thought, awakening to the magic of this moment, we realise in dynamic emptiness the grace of nothing special … living Zen.”

Steve Smith, Claremont, California, February 1993

Starting from the position that things are as they are is actually a better springboard than living in a castle in your head. Nobody is saying you shouldn’t think positive; nor is anyone suggesting you should catastrophise. But whatever you do, start by letting reality in. You’re going to have to let it in sooner or later, so why waste time, effort and feelings staving off the moment? I believe that seeing things as they are is better for you than insisting on believing them to be as you would like them to be. Sometimes reality is too harsh and too difficult to be let in all at once, but the door has to be ajar so that it can come in when you’re ready.

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