‘Well, maybe it’s a good thing, that you had to give up your business. Perhaps now you can find a real job.’
The friend relating how much this comment (by someone he trusted and admired) hurt and angered him was full of apology, even though I completely agreed with him. I would have felt just as patronised and offended if someone close to me said this.
And, like him, I would have soon gone the other way.
‘Oh but I shouldn’t get angry, it’s not so bad. I can understand where they’re coming from. I always get so upset about nothing.’
But it’s not nothing.
So the reasons we feel hurt come up again and this time they hurt a bit more because now we feel reproached by ourselves too. We think we’re arguing with the person who upset us, but really we’re arguing with our own beliefs.
If we didn’t somewhere deep down believe something similar, what people say would have no power over us.
The part that feels undervalued feels disapproved of by the part that’s slightly embarrassed about insisting on being valued. The part that feels pride and accomplishment reacts to that. Which might trigger the ashamed – but who am I to think I’m special – part.
The beliefs we trigger
We have beliefs about what we should or shouldn’t be and we have needs that frequently conflict with this.
So these thoughts stemming from conflicting beliefs lead to emotions and more thoughts. All triggering each other and often in a very familiar pattern. They repeat until we can truly see them.
That’s both the curse and the blessing.
They’ll keep returning, like children desperate for attention, and they won’t leave us alone until they’re seen and acknowledged. Once this happens, their intensity wanes.
We don’t often get to this point though.
The see saw
The dynamic of triggering a thought and emotion on the opposite side of the argument, back and forth like a see saw, makes it harder to reach a resolution.
Beliefs take turns so quickly we don’t have time to completely listen to any of them.
We swiftly go from what we perceive to be one understanding, reasonable response to one indignant, self affirming response, and back again. Both sides equally valid.
Valid because we are experiencing them.
That’s our current reality and invalidating them will just add another voice to the mix. There’s a root belief to each thought and telling ourselves we shouldn’t feel this way is just another belief.
We see this as quite normal, rational behaviour, seeing different perspectives and putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes. Which is true, this is obviously valuable.
But when the mechanism leads to escalating inner conflict rather than insight and letting go, we end up making ourselves feel worse. And we often see no way out of it.
Seeing through to the end
So what can we do? One way to increase the chance of seeing so clearly that we can let go is to let those feelings stay longer.
This takes some courage.
To allow a feeling we’re not completely comfortable with, like indignant anger, to express itself and potentially grow, is scary. It’s much safer to let it vent briefly and immediately retreat to the opposite side, where we feel like composed, well behaved people.
Not letting a feeling go far enough helps us manage what we feel but it also makes it hard to understand it and accept it.
There’s a reason we limit ourselves of course. Emotion can escalate when we feed it, so we need some way of tending the fire. Instead of cutting it short we can explore an attitude of curiosity, of observing with openness.
To let each side speak and really listen. To not immediately react.
Easier said than done but the following may help.
Slowing the see saw
1. Calm down the body first. Give yourself some moments to wind down and just be. You may want to immerse yourself in your senses to get out of your head. You may want to slow and deepen your breaths. Whatever works for you.
2. Write it out. Sticking to one thought at a time is easier in writing so you can let it finish speaking before you move on. Seeing thoughts for what they are is clearer too once they’re no longer swimming around in your head.
3. Include everything in the experience. There will be some beliefs coming up that feel unacceptable, like the intensely self critical. Rejecting these and trying to keep them out of your experience will start up the see saw again. So just allow the self criticism in. Without much ado, let it be included with the rest. Eventually it too will mellow when it no longer faces resistance.
4. Accept that things like engrained thought patterns don’t change overnight but with each time you slow down and listen, observe, the inner conflict will be less and it will become easier to let go more.