Have you ever react to something at work, with your partner, on Facebook or in your neighborhood when your reaction was “WAY OUT THERE” and you embarrassed yourself? You came off as overly angry or aggressive and were blindsided by where all that emotion came from. Most of us have had this experience and it is often a surprise and uncomfortable. And more importantly, it can even be damaging to our relationships.
Research into what triggers emotional reactions, suggests that often we react to a current event with the emotion of a past “unfinished emotional event”. James Hillman, a Jungian psychologist and author, is quoted as saying,
“If you are still being hurt by an event that happened to you at twelve, it is the thought that is hurting you now.”
If you consider his idea – maybe your “intense reaction” was about your past. Most of us would agree that our past influences who we are and our current beliefs. Consider for a minute maybe something you are carrying from your past influences you more than is in your awareness. Most of us have those events that hang on in subtle ways.
An inventory into today’s feeling may give a clue as to where it came from in our past. Was there a time when you were younger that you felt this way? Spend a minute remembering the old event. When that past feeling arose, did you feel you had some control of the situation? Did you have the help you needed to deal with the event? Answering “no” to either question may be a key to the feelings today. Either unmet need can leave an “unfinished emotional event”.
When we feel powerless, unheard or attacked in the present, often the emotions from the past are triggered and are not consistent with the current situation. I think of it as the valance is wrong. It is the reaction to the event that is out of balance. A likely cause is we are emotionally reliving the past event and not reacting to the weight of the present situation.
OK, what do you do with the awareness? Our stored emotional history is important or should be not stuffed away as “old stuff”. As men, a frequent reaction to this awareness is to squelch the current feeling and label it as inappropriate. A better response is to take a minute for introspection and understand what it is that you need right here, right now. Is it help that you need? Maybe it is a feeling of needing more control of the situation. Maybe it is a need to be heard. If our goal is happiness and connection to others then all of these awareness’s are great feedback for us in understanding what it is we need. Armed with the awareness we can seek to get our current needs meet.
In fact sometimes just understanding the link to our past eases the discomfort of the “now” situation and allows us to work toward getting what we need.