Keep me away from the wisdom which does not cry,
the philosophy which does not laugh
and the greatness which does not bow before children.
Most couples trip up because of emotional reactivity
Feelings and emotions are not quite the same thing, and so they need to be distinguished. If you feel love, appreciation, admiration for your partner, these arise in response to how you are choosing to view them and are generated by an upwelling of energy somewhere in your body. You may also feel an itch, the breeze blowing by, the clinging of clothes against your body – these are all sensations detected by the physical body. Any sensation felt in the body is a feeling if it is just energy coming and going.
If you block that energy by thinking about it, you will stop the flow, the energy will be held back in your body somewhere, and that block will be felt as an emotion. Most emotions we experience as adults are blocks caused by previous trauma – most likely in childhood. In fact most emotions reflect changes in our state of mind caused by triggering circumstances and are usually unconscious processes.In fact, most emotions are caused by minds that allow themselves to be taken on a journey of thought caused by whatever random events are currently occurring within the environment. Thus, the emotions you experience in your relationship are not caused by your partner, but retriggered by him/her.
Couples pay a heavy price for emotional illiteracy
Those who are not well connected to their emotions pay heavily for this. It costs them in their relationships and may even ruin other aspects of their lives. Relationship is all about connecting with others, and requires us to be able to empathise with the feeling states of others which we can only do if we are literate in the emotion they are experiencing. To be aware of what others are experiencing emotionally requires that we are able to put ourselves in their shoes whilst withholding any reaction we may have to their reactivity. This requires emotional self-management and an ability to exercise control over what we perceive as unfairness, injustice, criticism, or lack of appreciation.
Emotions and feelings alert you to your inner world
In those parts of the world where emotions are understood to be a valuable part of the human experience, emotions are treated as friends, guides, and a support towards knowing who we are. Emotions there are not sidelined or ignored, and are understood to have a central role in healthy living.The role of emotions then is to alert us to what we want or don’t want. We get into relationships, buy a house, choose a job because these feel good to us. We leave them when the good times – and good feelings – seem to have deserted us. However, what few realise, is that those feelings are not so much caused by others as they are caused by parts of self we may have little awareness of.
Emotionally literate couples fare better
Research tells us that people who are aware of their emotions, accepting of them, and able to express them tend to be more successful both socially and academically. Ironically, the converse is also true. People who grow up with healthy interpersonal relationships in their childhood, develop neural pathways in their brain which enhances their ability to manage emotion and to socialise generally. Successful couples process emotions with each other because they offer a ‘read-out’ on what is happening within the relationship. Couples who are not successful rarely do this, and as a result extreme emotions take over – resentment, frustration and anger. These secondary emotions (they are triggered by earlier feelings) follow other primary feelings (such as hurt, fear, sadness defensiveness or shame) which are frequently overlooked, ignored or denied – possibly because there is no awareness of the need to express them (or even awareness that they exist) at all.
Couples allow themselves to sink into an emotion-thought loop
Not only do emotions affect our mental state, which in turn influences our perception, but also our thinking is then influenced by the perception we have chosen. This creates a loop, negative or positive, which some individuals allow to take them in a downward spiral lasting several days. Once we have got into a rut of thought that leads to a particular emotion, then the emotion itself can generate the negative thinking. If for example we have been thinking painful thoughts of rejection, hurt or disappointment about our partner, we may be triggered into that pain just by seeing them again, with no new thought present at all. Alternatively, the pain we experience may trigger a deluge of thoughts. For many people who experience repeated emotion of one type, such as anxiety, the thought-emotion bridge is so well cemented into their subconscious, that either will trigger the other. Candace Pert has demonstrated that our thoughts directly generate chemicals which are picked up by cells in our body and then register as e- motion. The cells send an electrical message to the brain. We experience that message as an emotion, so what we feel really is energy-in-motion. The diagram below demonstrates shows this mind-emotion connection in action.
The main reason our thoughts jump around so much is because we have desires, defences, and needs we are not always aware of. Desire, need and wants basically drive our thinking. The stronger these energies are, the stronger our thinking, and the stronger our thoughts, the stronger our emotions become. Because most people are not well connected to their needs, especially those that have been unmet (unconsciously) for years, it is easy for us to react when another behaves in such a way as to ensure those needs continue to be left unmet.
Learn about yourself so you can relate functionally
No-one can make you feel anything. Any emotional reaction you have is yours and yours alone. It will always tell you about your past history, especially childhood reactive patterns. Emotions tell us the truth of what is happening in our inner reality, the way we are perceiving (often habitually), and what we do and don’t like/want. We usually avoid actions that will bring us discomfort, and behave in ways that will ensure pleasure. Thus, our blocks in life are emotions we don’t want to experience, so we avoid those actions that will bring us such emotions. Thus, we may avoid saying loving things to our partner if doing so leaves us a little embarrassed. Similarly we may choose to be passive to another’s actions if by doing so we can avoid an argument. Emotional reactivity, then, can prevent us behaving functionally not because doing so is dangerous or unwise, but because we don’t want to feel certain feelings. This is especially true of Avoidant Insecure types who relating style has evolved so as to avoid feeling too much. The ability then to utilise, manage, express and be motivated by emotion is a pre-requisite to becoming a fully functioning and healthy human being. To suppress, deny, ignore or distort our emotional reality is a symptom of our inability, fear or unwillingness to be a fully functional human. Our emotions, then, alert us to ‘perceived’ problems, rarely real ones because of their earlier connections to unsafe situations. As adults, we cannot afford to keep reacting to either our own emotions or those of others. It is time to manage our unconscious self, or it will sabotage the loving connections we want with others.
Negative emotions can be a killer
If negative emotions are running your life, not only will you often feel rather strung out, but you will also be feeling drained. Negative emotions like sadness, fear, anxiety, boredom and shame produce what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls ‘psychic entropy’ in the mind. This is a state in which we cannot use our attention effectively because we are too busy trying to restore equilibrium in our minds, and waste vast amounts of energy worrying or angsting as our head spins with all that we are thinking about. This is hell on earth. Ask anyone who has chosen depressing or being anxious to cope with life.