Operation Project or Deflect
CHAPTER 7 Operation Project or Deflect
Improving our feelings vocabulary (and using it) isn’t the only challenge where feelings are concerned. They’re also hard at work trying to “protect” you in another way. Sometimes, emotions serve as a smokescreen. Their job in this case is to conceal your less pleasant feelings, the ones that make you uncomfortable. Sometimes they are being hidden from others, but quite often, they are being hidden from you. They are masters of disguise. They mercifully lead us by the hand, right down the path of least resistance: avoidance. To further explain what I mean, let’s revisit our old friend anger.
I’d like you to recall a time when you were really, really angry. I mean, really mad. Go ahead, take a moment to locate a specific memory. Try to clearly recall the intensity of the emotion, and the circumstances associated with it. Now, as you reflect on that experience, take a peek behind your metaphoric “emotional curtain.” Is it possible though you were feeling angry at the time, you actually (or potentially, later) had a deeper, less available feeling of…humiliation? Shame? Guilt? In this case, anger is a primary emotion. It’s how we protect ourselves when a secondary emotion is much less welcome…. Keep in mind, your brain is perpetually at work, protecting you. This includes protecting your sense of identity.
Directing an emotion like anger outward is much less threatening to our sense of self than exploring feelings of guilt or shame (those being the secondary emotions in this example), for example. If I’m feeling angry at someone else, what I believe about me remains intact. In that moment, when you take cover behind a primary emotion, you’re executing an effective, albeit pretty problematic, strategy of self-defense. Unfortunately, until some light is shed on the underlying issue, we’re likely to stay feeling (feel free to insert any negative emotion here).