I often say to clients that the real drama in our lives isn’t the one in our daily experience, but the one going on behind the scenes in the subconscious. We often get clues about that drama, but unless we know how to decipher them, it’s like trying to read a coded message literally, taking the words at face value.
Recently, someone became enraged during a quiet conversation where differences of opinion were being discussed. This individual threatened to walk out, saying the conversation was unnecessary. Other participants were shocked into silence. Taken at face value, one could assume any number of possibilities. This person felt insulted, uncomfortable with conflict, wasn’t feeling well or was in a bad mood. Any one may have been correct. But when intense emotion is expressed, it may also indicate that a long-forgotten memory has been tapped, unconnected to momentary events.
Every day, things happen that we don’t like. It may be current events, the behavior of children, or a conversation with a spouse, relative or friend. Mostly, we experience mild annoyance, but move on to the next thing calling for our attention. But sometimes our reactions are inexplicable, even to ourselves. The intensity of the emotion we are feeling – fear, hurt, anger or even rage – may be objectively out of proportion to the event that triggered it. We may find ourselves in the midst of a hurtful argument and feel like breaking something, running out the door, or just screaming. Whoever is present may be asking “Who is this person? Do I know her? What’s come over her?”
If we were to investigate, we might discover that this unknown person is actually a fearful, hurt or angry child that has broken through the barriers of our consciousness, responding to an adult situation with the skill set of a 6 year old. Knowing this helped me decipher my friend’s rage – I may have been in the presence of a 6 year old having a temper tantrum.
Daily, we encounter experiences of intense emotion or inexplicable behavior, even with people we don’t know. We see irritated drivers on the road, impatient people cutting lines getting on the bus or at markets, and rudeness and anger expressed towards check-out clerks or secretaries.
With strangers, we are rarely motivated to try and understand their behavior. With family and friends, and mostly with ourselves, we often want to understand what is happening. What is the source of strong feelings leading to sometimes confusing behavior?
To get clear about the feelings and the behavior, it is helpful to look into a time and place that we are not used to examining closely. We have to go back to our childhood, not with our cognitive mind, but with our feeling mind. We have to trace back the feelings to try and understand the circumstances in which we first experienced them.
When someone cuts in front of me in line and instead of feeling mildly annoyed, I am feeling enraged, and begin shouting, I can attempt to discover the source of these intense feelings. When I am calmer and away from the situation, I can close my eyes and connect to the feeling of rage. I can ask myself, “When, earlier in my life, did I feel such strong anger?” I can ask myself when anger was connected to someone moving into my personal space, or trying to get to something I wanted before I did. As I ask myself questions, images may pop into my head from my childhood. They may seem unrelated, but the feelings I recall may be very familiar. I can ask myself what thoughts or beliefs I developed then about myself or the world.
There may be surprises for me, as I get in touch with beliefs that unknowingly lie behind my adult reactions to annoying situations. Getting in touch with the thoughts and beliefs of my inner child may take the intensity out of what I am now feeling. Acknowledging the child within can remind me to let the adult take back control of my life. I wouldn’t want a 6 year old managing my bank account, nor any aspect of my emotional life. The adult I am is certainly wiser and more capable. By wandering back in time to the events of my childhood, I can check out old thoughts and beliefs that no longer serve me, adjust them to match my adult perceptions, and free myself of inappropriate responses to events in my life.