Lecture 4 - The Emotion Process of Hurtful Events (Part 1)
When we are hurt, the anger rises. This is okay; anger is just the messenger that there is danger, it is an internal emotion and not the outward behavior. But what we need to do is step away from the event, calm down, and then deal with the actual event and the real issues. Painful things want to distract us, but they aren’t supposed to be in charge of your life. Rather, we should not blast off but rather manage our emotions. We walk in the same direction, day after day, and eventually we will reach our destination.
I have been talking to you about forgiveness and why forgiveness is important. One of the other ways that I think about it sometimes is in regards to focus. I remember when my son was playing basketball and his team was ranked two in the province and they were heading to the provincial tournament. After one of their practices the coach spoke to them saying, ‘when you are on the court, the guys that play are the ones that you are focused on right now. This isn’t about yesterday or an hour ago; it is about now. So the focus is the things that influence me today and what I am allowing to influence me today? I am not talking about forgetting your background and history. But when we have other people and other things determining the impact of our lives, particularly people who have created major problems in our lives; putting them in charge is not the direction you want to go. A certain person in my life decided that he would hike the Pacific Crest Trail. I didn’t know what that was. This is a trail that starts at the US – Mexico border and ends about ten miles north of the US – Canada border in the mountains. This is a long trail of course; about 2,600 miles or 4,400 kilometers. I wondered how a person would do this, exactly. About five hundred people start this every year and only about one hundred twenty people finish it. It takes six month altogether. It took my friend a year just to plan the hike. He was walking about eighteen to twenty miles a day. They start in April or early May because of the weather being what it is, with heat and snow, etc. You simply walk in the same direction every day and you eventually get there. Our life is like that and there are things that come up that push us off the track. These things are painful and problematic and they are huge but they are not built to be in charge of our lives. That is not how it works. This is part of the context of forgiveness. The things that we face aren’t meant to be in charge of us.
2. What Happens to Us?
So there is stuff that goes on outside and then there is stuff that goes on inside when these things happen? This is the emotional process of hurtful events. I want to describe what I think that looks like when those things happen. This is somewhat of a linear description. In a graph, the horizontal axis would be time with the vertical axis being the intensity of emotion and zero would be on the bottom and ten would place you fairly high. Using an event, I mean anything that happens that affects you and when that event happens, by definition there is an emotional impact. It does something inside. These emotions could include sadness, being alone, being disappointed, being anxious, feeling left out or put down and so the list goes on. But the event happens and has an emotional impact on us and that sometimes is simply and easily absorbed.
3. It is Normal to Experience Emotion is regards to any Event?
Some things just aren’t a big deal in life. We may think about it one or two times but then it’s forgotten. Or it is the kind of impact that doesn’t go away. It can be fairly large. When the impact is huge, we have what is called ‘what’s next?’
4. What’s Next?
What’s next is often fear. Like, what is going to happen to me? And when we are hurt and afraid and don’t know what to do, then we have anger which is a secondary emotion. What you know by definition is that hurt, pain, emotion; that impacts on you. That is what is sitting there and underneath. When I used the word anger, this is what’s going on inside of me only. So, if I am angry by my terms, you probably can’t see anything. I’m separating the emotion from the behavior because I’m not demonstrating any behavior. What I mean by anger is the thing that goes on inside. So there is the event; it impacts us and we experience an emotion or range of emotions and some we absorb and never think about it again. Or the impact is really huge, the anger follows. The time frame can be really short; it doesn’t take long to get from a 2 on the chart up to a 9 on the chart.
5. What Do You Experience at the Point of Anger?
A. Physiological impact
There are a number of things going on in reaching a certain point in regards to anger. For example, there is a range of physiological responses. So the intensity is up and you are going to tense up; not because you feel threatened or threatening; you might feel tight in the chest and you might be breathing deeply and your focus narrows. My view of the world narrows down dramatically. I lose perspective when the intensity goes up. I’m not saying that is wrong or don’t lose perspective; I just saying that is what happens. And part of the meaning is; it feels pretty intense for you. You are losing tract of everything else. It is a hard thing to know when you are losing perspective. How do you learn to see better in the dark? This is part of the meaning that the intensity is going up. That is part of the picture. And if somebody says that we are losing that perspective, we may angrily or irrationally respond to them. So there are some physiological aspects that go on at that point.
B. Cognitive impact
There are also some cognitive aspects that happen also. We all say things to our own selves during these times. So, the intensity goes up and I think or say that you don’t care or it doesn’t matter; I have had enough or you think that people are doing this purposely to you, to upset you. These are automatic thoughts when your emotions are intense. This is part of what happens.
6. At this Point, You Have A Choice
Am I going to blast off in behavior or am I going to manage my emotions? What I have described to you, up until now, is all internal. I’m angry but I’m not doing behavior. Sitting under the anger are other emotions. If your fourteen year old is out later than they are supposed to be and they know it, there are emotions going on; perhaps anxiety, fear, a whole range of things. And then they come home; while on one hand there is relief but on the other hand you really want to tell them what you think. The anger is secondary stuff that shows up and what the conversation is about. It is about the anger. You are scaring me! We had an agreement and you tell them what your anxiety is and for them, it’s not a problem. The anger is what is underneath. We need to be able to live our lives in a way where those kinds of things are addressed. So we have a choice, am I going to blast off and do behavior or do the alternative, manage my emotion. What do you mean? I don’t mean problem solving; I mean getting myself settled so that I can handle it. This isn’t fixing anything; this is simply taking charge of me, because what happened if I go into behavior? People look at my behavior. My kids say, ‘dad, you are flipping out!’ So, where is the focus? It’s on my behavior. So, when we do the behavior, we actually do ourselves a disservice because now there is something going on, the event has happened. But then we blast off and now the focus is on us and most people aren’t interested and will not go there. Let’s compare this to this: I’m going to manage my behavior and I’m going to get the intensity down in some way. So something that started as a 2 on the chart might ends up as a 9 and when we are on a 9, it is difficult to manage the behavior. For example, a friend of my asked me to help him to drive in snow and ice; I simply suggested that they not spin out first and go slow. So when you are at 9 on the chart, it is really difficult to manage. Above that, there isn’t much you can do for younger people, especially those who go to a 14.
The option is to identify when we are moving in that direction. When I start breathing a certain way and doing things a little different, knowing what that, is starting to manage yourself at that point. So, it is going back to those cognitive and physiological pieces, seeing those indicators when the intensity starts to rise. I’m not talking about marketing calmness. If I tell you to be calm, then that says not to be passionate about anything. Remember, anger means that something is going on. So, this isn’t about calmness, it is about managing me and not letting others be in charge of me and getting the intensity down. So what does this look like? We know when we are increasing on the chart, we will look upset. So, we need to know this about ourselves and this involves in knowing what is important for me. We don’t usually feel strong about things unless we are passionate about them. We need to recognize intensity because the result of that is bad behavior. You can be angry about things without bad behavior by understanding that there is an intensity issue.