I’ve been pondering a subject for a little while, mainly because it took me until I was 38 to have the a-ha moment. You see, I like to think I am in touch with my emotions. Sure, I think we all are to a certain extent, but I think we’re good at labelling emotions, not necessarily understanding why we feel them.
I know a few people will be rolling their eyes thinking – well duh, when I stub my toe I feel pain. When someone dies I feel sad, I think that’s pretty obvious. However, some of our emotions are a little more complex and can lead to blaming. They have layers, and I think understanding those layers can help you navigate life in a more fulfilling way.
You might think this one is pretty simple. If you feel fear then you are scared of something. However, why do we feel it? Sure it’s a great emotion to feel when you are faced with a grizzly bear or a tiger, but what about in day to day stuff?
I am very scared of telling people how I feel about them – even my closest friends. I’d never really thought about what that was showing me, but essentially as a bit of a control freak telling someone how you feel gives them the power to hurt you. Why would you think that about someone you love? I was bullied, not by strangers on the playground, but by my closest friend. I am convinced that if I tell people I love them, behind my back they are making fun of me.
Knowing this taught me a lot. It taught me that showing I care about someone should not be poked fun at, and if they ridicule me behind my back for caring, then they are not worthy of my care. I can walk away from that person, or change where they sit in the priorities of my life. But saying out loud that I care about someone, also shows me that this person is important to me and I don’t need to protect myself from that. It shows my capacity to care, my capacity to give, and by being scared of that person ridiculing me or pushing me away, is not a fear of intimacy, it is a fear of rejection.
If we live our lives in fear of rejection then we would never get close to anyone. So my fear shows me that human relationships – genuine, caring, reciprocal human relationships are important to me. I strive for nothing less since making that discovery, therefore it is a beautiful thing to be shown how important healthy relationships are. I found that all out through facing my fear of rejection.
You might think that anger is simply that someone has annoyed you. But why have they annoyed you?
For me, anger is a way to not get hurt. It is my vulnerability shield. If I react with anger, then I am angry and I am not hurting. If someone dies we get angry at the world, if someone is not giving you attention we get angry with that person, if you get stuck behind a slow car you get angry at the driver in the car. Really what purpose does the anger serve other than to deflect our own pain/frustration?
A prime example is someone I was dating was not showing me a lot of interest. I would try to set up meeting her again and she would say things like: ‘oh I’m sorry I am really busy for like the next 6 weeks,’ and there would be no suggestion of an alternative date or explanation as to why she was busy for the next 6 weeks.
I was hurt because this was clear evidence she didn’t care for me the same way. Rather than feeling the hurt – I got angry that she wasn’t interested in me. When you think about that sentence it is completely illogical.
Why can’t she just tell me she doesn’t feel the same? Why is she so busy? Why is she not moving things around for me? Why doesn’t she like me? What is wrong with me? These are all unhealthy angry thoughts when I should have realised I was hurting because I had been rejected. I felt shame for liking someone who didn’t like me, and I was scared that I was unlovable. Why did I feel all those things? Because I wanted a healthy loving relationship. There is no shame, no fear, and no way you can be unlovable when you think like that.
Blame (I know this is not an emotion but bear with me)
One of my favourite people, Brené Brown, discusses this a fair bit. Blame is essentially a verbal vomit of your pain and discomfort at another human being. The main reason we do it is due to a lack of accountability, either taking it ourselves or holding someone else accountable. It’s a vulnerable process to work through why you’re blaming someone, and it is damaging to our relationships if we do not lean into that vulnerability.
For example, I was once absolutely raging that someone was promoted over me. I’d never reacted that way before and I was a little shocked at my reaction, so I decided it was my bosses fault and I blamed her for making an awful decision. It was easier to discharge that pain upon her than to look at why it angered me so much.
The truth is I had become friends with the person that was promoted, and through that friendship I saw the toxic person they were and the bullying behaviours they displayed. I was embarrassed by the fact that I had allowed myself to become friends with them, but also that I had stood by and not called out those behaviours to management previously. Ultimately I would have to hold myself accountable for the reason why he got promoted, it wasn’t even the fact he was promoted over me, it was the fact it highlighted some poor life choices in myself. I felt tremendously guilty once I watched some talks by Brené Brown for blaming my boss, it wasn’t her fault at all.
The flip side, is sometimes we can blame a friend or a partner for something rather than sitting down with them and saying ‘hey, when you did this it really hurt.’ Then putting ourselves through the vulnerable process of working that through together. Again it is much easier to ‘blame’ them for something they did, rather than discuss why what they did hurt you and work it out.
If we choose blame then we choose not to learn and grow – we choose to feel the anger and fear instead. Blame is giving other people the steering wheel. Brené is right, I would rather hold myself accountable and be totally in control of my life. There is enough uncertainty in the world without adding to it.
Ok, but what is the positive in this?
Sometimes when we get angry we want to hurt someone the way we are hurting. When we are scared we want to run from the thing we want the most. When we blame we want to run from the hurt, expel the anger and not lean into the fear.
When you are hurting, you have to acknowledge why and then you move away from the thing that’s hurting you. If someone kept hitting your hand with a hammer you wouldn’t keep it there. And you get no joy, or no solution to the pain in your hand by hitting the person back with the hammer. It’s the same with people and expelling anger.
When you are scared, you have to work out what you are scared of and why you are scared of it. If a block of gold was at the top of a mountain, and you could see it then you would climb that mountain and get it. If that block of gold was on the same mountain, but you couldn’t see it, you would be afraid of the obstacles in the way, the hard work to get there and of failing. It’s the same with life, you have a goal and you should do what you can to get there, no matter how scared you are and even if it seems implausible to get it.
Fear and anger ultimately show you what you love and what your passions are in life. If you can get to the root of them, then they show you what you really want.
When you are blaming you are refusing to learn from your fear and anger. When you feel yourself starting to blame someone for something you have to work out why and be accountable or hold the other person accountable. If a book fell off a shelf and hit you on the head, you wouldn’t shout at the book and blame it for falling on your head (ok, I confess, sometimes I would). You would take the time to work out why it fell on your head, then put steps in place to stop it happening again – if that didn’t work, you would move the book.
Blaming stops you from learning, growing and is corrosive to relationships. Blaming shows you that something has failed, if you choose not to blame and instead look at what caused the problem/hurt or pain… then you learn and grow, both yourself and your relationships.
Most of the above stems from not wanting to fail, not wanting to be rejected and not wanting to look foolish – we all want to be accepted and loved, and that is a beautiful human trait.
If you think that running around being angry, pushing people away, and putting on a bravado show rather than admitting how you feel is protecting yourself and therefore you are happier – you are wrong. I’ll leave it to J.K. Rowling to explain the rest (you can replace the word failing with being rejected or looking foolish with the same sentiment)…
‘It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.’