Emotions arise spontaneously and accurately mirror your interior world at that moment in time. Emergency feelings emerge in response to perceived threats to your wellbeing; the word ‘perceived’ meaning that what determines each person’s response to an emotional or sexual or physical or intellectual or social threat is the level of security felt within. In other words, one person’s emotional response to the same criticism can be totally different to another’s. This latter phenomenon is very evident in classrooms where teachers’ shouting affects each child differently. This shows that each child’s unique response is a function of his or her level of emotional security and that the teacher’s shouting, whilst always threatening in nature to children’s wellbeing, is not the direct cause of a particular child’s response. It is paramount that the teacher examines what is within him that is giving rise to his shouting and to take responsibility to resolve that inner turmoil. It is equally crucial to examine each child’s emotional reaction – particularly those children who feel most distressed – so that the child can be more empowered to withstand the teacher’s threatening behaviour. The most important question to ask the child is: what do you feel when the teacher shouts? Similarly, the teacher needs to be asked the question: what are you feeling when you start shouting? Feelings are our most accurate barometer and are designed to alert to the threats that are present, to the fearfulness within and to the need for resolution.
The distinction between emergency and welfare feelings is an important one. Emergency emotions, for example, fear, anger, sadness, guilt, jealousy, disgust – alert to the reality that there is some relationship emergency that is happening and the need to take action in the face of the present threat to wellbeing. When the person at the receiving end of the threatening behaviour is quite solid and secure, the emergency feeling will prompt an assertive safeguarding action to reduce or eliminate the threat. For example, if your boss reads you the riot act in front of your colleagues, you will respond quite definitely: ‘John, two things, one when you need to talk to me about an issue that is upsetting you, please do so with me in private and two, talk about what unmet needs you have rather than being verbally aggressive.’ This is a rare response; the more common response is to feel angry, put down, humiliated and, either to attack back or swallow down what you are feeling and passively take the verbal tirade or to get up and remove yourself from the scene. When you passively remove yourself from the scene, you are spilling the beans on how you are removed from respect and care for Self. Equally, when you attack back or later gossip maliciously about your boss, you are in a disconnected place within. Whatever the defensive response is, there is an urgency for you to find the support to reclaim that care of Self so that the threatening responses of others are no longer tolerated by you. In asserting boundaries around your dignity, be sure you do not become a source of threat to another. For example, tone of voice is an important factor in the confrontation as much of the trouble in the world is due to the tone of the voice.
All emergency emotions are created to move you in the direction of wellbeing. However, when you are operating from an inner place of fearfulness, necessarily your response to emergency feelings will be to blame Self or another, or to dilute or to neutralise or to displace or to modify or to suppress as follows:
- blame Self – ‘I’m so pathetic’
- blame another – ‘You make me angry’
- to dilute – ‘It’s not as bad as I think it is’
- neutralise – ‘What I’m feeling is no different to anybody else’
- displace – ‘The house is driving me crazy or ‘It’s probably due to something that I ate.’
- modify – ‘I’m not really feeling depressed; probably just a little down in myself’
- suppress – ‘what I’m feeling is ridiculous; ‘I’m just going to ignore it’
All the above defensive responses will result in the emergency feeling increasing in frequency, intensity and endurance in order to bring attention to the real movement that is being called for. It is critical that the person seeks the support and help to take the authentic actions to bring about feelings of wellbeing. When welfare feelings - joy, love, confidence, aliveness, enthusiasm – become the more frequent and persistent feelings, then the emergency feelings have achieved their goal.
Dr. Tony Humphreys is a clinical psychologist and author of The Power of ‘Negative’ Thinking.