If you have negative feelings you can’t ‘get rid of’ you’ll find an unlikely explanation for them in this post, if you read it carefully. Left alone, they can easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Most of us confuse cause and effect when it comes to emotions. Let me explain.
Fear, guilt, anger, jealousy and so forth are not caused by the typical things to which we attribute them. For example, if you have a fear of birds, the bird is not causing your fear, even though it feels that way. In reality, your pre-programmed tendency toward fear causes the bird to appear dangerous. Then, fear manifests.
Let’s call the tendency toward fear an ‘original feeling’.
You picked up the original fear in the past, most likely, when you had a scary experience (that you may have repressed). Maybe your older brother put on a freaky bird mask and scared you to death when you were five years old. Since then, forget birds!
In this case, the original fear becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, ready to erupt whenever birds are present.
If this concept only applied to phobias, life would be much simpler, but other emotions follow suit. Anger, jealousy, guilt, shame, humiliation, rejection, frustration, overwhelm and many other negative states work this way.
Suppose I was betrayed in the past and now have a hard time trusting. Whenever my wife is speaking to other men, I am consumed with jealousy, even though nothing ‘bad’ is happening. I can’t help but see flirtation all around.
My original jealousy is running the show. I haven’t fully processed what happened to me in the past (so I am not really over it).
That original jealousy now colors my perception. I go into new situations with a bias, interpreting my wife’s interactions as flirtatious. She may not be flirting, but I am pre-programmed. To me, she’s flirting no matter what she does.
• With original anger, we tend to see injustice.
• With original rejection, we tend to see others judging us.
• With original shame, we tend to see others as near perfect and ourselves unworthy.
• With original guilt, we tend to see what we’ve done wrong.
In every case, what we’re perceiving could be completely inaccurate. Still, we see it because of past experience that determines our perceptual filters in the present.
These unresolved original feelings, in others words, are seeking expression. It’s as if they want to erupt in every situation that can possibly be interpreted as relevant.
Resolution and relief don’t happen in the outside world. Going back to the jealousy scenario, I could ask my wife to tone down her energy when talking to men, but that wouldn’t help. I could demand that she avoid talking to men, period. But it wouldn’t work.
She isn’t the cause. I’d still find a way to feel jealous no matter what she was doing because the jealousy is a prejudice inside of me that is actively seeking expression.
The solution to chronic negative feelings involves transforming the original feeling. Here’s an example from a former client, whom I will call Ted.
Ted told consistent white lies to his wife. He did it to appease her whenever she would confront him or make a request. “I tell her what she wants to hear to avoid confrontation, but then I just do what I want in the end.”
He knew it was passive-aggressive. He loved her and believed his lies were wrong. Still, he couldn’t stop, even though he did manage to be more honest for short periods of time.
What was the original emotion? We discovered it was guilt. Original guilt was running the show for Ted. Now, you’d think if Ted were to just quit lying, he wouldn’t have reason to feel guilty, but the opposite turned out to be true.
When Ted let go of his original guilt, he quit lying.
“It’s funny,” said Ted. “I don’t feel any compulsion to mislead her or shield the truth anymore. Before, I think I had already determined I was guilty and lied to minimize the damage. Yet, I’ve never had anything to hide from my wife in the first place.
Now that I don’t feel basically guilty as a person anymore, I feel like I am playing on the same moral field as everyone else and can handle any reactions that come. I’m not afraid of confrontation anymore because I haven’t decided ahead of time that I am in the wrong.”
Underlying feelings can determine what we see and understand about the outside world. If you’ve got unresolved negative feelings brewing, then you’re going to see the world accordingly.
Fear seeks fear.
Anger seeks anger.
Guilt seeks guilt.
Humiliation seeks humiliation.
When taken a step further, these underlying feelings can actually end up creating the things we feared most. This is where the prophecy becomes self-fulfilling.
Let’s take the previous example of the jealousy.
If I don’t talk to my wife about my issues with jealousy and do not resolve my original feelings, I could push her further away and possibly lose her. Then, if we continue to play this out, she would naturally be seeking other men and my jealousy would then become real. This is how an original feeling becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. I have created behaviors that will actually cause the event to happen.
My original feelings of jealousy have now been validated and I can say, “See, I had reason to be jealous all along, she was going to leave!”
However, I was the one that caused that chain of events by harboring the original feelings.
Sometimes the hardest part is identifying the original feeling. Once you do, the work of resolution can begin.