Shift in Perception
When we are infants, feelings of shame or humiliation feel “bad”. As we adapt to our environment and to the moods, tempers and dispositions of our caretakers we make meaning of their reactions to our existence and expressions. When we perceive unhappiness, dissatisfaction or even anger or possible punishment for our behaviors, we not only feel bad, we correlate feeling bad with “being bad.” As infants and young children, we are not capable of discerning between feeling and being. This entangled perception can be ongoing for each of us as adults in times of emotional activation. When fear or confusion arises, or sadness, jealousy, or anger, we can find ourselves turning these very natural human experiences into beliefs about what we are, what is wrong with us . . . making meaning and drawing conclusions . . . creating identity-structures built around the old, original assumptions that “there is something wrong with me,” or “I’ve failed yet again,” etc. We find ourselves slipping on the surface of these false beliefs and careening toward the edge of the cliff of emotional flooding, potentially falling into fusion with the feelings and moods of others. In moments when we are activated this way, there is a tendency to further judge the activation; to shame ourselves for being caught in old patterns of reactivity. While most people reading this post would never shame an infant in an incubator for crying out in their loneliness and confusion; nor would we intentionally shame or humiliate a 4-year old who is lost, afraid, sad or angry, we are somehow intolerant of the upsurging of these very young feelings when they emerge in our adult experience.
These moments are invitations to heal the misperception that we were ever responsible for the unhappiness of others . . . the erroneous attribution of a parent’s displeasure with the false assumption of our innate unlove-ability. We are repeatedly invited to slow down and open to the immediacy of our experience. With attention and curiosity we enter into an opportunity to shift from “I *am* angry or afraid” to “I am aware in this moment that anger and fear have arrived. What do I need to know right now; how can I hold these feelings; what are the sensations in the body; what unique psychically valuable images are emerging; what memories are surfacing? How have I come to imagine myself, others, and the world in ways that would create this discomfort and what might be truer?” This conscious inquiry requires that we infuse our immediate experience with warmth and kindness, in the same way we might respond to a pet’s inarticulate cry for a snuggle or a child’s stumbling or tongue-tied request for connection and contact. We can begin to discover experientially that when “I feel bad equals I am bad” this lens of perception is ready for refocusing. Bringing patience and compassion to moments of emotional overwhelm is an affirmation of our existence, as it is, as we are, including every aspect of our history, our past experiences, our entire existence . . . as it is, not as we would have liked it to be. Befriending or reparenting ourselves is not always going to be easy, not always going to feel safe, and requires that we tend to very valid and very real human grief and pain with merciful awareness.
This willingness to tender our experiences without judgment or rejection, to gentle our emotional states with acceptance and even awe filters into and through our nervous system and our heart, and directly affects the relational field. Interactions with others shift and heal as we release the lie of “wrongness or badness,” as we no longer project our self-rejecting beliefs onto others.