Knock, knock. The doctor softly knocked with his hammer on a 6-year-old boy's knees. A typical psyche-test procedure in the 19-eighties.
"We can't pass him to the standard school. You will need to put him in the school for mentally handicapped", the boy heard the doctor saying to his mother.
"No," the mother fiercely responded, "he will not go there! He will go to the normal school!" And he went. In later years, he wrecked many relationships while learning to use emotions as a tool rather than a flamethrower. Gradually he was progressing.
I am happy I have the gift of my mother's perseverance since those events in the 19-eighties. In this essay, I share what I have learned.
Two stories about shares and friendships
"For you and Hristo to get shares, you would need to buy it at a nominal price. Does it make sense for you?"
This was the message my co-founder Rein sent me. We were finalising the process of Hristo and me joining Cocoon as shareholders.
A clear, practical step. Except it did not feel this way when I got the message. Back then, my immediate reaction was rage. This message made so little sense for me that I regretted I don't have a flamethrower at hand.
What is wrong with you, Ansis, you might ask? Hold your horses, we will get to it.
I'm happy to have a friend like Edgar (name changed to respect privacy). He recently joined our extended household by marrying my mother's sister. I am in primary school at that time.
I grew close to him and considered him my dear older friend. For someone who grew up without a father, that was a logical result (I've written about my father before here). We shared time working on the childhood farm, hiking and having fun.
One day there was a fight in the home, which I could hear outside as well. And then he was gone, without saying goodbye. I never saw him again.
When in intense emotions, what is truly going on?
Hijacking of your brain
Most episodes with overwhelming emotions involve anger, fear or sadness. Especially with anger and fear, they can hijack you so intensely that you no longer control them. Instead, they run you.
If you act out while in the grip of those emotions, chances are high, you will damage something. Either a relationship, a business deal or something else important.
What is happening?
Technically speaking, the amygdala takes over the driving wheel from the neocortex. Or, in more spiritual terms, the little self over the higher self.
But I usually don't stop at technical explanations and labels. They show well how something is happening, not why.
Reliving past in the present
According to Dr Gershen Kaufman (Shame, the power of Healing),
When you interact with another person, you form an inner image of that person - the way how he behaves, speaks, acts. It's called an identification image.
With time, this image becomes an unconscious part of yourself. It lives inside you and interacts with other parts of your self. And you do not perceive it as something separate. The images acquired in childhood are the strongest.
Next, suppose the relationship with the other person involved a failure or trauma. Then your unconscious also stored it, together with the identification image. It's stored as an unresolved pain point.
Later in life, you meet someone who can remind you of the person with whom you had identified earlier.
What happens next:
Your unconscious projects the identification image onto that person
And you start trying to relive and resolve the past failure or trauma with this new person.
As it is an unconscious process, it acts out in ways that do not seem logical. You use current events as a time machine to return to your past. To reconnect with the past traumas. And to resolve them.
When you reactivate the intense unresolved past events, it takes over your consciousness. You switch on tunnel vision and try to see only one thing, which you don't even notice. Because in your rational mind, you think the problem is with the present situation. But your unconscious is trying to deal with the past.
How I use co-founder in trying to resolve the past failure
In my childhood, several relationships with slightly older male friends ended abruptly. I had not made sense of those events and did not grieve the pain.
Now I had unconsciously projected the past friends' identification images onto Rein. And trying to relive and fix those failed relationships.
When I received the question about paying the shares' nominal fee, I got angry as hell. So, what's wrong with me? The anger is a defence that is trying to protect me from pain. The pain is in the unconscious message: "Older friends leave you because you are not worth it. Only money adds you worth. This friendship will also end unless you pay".
After realising this, my anger evaporated. Instead, sadness came. It was about loss. Also, about feeling dispensable and betrayed in childhood. Then I cried my guts out.
Afterwards, I feel closer to Rein, myself and people in general. One chapter is over. Open for the next (read more about founders' relationships challenges here).
How to use intense emotions for growth
When overwhelmed with intense anger, sadness or fear, the first thing to do is to STOP. Don't react. Don't act. Don't make calls, send messages, make decisions. Take a break from the matter at hand. Now you see that it's not about the present. Something else is happening parallelly.
Calm down with a breathing technique. Try this: 2 deep consecutive breaths in (nose) followed by 1 out (mouth).
Come out from the tunnel vision. According to Dr Andrew Huberman, focus follows eyesight (video). To widen your brain focus, widen your sight focus. Watch the horizon for a while - encompass as wide an angle as you can.
If you can, postpone action at least to the next day. Waiting will also re-train your usual pathways of action. With each time, it will become easier to follow the stop-calm-refocus-wait chain.
Explore what's going on beyond the surface level.
Ask questions. For example: What do I think is the actual message I perceive here? What does this remind me from my past? When have I experienced those feelings? What am I exaggerating? Why? What's the worst that can happen? And then? What pain is in it?
Collaborate with your intuition and accept irrational answers. When exploring, don't rely much on logic. Accept everything that comes to you and follow it as a thread. For example, you might suddenly recall the aroma of pancakes. Ask - what is in it? Next, you hear a sound of a car breaking fast. And suddenly you remember a car accident near your childhood home.
Use active imagination writing. Dr Robert Johnson has written an excellent guide in Inner Work: Using Dreams and Active Imagination for Personal Growth".
Talk with a self-discovery mentor or psychotherapist, or both.
The outcome of the exploration can be unexpected. If you connect with the feelings of earlier shame, loss, pain or fear - you are on the right track.
Let Dr Donnald Winnicot's quote guide you:
"The catastrophe you fear will happen has in fact already happened".
Go through and relieve pain
Once you connect with the underlying memories and feelings, experience them. And then let them out.
Sit with the pain, don't try to escape it. Pain is not suffering
Share it with someone
Yell, or do ecstatic singing
Do ecstatic dance
The pain that is stored in the unconscious is also in our body. To let it out is not an intellectual activity. Hence, crying, singing and dancing. They are suitable approaches for releasing the energy accumulated in the body. The effect of authentic singing and dancing reaches the cellular level.
Do less of what decreases your ability to stop-calm-refocus-wait. From my experience, I am less capable when I am
Overwhelmed with too many priorities (which is a matter of view of the world, not only external circumstances)
Not following my heart for more extended periods.
You have read this far. You can persevere and succeed in using emotions for growth! Appreciate the relationships you have, including the relationship with yourself. And believe in yourself!
Author: Ansis Farhad Lipenitis
Ansis is the CEO of .Cocoon that supports founders' self-discovery for personal and business growth through mentoring and investing.
When there is a challenge at the business level – we support our clients
1. To find the link between the business challenge and their personalities and personal challenges;
2. And to bring forth personal changes that, as a result, create changes in the business.
If you are a founder or a business leader - let's talk!
.Cocoon is part of .Contriber One - a group of companies that supports self-discovery for businesses, individuals and children.