The Emotional Compass - A Small Guide to Avoid (Self-)Deception

Most of us are completely unaware of the influence we have on our surroundings. Only when we come to know ourselves intimately do we begin to fathom the tremendous power we have over people around us. And, more painfully, we start seeing how we continuously manipulate and lie to ourselves and others. Hopefully we see that this is something we learned growing up and that we are blameless in this; We just repeat the way adults hide and pretend in order to be liked and respected. And hopefully we now take full responsibility for this and turn our awareness to revealing all the hidden ways we are still dishonest, unassailable and opaque.

For the mind is a labyrinth of self-deception. Its weapons include denial (that's not what happened!), deflection (changing the topic, anger or crying to manipulate), insincere admission or submission, and endless circles of explanations and justifications. These are all apparent when listening to other people (the average politician or spokesperson being the prime example), yet it takes heroic effort to discern that selfsame beam in our own eye.

So how do I become more true? How can I reveal the games that I play with myself and others and become more conscious? How do I stop spreading my negative energy to my surroundings?

There are so many ways, and the only true test for any method is the earnestness we bring to it. Sincerity is the only antidote to the mind's inevitable hijacking of anything that can undermine its illusion of control. Only by being open to the possibility and probability that my conclusions are at best incomplete can anything shift in me.

One very important way of raising awareness in ourselves that I find is not emphasised enough is to become aware of the emotion that is present in me when something noteworthy is going on. Obvious you say? Absolutely. Yet we all suffer from either a disability in feeling the presence and subtleties of emotions, or from convictions that an emotion is justified and therefore allowed to express itself through words and actions.

Take the very tricky emotion of anger. It can hide in very slight frustration. Start poking around in that one and there will eventually be discovered full-blown rage or debilitating fear. That is because regardless of the euphemisms we use, anger is anger, and anger is often fear. The more of it is suppressed, the more "little anger" such as irritability and annoyance will trickle to the surface.

Anger also hides in the mental stories and interpretations that come with it. Either we believe we are in our full right to be angry and take it out on ourselves or others, or we believe anger to be "wrong" in some way and thus avoid feeling it. In the process we add a bit more to that unbearable place inside us. When was the last time we took that anger seriously instead of just following some belief that comes with it, either of the fault of ourselves, someone else or the emotion itself? (Take notice of these keywords that come with each emotion. The one that comes with anger is "fault.")

Even in murder there is the conviction of being justified. Only later, when the emotions change, does that rationalisation appear shaky. For all emotions are their own separate universes, and they mostly cannot be bridged. When we're overcome with joy there is nothing in the world that can threaten us. When we're overcome with despair, no hope can be gleaned.

What is the point to be made here?

Wishing to be fully transparent to the hidden emotions that influence or control our speech and actions begins to bring them into our awareness. Stop for a moment and notice what emotion is present when interacting with someone or making a decision for yourself. There is something there underlying the storytelling in the mind, and it is usually way more honest than the explanation that is the surface ripple of that mental movement.

Why is this so important? Because it is the emotion that is being received by the other person, not the words. If I come to my partner in anger, even if I raise a seemingly "neutral" concern, she will feel attacked (consciously or unconsciously). All my diplomatic language will be useless as the anger will elicit her own emotional response whether she is aware of it or not, which in turn triggers my own and so on. If my words are not completely aligned with my emotions and instead veiled by good reasons and claims of "being in clarity" or any other excuse the mind comes up with to be right, confusion in the other is inevitable. Did you ever feel frustrated because a discussion goes nowhere? This is why. No one is talking about what is actually going on in them. And this is the reason why most of us grow up totally confused, for the words of adults are typically not in harmony with how they feel. And so we have learned to do the same.

Is there a tiny feeling of anxiety? How about shame? It follows from there what happens when we act and speak out of fear. It's contagious, and the mind of another will go to any length to avoid that one. This is why we rarely feel satisfied or understood when we bring our fear to the table (sometimes concealed in anger). Very few people can stand calmly in that emotion together with us without resorting to strategies of suppressing or deflecting it. A typical example is when we share our fear with someone. Have you ever been that other person and seen yourself meet that person's fear with some story of "why they shouldn't feel fearful" and all the reasons they have to not worry? For in order to hold someone else's fear we will have to enter it ourselves and feel it. Yet what happens to fear or shame when its presence is denied and rejected like that?

Can you discern that same pattern in your own mind? Can you see how this mechanic is at work internally without "the other" present?

Let us not avoid the positive emotions though. Can they also lead to dishonest communication? Well, have you ever had a smiling missionary or salesman grab hold of you trying to convince you of something you need? Do you fathom the depths of insecurity that underlies the need to convince others, or how the mind can use its story of being happy as a tool for manipulation? And more importantly, does that "good" feeling truly feel good? To myself? To others? How does feeling truly at ease and at peace make me act towards myself and others? Now we're onto something here!

The hub in this compass is conviction. It may not be an emotion as such, but how does it feel to be convinced? It is firm and unyielding. The language may be that of humility or any other "niceness" we drape it with, yet it is possible to identify that conviction is at play in us from how it feels inside. How it really feels, get it? But we need to feel behind those humble and nice words. We need to discard all explanations and enter the raw feeling without protection and pretense. Am I convinced when I communicate? Then no communication is possible. Period.

(Oh, and just wait for that inevitable thought saying: yes, I'm not convinced! Ahem… )

What does humility, openness and vulnerability FEEL like (as opposed to the thoughts about them)? What action arises with myself and others when that is my current experience? I leave that to you to explore, for that is when the needle of the compass is worth paying attention to.

(19 January 2018)

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