Listening and Guiding our Self Protecting Emotions

We looked at how the anger, anxiety and disgust act as self-protecting devices that evolution has designed to protect us. They have served many species for millions of years. But these emotions come with limited instructions and tell us very little about what to do in certain situations in our modern times.

Recently I went to return a flashlight to a home hardware store. It wasn’t working and I didn’t have a receipt. I was given one excuse after another why it couldn’t be returned; even the manager was unhelpful. They was ‘sticking to policy so rigidly that it just made my angry.

I could feel my jaws tighten, eyes narrow, the tone of voice changed to more assertive and the urge to speak/ scream/ lash out / hit something or someone can increase if we don’t listen and guide our emotions.  Luckily I walked away long before that happened. As our anger gains momentum it exerts increasing control over our mind. This control is even easier if we are tired. Our anger is designed to threaten others who are threatening or blocking us. We can shift to hyper – protective mode and slightest thing can throw us into fury, tears or anxiety; and sometimes resulting in consequences we did not intend.

This hyper protective mode served us well in the past to overcome the life threatening dangers, but in modern time it is quite often not clear what the measured response should be, over reacting can be embarrassing and no reaction at all can send a massage to others that we are push over and with time we will be just ignored.  So what are we to do?  First we have to learn not to act them out without standing back and deciding what to do.

Similarly when we are anxious we can’t always run away in today’s world. If we did that we may never learn the skills to cope with anxiety.

Other times when we need to listen and guide our emotions are when our leaders summons these emotions within us. We have to be cautious that we are not led blindly by our emotions when an inspiring leader summons them within us. Hitler was able to generate passion and pride in his audiences, and his audiences allowed these emotions to work in and through them with horrible consequences.

The threat/self- protection system was designed to protect us. These primitive little devices have served us well in the past, but in modern world they need our guidance and our modern mind to contain them.


The compassionate mind by Paul Gilbert

Relationship with the loved one

In 1858, a British epidemiologist named William Farr set out to study what he called the “conjugal condition” of the people of France. Farr’s was among the first scholarly works to suggest that there is a health advantage to marriage and to identify marital loss as a significant risk factor for poor health. Married people, the data seemed to show, lived longer and lead healthier lives. “Marriage is a healthy estate,” Farr concluded.(1)  It has been a common belief  since then that a married couple tends to be more healthy than those who are not married. However , new data suggests :- “When we divide good marriages from bad ones,” says the marriage historian Stephanie Coontz, who is also the director of research and public education for the Council on Contemporary Families, “we learn that it is the relationship, not the institution (of marriage) , that is key.” (1) The upshot of all this is that being in a good relationship with your loved one confers health benefits. Let us therefore look at the components of healthy relationship with the loved one.

Relationship with the loved one is life itself. The relationship can be a source of intense delight and also source of much unhappiness and frustration that life has to offer. It is indeed a doubled edged sword. Loving another person can be Devine, it awaken the heart and lifts us beyond narrow confines of our self-interest. It can teach us that we are  part of the universe , inter-connected with all things, including all beings, plants, earth, our environment, the ski, space and the very air we breath. Cultivating a  relationship with loved one can be a spiritual journey. It can be also be a disappointing experience,the other edge of the sword , when loving another person bring us pain of attachment, possessiveness, jealousy , unrequited love and all the rest. How is it that some couple have the grace of perfect relationship and others experience nothing but frustration? Is there a secret journey to a perfect relationship ?  Let us go on couples journey to find out !

The couple’s Journey:

The couples on the journey of relationship often find them-selves adopting spiritual values even though they had no spiritual intentions at the beginning.(2) This happens when the couple decide to commit to the relationship, work through the up and downs and try to make the best of the bad situation. They come to realize that it is better to love then to stubbornly try to get what you want, they give up the power struggle because they learn that two egos cannot co-exist. The act of giving up the power struggle creates a space for new kind of relationship , they let in God and spirituality; thus creating entirely new kind of unifying force for their relationship; the force of God and force of Love.

Susan Campbell after interviewing dozens of couples identified five stages in what she calls “The Couple’s Journey” :- Romance, Power Struggle, Stability, Commitment, and Co Creation.

(a) Romance Stage: In this stage the couples have positive feeling towards each other. The feeling is so pleasurable that each want to ensure that the other is happy. At this stage the similarities between them are emphasized and the differences are ignored. The positive of this stage is that the couple begins to develop an emotional bond,  trust and a common vision that can sustain them in bad times. The negative of this stage is the couple can get so attached to apparent security of romance that they deny many of their real feeling in order to keep the peace. Which will lead to problems later.

(b) Power struggle stage : In this stage the differences become more apparent and the couple feels less control over each other and therefore they feel less attraction for each other and are also less in love. They start to feel competitive with one another for control and for what they want. They become increasingly frustrated with one another. At this point the relationship has a chance to continue only if they recognize the destructive dynamic and they feel they can deal with the differences between themselves in a creative way. Otherwise the differences will cause the partners to subtly punish each other for causing the disappointment, or they may try to dominate, overpower, or simply “change” each other. ( always a futile effort). If this escalate  they don’t make it beyond this stage.

(c) Stability Stage: In this stage the couple discover that the power struggle is actually a refection of unresolved conflict with in each of them. They begin to learn that the  relationship is actually a source of learning about oneself. With communication they further become to realize their  differences from new and wider  prospective, which includes both hers and his views. This is the first sign of hope  that this relationship will continue  and foster further spiritual growth and self discovery.

(d) Commitment stage: In this stage they recognize that they  need each other to help expand others prospective and their very being is in some way interdependent on each other. They further realized they are part of much larger interconnected network and anything they do, not only affect each other but everything else they are connected with. So if their actions foster the uniqueness of the partner and others it is likely their own uniqueness will be supported as well. As in any stage the mutual effect of each other will inevitably be experienced by each other – for good or bad; they realize that they can’t  always maintain “perfect couple image” and when the disappointments come up they come to see , though painful it maybe, that it is a lesson on ones own path that needs to be learned for self understanding. Instead of blaming.

(e) Co-Creative stage: In this stage partners come to accept each other as they are, and they are able to extend the ” unconditional love of otherness ” to their partner and to the world beyond the couple themselves. The couple engage in creativity or work aimed at the world , the “other” now becomes anyone or anything outside themselves which make them stretch beyond their narrow view to discover new potentials. Here they have also learned to embrace uncertainty, ambiguity and change in their relationship ; with these same skills it is easier for them to deal with our uncertain, ambiguous and changing world as well.

As I write this it makes me reflect on how I could have creatively  interacted with my partner so as to value her instead of wanting my own way. I realize now that wanting security and control is far less important than genuinely valuing your partner; which leads to growth , discovery and the capacity for love. I wish I had a wise teacher to guide me during my struggles. Then again, as painful as though it maybe, I needed to learn these lessons through experience with the real live partner.

May your journey be blessed with all the benefits.


(1) Tara Parker- Pope

Is Marriage Good for Your Health?

A version of this article appeared in print on April 18, 2010, on page MM46 of the  New York Sunday Magazine.

(2) Susan Campbell- couples therapist- page 40, Chop Wood , Carry Water.

(3) Chop Wood, Carry Water

by Rick Fields, with Peggy Taylor, Rex Weyler, and Rick Ingraschi

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