Going Beyond the Isolated Mind
We all know what it is like to have strong feelings and the way that they can take us over. When these feelings are those of anger, pain or shame, they can seem like a private hell that no-one else can penetrate. However, all might not be as it seems; it helps to see beyond the isolated mind.
Our feelings solely originate with us ….
It can seem like a given that our feelings are our own. For good or for bad we live them internally. They can spill out and affect other people; but mostly they seem like they originate within us and are products of our mind. From this point of view we are fully responsible for them; when we feel the feelings I mentioned above we can feel like we are solely to blame for them. We feel isolated.
… Or do they?
I think this point of view deserves to be challenged. From all we are now discovering about the way that the children develop, it is becoming indisputably clear that a child’s optimal development happens within an environment of attuned responsiveness from a caregiver. This development, which consists of thousands of tiny exchanges between the child and caregiver, shapes the child. It then influences the shape future interactions take with other people. In the formation of our emotional life, the interactions of another person are essential. So how does fit with being isolated?
The emotional life of adults
However, this understanding is slow to penetrate our conceptualisation of the emotional life of adults, and it certainly still seems to be a view still gaining acceptance. Ask the average adult about their feelings of, say, anger, and they’ll say these feelings arise in response to situations but also as an expression of an underlying tendency within them; a weakness they might feel they are born with and can’t escape. When we do think of our emotions as connected to someone else – say when we are angry towards them – we usually think of this in terms of their actions, not their feelings.
Instead, I believe that we are incredibly responsive to the emotional states of other people. You only have to be in a crowd at an event such as a sporting match or concert to see how excitement, fear or uncertainty can sweep through the crowd, or to be in a relationship to see how the mood of one person will affect the mood of another.
Interconnected emotional lives
So why do we persist in seeing our emotions as solely related to ourselves? Why do we find it so hard to accept that what we feel might be related to what others feel? I believe that it can really frighten us to realise how much our emotional lives are connected to other people. In a world where we don’t want to feel too much at the best of times, we certainly don’t want to be aware that some of what we feel might be a result or the cause of the shame of our parents, the anger of our partner or the embarrassment of our children. It is much easier to believe that our feelings start and end with us. It makes them much easier to minimise.
Part of the way a psychotherapist can help is to gradually allow you to accept and cope with your feelings, and through doing so, see the world as it is more clearly. When we do this, we can start to see that we are affected by and affect other people, and are no longer feel so isolated.
– Tim Hill
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