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Discomfort Without Blame
BY: T. Franklin Murphy | February 2017 (edited 2019)
We hurt, we struggle and we stumble. Others may be to blame; but typically, discomforting emotions stem from complex causes including our fears and insecurities.
We react to experience. Chemicals flow through our veins, changing rhythms, speeding heart beats and tightening muscles. The changes to the comfortable biological balances motivate action to regain homeostasis. Often this process goes smoothly and unnoticed, motivating action, and directing change without breaking through the veils of consciousness. Other times, the feeling experience morphs into emotions—painful and disruptive—demand attention, commandeering mental faculties and sending us into a momentary tailspin. We can focus on nothing else.
When we experience emotion, we typically respond with correcting action. Many actions are appropriate and effective. We grieve and then heal. We follow emotional upheavals with calmness. However, moving from experience to emotion and then to correcting behaviors is more complex than a simple chain reaction. The gravel of experience gets caught in the learning machinery, slowing the process, and warping the gears. We invite hurtful escapes to defend the ego and soothe the emotion. We respond with mental constructions that distort and behaviors that hurt.
Learning from experience improves our ability to identify cues of impeding dangers and helpful action to protect and avoid against harm. Unlike the fixed structure of a machine, the mind and body adapt—the past intrudes on the present. The adaptations, for the most part, are efficient and self-correcting, identifying dangers and opportunities with less information and scanty evidence. Our growing reservoir of knowledge provides a competitive advantage. Experience becomes the guiding power that influences automatic chains of reaction. The pasts programs emotional responses, increasing sensitivities or building stoic tolerations. These adaptations influence the conscious and unconscious responses to experience.
New events are not isolated from the past, intruding memories change biological responses; sometimes improving reactions and other times contaminating reaction with protective defenses. The past isn’t the only element coloring new experiences. Surrounding contexts and co-occurring events also impact the moment. Our current moods enhance or dull the response, underlying sorrow, uneasiness, anger or joy may completely change our perception. The new perceived experience continues the cycle of learning, creating a new memory and an adapted level of importance to similar circumstance. Our emotional existence is always in motion.
After a frustrating day at work, we respond with edginess, projecting frustrations on loved ones. With drained mental resources, we may respond to a slight misstep with unreasonableness, exploding into anger—an undeserving victim suffers from our accumulated frustrations. Self-deceptive mechanisms, working to protect the ego, blind the furious actor from the contextual influences, focusing attention on the perceived slight. Instead of a realistic examination of the multitude of causes, the ego defense system intervenes, and emotional escape is found through blame. Unmoderated the mind creates beautiful self-excusing stories to adapt to the strong emotion.
"Intruding memories change biological responses for better and worse."
To heal, we must recognize contaminates that poison our perceptions.
Because experience feels unique, untainted from pasts and surrounding contexts, we evaluate the current incident as isolated—only a trigger and an appropriate emotion. Our explanations are built within these confining boundaries. We justify our frustrated bursts. “You did this and made me feel that,” we scream in narrow minded protection.
If we were to skeptically examine the larger causes surrounding the isolated incident, we may discover a much more revealing story, exposing our contributions, and diminishing the power of faulty justifications. Our mindful consideration points to more of the toxic contributors to an emotion. We see the past spilling into the present. We see the days frustrations that compounded and eventually drained more disciplined and patient responses.
With wisdom, and deliberate, productive rumination, we discover the infiltrating emotions that disrupt security in important relationships. Escaping through blame is simple—a learned response to re-balance discomforting experience; we claim victimhood and conveniently scoot around the guilt, calloused ignorance of our meanness, we continue to disrupt lives and spoil futures.
Emotions—pleasant and unpleasant—are biological function of living experience, intimately tied to well-being and action. When we habitual blame others for discomfort, the maladapted approach weakens relationships, prompting adaptive changes in the important others around us. Our lovers and friends must build their own protections, disconnecting and distancing from the unfair danger of undeserved and explosive reactions. By blaming others, we lose significant sources of meaning and security. We need others to flourish. These connections are not entitlements; they demand careful and sensitive nurturing.