Monday, September 22, 2008

Anger in the Age of Entitlement: Emotional Reality

By Steven Stosny in Anger in the Age of Entitlement

Emotional reality, unlike physical reality, is created rather than observed. By and large, people create the emotional reality in which they live. Unfortunately the choice of which reality we create is usually made by default, a kind of habitual automatic pilot derived from temperament, metabolism, and experience. The human brain filters information within its default choices, processing that which conforms to them and excluding that which deviates from them. The result can keep us pretty much stuck in a rut.

When we try to make changes in emotional reality, we tend to think in terms of problems and challenges, as if these were rocks to be removed from a garden. This approach often fails because the emotional reality we create is more like a broad cityscape than a particular rock or garden within the city. Emotional reality is general; problems and solutions are specific.

In creating the reality of intimate relationships, for instance, we tend to choose among the following cityscapes:

  • A dark, cold, nameless place, where no one is welcomed and no one missed
  • A boring, listless, meaningless terrain of low energy and little conviction
  • A place of threat and alarm, where there is little respect or affection, only attempts to manipulate or dominate
  • A place of light, promise, and connection.

Meaningful and lasting change requires alteration of the entire cityscape, not merely rearranging a few rocks within a garden somewhere in the city. For example, consider the common relationship problem of pursuer-distancer, where one person wants more closeness than the other can tolerate. Removing rocks from the garden of love would likely take you into therapy, where you would try to improve communication, reduce fear of abandonment and engulfment, learn intimacy techniques, or delve into childhood issues. You would find these efforts to be of limited value when the fault lies in the cityscape of the relationship, rather than in the details of the garden.

Create Light, Promise, and Connection
The key to lasting positive change lies in creating mental states of connection. That's right; you create connection in your head. (It doesn't even require that another person create it with you, as so many parents of estranged children or survivors of deceased loved ones know.) You choose to feel connected or choose to feel disconnected. The choice you make will go a long way to determining the response you get from loved ones. Coincidentally, you will more easily solve relationship problems connected than disconnected. The alternative - you cannot feel connected until you solve the problem - devalues the connection.

When you choose to feel connected and forsake excuses to feel disconnected, you create a cityscape of light and promise. You see then that there is enough power in the human heart to light up the world.

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