Understanding Our Emotions – 4 – How We Deceive Ourselves
We’re going to take a closer look with the idea that, if we’re going to be open-hearted, sincere people, we need to have to know what’s going on inside us, why we deceive ourselves, and how we go about it.
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Bill here for LifeResource Ministries.
Last time, in our series on Human Emotions, we saw that the Bible and psychology both see human beings as deceptive and self-deceptive. We looked at some of the reasons and ways that we accomplish this deception. And today, we’re going to take a closer look with the idea that, if we’re going to be open-hearted, sincere people, we need to have to know what’s going on inside us, why we deceive ourselves, and how we go about it.
There’s an interesting scripture often quoted at LifeResource Ministries, and it’s about to be quoted again. Let’s read it in Psalms 22:9.
Psalms 22:9 – Yet You are He who took Me from the womb. You made Me trust You at my mother’s breasts. On you I was cast from My birth and from My mother’s womb, You have been my God.
This is a prophecy about Jesus. And since He’s the One that inspired the Old Testament, He’s talking about Himself. And He knows that His trust in God was augmented by His relationship with His loving mother, Mary. You did make Me hope when I was upon my mother’s breasts – nursing – that thing – that nurturing thing, that bonding thing that happens between a baby and its mother.
We’ve talked about the baby in the crib before. The baby’s in the crib and all is well, but then, as time passes, the baby starts to feel hungry, or lonely, or has a gas pain, or feels cold or uncomfortable from being wet. So the baby fidgets for a while, and then it starts to whimper. And then, as it feels more and more alarm, it starts to cry. Now remember that babies don’t understand, “I’ll feed you after I put in this load of laundry.” So, in the baby’s mind, an urgent, life-threatening need has developed. It becomes frightened. And then, Mom to the rescue – and there’s feeding, and cooing, and baby-talking, and cuddling, and mother and baby take each other in through intermittent eye contact. The baby moves in sync with the mother’s voice. I saw a video once, where they had a baby set up – propped up on pillows – at about a 45, and the mother was behind the baby so that it couldn’t see her. And she’d started talking baby-talk to it in that sing-songy, up and down kind of way we do that. And they slowed the video way down, and the baby was moving its little arms and legs in unison with the up and down of her voice. So there’s a dance going on between the mother and the baby – the dance of relationship – of connection.
Well, after the baby’s fed, its regulatory part of its brain starts re-regulating its emotions. A need has been met. All’s well, and so it’s starting to calm itself down. That repeated effort of being dis-regulated and re-regulated is what gives us our ability to control our emotions easier as we grow older. Those of us that have trouble with that probably didn’t get enough soothing when we were younger. But at any rate, at this point, all is well the world. “When I ask, I receive. I’m understood. I’m loved. I’m safe. I live in a good place. My mother and I are one.”
How many times does this cycle repeat in the first year of a baby’s life? Think about it. 365 – how many times a day? Every two to four hours. So that amounts to thousands of times in the first year of a baby’s life.
While Jesus was doing this – going around and around with Mary in this cycle – He was learning to trust. That’s why David said, “You made me trust in You while I was on my mother’s breasts.” So He, as the Creator, designed this cycle and that’s how baby’s learn how to trust. And, of course, Jesus was the One who created that system, so He ought to be able to instruct us about this, even if we might believe otherwise. You know, some people thing that babies are just carnal little rascals that need to be put on a schedule right away, and they’re just trying to control the situation. A baby does not have enough brain to try to control the situation. They’re just trying to get their needs met. That’s what they’re wired to do. And they’re also wired to be loved and to love their mother and father.
But what if mother and father are drug addicts? What if they’re too preoccupied with their work? What if they’re too young to know how to meet a baby’s needs? What if they’re in the middle of a marital conflict? What if they’re struggling financially? Well, all these real life problems diminish the connection between parents and baby. It causes parents to disconnect or not to be present with the child while they’re doing things with it. And that causes the child to become insecure about its relationship and about itself. Why self? Well, children always think they’re the cause of the problem. “There must be something wrong with me that I’m not loved by these people that I love.” So a sense of not being enough, or being defective, begins to develop in the mind of the baby.
Baby’s also learning, when it’s this way, that asking doesn’t work. And since that’s the only way it can get what it needs, it becomes anxious about its safety. And naturally, all this, later in life, gets transferred to God, making faith more difficult later in life, and making relationships more difficult, because we have a hard time trusting folks.
Let’s look at the effects of all this as the child grows up. I have a diagram here. On the left of it, we see that it’s a picture of you, as a baby – or me, or anyone. We came wired with a very important inclination. We came wired for two relationships. You’re probably familiar with a computer bios. It’s a little chip that has just enough information that, when you turn the computer on, it goes and looks for the operating system and starts the other functions of the computer, then the operating system takes over. Well, when we’re born, we come wired with a few very important things. We can breathe. We can experience pain. And we have an inclination to love and be loved by caregivers – two of them, actually – mom and dad. All other relationships grow out of these two. How we learn to do these relationships, forms a pattern for the way we relate to all other people throughout our lives. And that includes God. That’s why Jesus said that He learned to trust God while He was on His mother’s breasts. Would you like to argue with Him about that, if you’re one of those people that thinks babies are just trying to control you? Well, I hope you wouldn’t, because He doesn’t believe that. He clearly explains this to us.
Now, because babies need everything right now…. Why do they need it right now? Well, because they don’t have any sense of time yet. They don’t have any language. They don’t have any logic. They have emotion, and body sensation, and images, but they don’t have time, so they need everything right now. And because of the difficulty of life for the adults – they’re often preoccupied with other things – and things get in the way, babies suffer a measure of unhappiness, disappointment, fear and anxiety. And all of this is about parents. Our emotions are always related to people.
Now, what happens when we don’t get what we think we need? Well, I don’t know about you, but I get angry sometimes. So, when the baby gets angry, who is the baby angry with? Well, they’re angry with their parents. And this puts the baby in a no-win situation, because they’re hard-wired to love and be loved by these two people. But they’re also frightened and neglected by them as well, sometimes – and then angry with them at the same time – so, a state of ambivalence develops babies. On one hand they want to love and be love, but then, on another, “sometimes they don’t meet my needs,” so what to do? Well, the baby does the only thing it can do. It tries to defend its little self from these negative feelings, because it doesn’t like to feel this way.
So, this is a simplified explanation I’m giving you for how human self-deception begins. We talked last time about the various kinds of defenses we employ to avoid our real feelings about relationships and about our own perceived defectiveness. So, I’m going to use a term now…I’m going to use term emotion phobia, or actually, the correct term is affect phobia – affect just being another word for emotion. Well, we all know what a phobia is, right? A fear of something – you know, flying, spiders, snakes, public speaking. Right? It’s helpful to think of our avoidance of our own feelings – negative feelings toward mother and father – as a phobic reaction to our own feelings. We don’t want to feel the negative ones.
I had a client once, who was a bartender. And she said that she had a phobia about insects and it was really embarrassing, because she’d lift up a box, and you know, in a bar, there are always roaches because of the beer and all that, and she’d scream every time she saw one. And all the regulars in the bar would laugh at her. Well, we all knee-jerk away from our phobias – the fears – and we try to hide them from ourselves, because it’s unpleasant. You know, if someone implies that we made some sort of error, we automatically begin to justify ourselves. It feels like an attack on our self, and we want to veer away from that, because it induces anxiety. Just like when you have a phobia – when you see a roach, for example – it makes you anxious. In the same way, the man I told you about in part three of this series – the one that was angry with his mother for the way she treated him, but always avoided the feeling of anger…let’s look at how this avoidance work in adult life.
All our defenses that we learn to use in childhood worked then, but as adults, they cause more problems than they solve. If we’d just face our feelings, things would go a lot better for us. This all gets very complicated in a hurry, because our hearts are so deceptive and so ingenious at being that way. But a man, named Malan, makes it easier to understand using two triangles – Malan’s triangles. Here’s the first one…now remember, he’s using these triangles to show therapists what happens when people are in therapy. So I’m going to do some adapting here for you, because we’re not in therapy today.
The first triangle is called the triangle of conflict. On one corner, which he calls D – and that stands for defense – are the behaviors, thoughts and feelings we use to cover over or avoid our true feelings that we don’t want to experience. On the other corner, which he calls A, for anxiety or inhibition, is all the anxiety, pain, guilt and shame that we’ve all had from our past. This anxiety causes us to avoid the real issues – the healthy belief, the adaptive behaviors – and go toward the defensive behaviors and thoughts. Remember the circles – there’s the baby, and there’s the sadness and grief, and there’s the anger, and then there’s the defense preventing us from feeling all of these things. We defend ourselves against sadness and anger. And on the third corner – there at the bottom – he calls F, for adaptive feelings and activation. And that stands for all the adaptive feelings of grief, anger, joy, positive feelings about self, interest in things, excitement and sexual desire, for example.
How could anger and grief be adaptive? Well, we explained last time that grief can take us down and make us depressed, or it can also motivate us to do something positive about the losses we’ve experienced – like the lady whose daughter died and started a community group, helping parents learn about the dangers of social media. Or anger – we can be motivated to take things in hand and solve problems when we get angry about them. So those are all the positive things that make life good. That’s what F stands for.
Now, the idea here is that the feelings and behaviors at D, along with the anxiety at A, block us from feeling all the good feelings at F. We build a wall between the two upper poles and the one at the bottom. The anxiety about past treatment causes the defensive behavior. And that blocks all the good things of life.
Let’s look at an example. Do you remember the thirteen-year-old whose parents caused a lot of anxiety for her? Her untrue negative beliefs about life and her anxiety – that would be A – were causing her to wall herself off from others – that would be D. And they block anything positive – adaptive – from happening. What would an adaptive reaction look like in her case? Well, she could admit that she was sad and very angry toward her parents for the way they treated her. Once she was willing to confront that, then that would have opened the door to explore the situation in a more realistic way. That would have taken her to F.
So that’s one triangle. Here’s the second. It’s called the triangle of person. One pole of the triangle Malan calls T for the therapist. Since we’re not in therapy right now, we can say that T can stand for any authority that we would talk to about our problems. A second pole of the triangle he calls C for current persons. That would be the people were having problems with right now or that we’re talking to right now. And the last pole of this triangle is P for past persons, who have caused us our problems. That would be like parents, siblings, relatives and teachers from early life.
So, how does all of this fit together? Let’s take the example of the man that I was telling you about a couple weeks ago in a previous part of this series. Let’s look at the second triangle first. There he is in the room with me. I’m T and he’s telling me about his inability to have successful relationships with people in his life, including a divorce and a more recent broken relationship with a girl he really loved, but who broke it off with him. He said they all find fault with him and leave. That’s the C part of the triangle – current persons. While we were doing EMDR, it took him back to his mother, who is the third part of the triangle – P or past person – who, by the way (surprise, surprise) found fault with him.
Now, how does that work? Well, when we’re in the present moment, we’re always trying to figure out what will happen next. To do this, our mind starts a search of our memory banks for similar situations. This is an unconscious search. We don’t know we’re doing it. When he entered into relationships with his wife and his girlfriend, his memory queries ,about what’s going to happen next with them, yield up emotions from interactions with his critical mother. And what would those emotions be? Well, they were doubts about his ability, shame – it seemed to him that they were disapproving of him, too – and he would then become defensive. All the anger for his mother that he had hidden from himself would come up and get spewed on these people.
Now let’s see how the first triangle – the triangle of conflict – comes into his life. At the A pole of the triangle, the anxiety and shame that he feels from the way that he was treated by his mother causes him to hide from life by withdrawing from relationships. And he also hides from the anger he feels toward his mother. He had a marriage that lasted for a few years while he was in his late twenties, and then, no real close relationships until he was sixty. So, for at least thirty years, he just didn’t interact too much with folks – at least in that way. And so, after his second relationship failed, he was again a very lonely loner, along with a lot of talk about being a loser. That’s what I heard. So that’s the defense. He feels anxious about how he was taught about himself when he was younger, and he’s really angry with his mother, so he’s hiding and he won’t let him see how he feels about his mother and about his state, which is inferior. He’s afraid he’ll be found out.
Once he saw, however, that he wasn’t a loser, and his mother was ill when she did all this damage to him, he said, “There is no one to blame. There was just a little guy who couldn’t defend himself and a mother who couldn’t help herself.” So he finally came to that realization. And then he got in touch with how angry he was with her, realizing what was actually going on there, and facing the truth about his feelings, he then, almost immediately, began to talk about the possibility of getting into another, more satisfying career, where he could use his education and experience to help others.
Now, I’m not exaggerating. It happened just that way. It happened quickly. So that’s the final pole. He finally arrived at F. He got through the block from A and D and moved down into those adaptive feelings. He was now figuring out a way to live effectively, even though that stuff did happen. So he’s now free of the defense and the anxiety, meaning he’s no longer stuck and he’s ready to go forward.
You might ask, “What about the other pole in the triangle of person? How was he reacting to you?” Well, at first he was certain that I wasn’t going to be of any help to him – that, if he opened up, I would see what a lout he was and all that. So, he distrusted his mother and he’s going to distrust me. Of course, he didn’t say this. He was subtle about it. What he said was, “I’ve been to five therapists and none of them could help me.” And so I just addressed that transference right there. “What makes you think I might be any different?” “Honestly,” he said, “I don’t have much hope.” And yet, there he was. He was there hoping. So that’s his defense talking – his D. In his mind, I’m his mother all over again. But, EMDR to the rescue! Once he started working on his issues, he slid right past his own anxious defensive lies about himself and found the truth gently, thanks to EMDR.
Now, from a Christian perspective, where does all this stuff come from? Well, let’s look at a scripture. It’s in Revelation 12:10.
Revelation 12:10 – And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, “Now has come salvation and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ, for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night.
So, we know who does the accusing, right? This man believed he was worthless, defective, a terrible person. And he learned this from his mother, who accused him of being these things. She was his accuser. And that belief that he took in from her caused him to wall himself off for sixty-five years from a productive experience in life.
Our adversary would love to do that to all of us. And he’s made a strong attempt with each one of us to do that. And what does God tell us to do about that? Well, we can look at another scripture. It’s in James 4:7. Let’s check that out.
James 4:7 – Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. How do you do that? Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double minded.
Do you remember the anxiety that the baby felt, wanting to love and be loved by parents and yet being angry with them at the same time? That’s got to go. We’ve got to get to the bottom of that. Look at that statement – purify your hearts. You know, we pray, we study, we fast, we go to church, we tithe, but we never go where the problem is. And that’s in our hearts.
If we’re ever ready to go there, what do we do when we get there? Well, think about the man. Once he saw through his deception, once his defenses were down, and he got through to his adaptive feelings, his true feelings came out, he admitted that he was really angry with his mother. He let himself feel it. Once he felt that, then the door was open for him to understand that, “Well, that’s ancient history.” You go through the feeling, and then you realize it isn’t so scary anymore. So, once he was courageous enough to face that, then he was free to see that she wasn’t doing it intentionally. She was just a sick person. And he forgave her. And then, he was no longer blocked from all the positive stuff, and it followed right along behind. He awareness of himself was not as defective, but as lovable and capable for doing good in the world – not held back any longer from fulfilling his true potential. That all came about because he became willing to face negative feelings for his mother that he had so carefully concealed from himself all his sixty-five years.
So, how about you? Who causes you trouble? What’s holding you back? What’s keeping you down? Instead of all the usual things we do to try to feel better, why not go where the problem lives – in your heart? If you do, you’ll live a much more spiritually productive and satisfying life. If you want to know more, keep up with this series. We’re going to go into it even deeper. And go back and pick up the previous installments. Our Web address is going to follow – as soon as we’re finished here.
So, until next time then, this is Bill Jacobs for LifeResource Ministries, serving children, families and the Church of God.
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