How to Uncover Old Triggers and Release Explosive Feelings
I’m having seriously hard feelings toward someone today. A stranger. A stranger whose work I have appreciated and promoted to others. And I’m feeling utterly irrational about it..as happens every time in my life that my integrity has ever been questioned.
Some people say it’s not spiritual to have bad feelings, but that’s hogwash and I think we do ourselves a physical and emotional disservice to believe that. I don’t swallow bad feelings any longer because it’s just not a healthy thing for any of us to do. Much better to work through it and release it in a healthy way than let it fester inside. The problem is figuring out the trigger. You can’t release it once and for all without knowing where the feeling began because the seed of it will be there to grow all over again, some other incident, regardless of how silly or minor.
I thought I was doing someone a good turn. I thought I was acting supportively. Right now, I’m trying to bandage those metaphorically bitten fingers, but at the same time, I’m still trying to figure out why I cannot let go of integrity issues and just shrug them off as someone else’s opinion. I think, during the course of this splatter of words and feelings, I’ve figured out exactly why this is such a big deal for me, and it’s a surprise to me where it comes from.
So let me show you how I work through this, and you’re welcome to try this yourself on your own most volatile emotions.
As many of my readers know, I really enjoy the artistic aspect of photography, both trying my hand at it and soaking up the visual pleasure of someone else’s work. Self-portraits are particularly captivating to me, even when they’re my own. I can’t draw or paint worth a flip, so it’s photographs that really tug at me. To that end, I started adding photos to this blog earlier this year so that I could share what I like with others and encourage others’ appreciation for those artists. Some of the photos I use on this blog are my own or ones that my daughters took (better photographers, better cameras, better artists, better eye for design and content than I’ll ever have). Some are stock photos from a company that sold me a license that allows me to use the photos in my print and online publications, provided I don’t re-sell the photos. Most are from Flickr photographers who offer their work under a special license grouping called a creative commons license.
The creative commons license (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creative_commons_license) became popular online a few years ago and allows artists, musicians, and writers to make some of their work available provided attribution (and usually a return link) is given. There are “baseline” rights such as attribution, non-commercial, no derivatives, etc. Self-promoting writers (me included) were using this technique in the late 90’s, offering various articles for syndication (pre-blogs) provided the article in its entirety was republished and that the “information box” giving a short bio and a website link was included. I still have old articles on writing—from 1993—routinely being republished this way because the material is still timely even though I no longer write those types of books. I’d have no idea they were still being circulated were it not for Google Alerts. But the link-back still sends people my way and they often become regular readers.
I’m a stickler on copyrights (having had my work pirated before) but I ran into someone today who’d put the wrong license on his copyrighted photo. I’d followed the license exactly as provided…but he didn’t understand the difference between a copyright and a license, or that he’d licensed the world to use his photo without paying him a dime. It wasn’t the license he intended, but I couldn’t have known that from anything on his photo page. I was happily sharing and recommending his work and flowing my readership to him, as my blog stats will attest.
And that’s where this current burning sensation started—with a really distressing morning wake-up email accusing me of theft and very obviously not understanding that he’d used the wrong license, which, as of late this morning, was still on his photo page for other people to use erroneously. Hopefully I’ve been able to explain the difference in what he wanted and what he was presenting to the world, and he’ll remove/change the license so there won’t be any further alienation of previously supportive fans. Right now, he’s full of righteous indignation (as am I) and he seems intent that people are out to do him wrong–but that’s his cross to bear. I have my own, thank you.
If anything will get me riled up, it’s having my integrity questioned. Well, that and threats of lawsuits, regardless of what I can prove fairly easily. And yes, I get riled to the point of being…over the top, apostle of fire-type angry. Why? I’m not completely sure but I think I know the answer.
I’ve obliterated many of my hot buttons over the past few years of intense spiritual work, so I’m trying to do the same with this one, using the same process as before. It’s just two questions, this process. And it usually sheds light on things at a great distance.
First, how does having my integrity questioned (or whatever the incident that incited this emotion) make me feel?
Angry, helpless, defensive, enraged, heart-pounding, just…life or death upset. WOW! Why that level of upset over some guy who doesn’t understand copyrights and the situation is easily corrected by deleting all references to him? Why can’t I simply say to myself, he doesn’t know what the frak he’s talking about, delete his work, delete his references, delete his email, and move on without a glance backward? Why the—seriously—life or death upset?
That brings me to the second part of this process. I’ve identified the feeling, all the way down to its ugliest core and the severity of it(because the severity will always be great or else it wouldn’t still be a factor in my life). So….
When was the first time(s) I remember feeling this way?
I remember two incidents where, as a very small child, I found myself having my integrity questioned. I have to go way back, first to about age five and then to a couple of years before. They’re just flashes of emotion and memory now and I’ve talked about them before in my blogs and books. They’re viewed in hindsight as if I stood alongside myself, not hearing my own screaming but keenly aware of everything around me.
The latter of the two incidents , I was attacked by a vicious dog that went for my jugular and caught my jaw instead. The scars aren’t very obvious now, thanks to laser smoothing at the plastic surgery clinic, but I know they’re there. I could easily have died that day if I hadn’t jutted my shoulder upward to instinctively protect my neck, and I still remember in an oddly detached way that life-or-death fear, the sense of survival, the sense of surprise and hurt. What I associate with this long-ago event is Daddy not believing me when I said I was just petting the dog and warning me that I’d better not tell that to the doctor because no one would believe me and I’d obviously provoked the dog somehow. It was the insistence that I’d done something wrong and the refusal to believe that I was telling the truth that stuck with me. I’d been taught to tell the truth and was now being told to withhold it in favor of a more believable story. My daddy questioned my integrity at a time when my fight or flight survival instincts were highest.
The other time was a few years before this, when the ground under my sandbox gave way, and I was buried alive in dirt and muck until my mom could race out of the house and across the yard to pull me out. I might have died that day if she hadn’t seen it happen and been close by. There’s still something dark in those memories that I cannot touch, dare not, but I do remember the oddly detached sense of fear, the life-or-death closeness of the moment, the surprise, the terror. I also remember someone in my family—I don’t remember who—implying I’d done something to cause the situation and not wanting to hear otherwise. I was too little to understand what integrity was then, but I knew the feeling of being questioned as a wrong-doer at a moment when my fight or flight survival instincts were highest. I couldn’t distinguish between the two.
So I guess it’s no surprise that having my honesty questioned brings back those feelings of “MUST SURVIVE THIS—MUST FIGHT—MUST KICK AND SCREAM AND STAY ALIVE.” I know the trigger now, at least two of them, but how do I blow off the next person who comes along with wild accusations? It’s going to happen. You know it is—we live in a litigious world and throwing around threats of legal action is a typical shoot-and-ask-questions-later methodology. So how do I not “over-react” next time, even if most people don’t know how irrational I feel about something they’ll never hear about?
I guess the truth is, I don’t know how to not react. The best I can do, and what usually works for me…eventually…is to know the root cause of those feelings and understand that it often has nothing at all to do with the current event. I don’t know if that’s a cure for releasing explosive feelings and letting them fade away, but it’s the best I’ve got.