The elusive key to emotional mastery, Part 2: Accessing the Deepest Issues

In part one of this series I discussed the key to mastering your emotions – feeling them directly, completely, consciously and not acting on them. This lets them slide off you, never to return.

Note that I said it was simple, not easy. If it was so easy, why do so many people suffer from negativity? Why do so many people doubt and lack self-confidence? There are so many common pitfalls and obstacles along the way. In this post I will address a few of them.

Deepest issues

The first area I want to cover is what I call the deepest issues. What do I mean by this? If you have brought your unhappiness to the front, and accepted them, there will come a time when you should be free of them. It might take a few days, or a few weeks, but it will happen.

But what if it doesn’t go away, no matter how much time you’ve spent? Sometimes this is because you haven’t gone deep enough. Often times something hurts because of a deeper issue. If someone broke into my car and stole my CD player, not all the hurt comes from the loss of the player and the damage to my car. Some of the hurt comes from deeper inside; in this case, I might have a sense that the world is unsafe. Perhaps a sense that I can’t trust anyone or that I have to protect myself always.

To put this in another way, your beliefs and assumptions were violated, and that hurts. You have a basic need for security, and it is carried by your assumption that the world is safe, and that people are basically good. The assumption has been broken, and the lack of security hurts.

Therefore, to fully let go of this pain, you will have to go deeper. Bring these assumptions to the front, with the associated emotions. Feel those with a completely open heart. What does it feel like to live in a dangerous world? How does it feel like to be scared? How does it feel to have a safe place – your car – no longer safe? Remember that this can be uncomfortable, so stop if it starts to get too much.

An example

One of the worst pains I had to purge was caused by an abusive client. A man rang me up in my web design business once, and asked for a draft for free. Being young and stupid, I agreed, and did my best for him at no charge. I figured the most I could lose was a few hours of work.

After I finished the draft, I emailed it to him. He didn’t reply to my email. A second email; no reply as well. I assumed the mails had gotten lost in the ether, and after a few days I rang him up to ask if he had received them. And the moment he picked up the phone, he abused me like I had raped his mother or something simply because he didn’t like my free draft. The memory and the resulting pain tortured me daily for nearly 2 years, although I didn’t know why people had much worse to me and I didnt really care.

When I tried to purge this memory, I simply rubbed his insults in. I assumed that was all I needed to do as his insults was what I had been replaying daily in my head. I did it many times over months, but it didn’t stop hurting. I made his insults worse; that didn’t work either. I began to think acceptance didn’t work, and tried desperately to find other systems of emotional mastery. Until it hit me one day – the pain wasn’t from his words, it was from my deeper issues. I did something nice out of a childlike need for recognition, thanks, and perhaps a new client. Instead I got vilely abused for it.

What had been violated was something far deeper than a few vile words. Maybe it was a belief that kindness should always be repaid with kindness. Likely it was my self-esteem – his actions essentially told me that my best wasn’t good enough. It was like he told me – “Your pure innocent actions, your heart on a silver platter wasn’t good enough. Even better, you wimp, your best, your fragile little heart on a silver platter deserves to be abused and spat on.”

That was the feeling I had to bring to the fore. That was the thought I had to sit silently with. That was the emotion I had to accept and suffer through consciously. It took a long time, but finally it disappeared for good.

Does that make sense? Please apply that to your practice and let me know how it goes.

The opposite

Sometimes the opposite occurs. Instead of getting stuck because you didn’t go deep enough, a seemingly superficial pain can drag up a whole heap of deeper issues.

I recently hurt a young woman’s feelings accidentally. I couldn’t apologise because I never saw her again, but the thought of it stuck in my head. I couldn’t get the expression on her face out of my mind, and I imagined and exaggerated the unhappiness she must have suffered as a result. It wasn’t anything major though, so I thought that it would only take a few minutes to sit with and let go of.

It ended up taking me more than an hour, and it was one of the worst feelings I’ve ever had. The guilt was overwhelming; I nearly threw up a couple of times (I have a gag reflex when I feel fearful or anxious). I can’t be exactly sure why, but I believe that it dragged up many violated deep beliefs. “I am a bad person because I hurt someone.” “I should go through life without hurting even one person.” “I am evil even if it was accidental.”

I don’t know how you can use this, but it is important to know, just in case you come across this in your own practice. Always remember to stop if it gets too uncomfortable, and if you have extreme physical reactions please consider seeing a family doctor first.

These deeper issues are also called core beliefs – but I didn’t call it that as core beliefs are far wider in scope and not usually meant to be used in this way! This is just a hint to help your purging process.

What’s next?

In the next post, I’ll cover some obstacles that you’ll come across in your practice. One of the biggest is the trap of positive thinking. There is so much self-help material out there that simply tells you to stop thinking about your negativity – and it actually hurts you so much more. I suffered under this for months, and it is important to discuss, so stay tuned for the next post.