Can we transfer feelings from one person to another?
I was just with someone who was being very nice and relaxed. Yet i felt intensely under pressure, that if I didn’t do what they were organising for me, it would be terrible. I felt awfully responsible and at the same time very hurt. When I listened to my hurt for a few seconds I realised i felt hurt because I felt steamrollered, & that I was not being listened to at all. I then realised my feeling was appropriate, as I wasn’t being listened to at all. It wasn’t ‘our plan’, it was ‘their plan’. Then i listened to my feeling of impending doom if we didn’t do what was organised, and something felt ‘not me’ about it it.
So I asked the other person how they were feeling, and they started by saying fine, then that they were anxious to get going. So I asked them to say more about their anxiousness, and after some chat, they realised that they were very anxious to follow the plan we agreed. When I pointed out that we had discussed doing a few things, and that had changed. They said ‘that’s why I was anxious to get on with the plan.’ So I said ‘but this isn’t the plan, this is just part of a plan that has changed totally. What you are trying to force me to do is not really an important part of what we had planned at all.’ Then I told them what the most important thing was. They still struggled to see that ‘The Plan’ that they were trying to force me to do was taking me away from the most important thing in ‘the plan’.
They did not see at all at the time that sticking to a linear simplistic plan is very small child behaviour, maybe 3-4 years old. It is only as we get older that little Jimmy can see that basic plans are part of a more complex and changeable world. And the intense anxiety around ‘the plan’ suggests a 3-4 year old that is under intense pressure to get ‘the plan’ right, or something terrible will happen. And if that person’s parents were in some way involved with the 2nd World War, as most middle aged people’s parent were, then the intensity of the feelings in me come sharply in to focus.
Interestingly, hours later when that same person, with help, realised that the feelings fit their extremely pressurising feelings in relationship with a father who saw horrific things in World War 2, did I feel a sense of relief, that those feelings were taken out of me.
So how did the feelings that actually belonged to the other person, and their parents before them, get into me? Only one way this can happen. If the person puts the feelings into me. And why would they do that? For the same reason everyone does it. To make the other person know how it feels.
Why do we want the other person to know how it feels? So that they maybe will hear our story and help us resolve it. Very clever in one way as this is the only way we can ever resolve internal trauma from our childhoods. Every 3-4 year old child needs someone to hear and understand them. Not very clever at all though, if we do it by pretending its not there in how we talk and behave, and stick it in sneakily and silently underneath.
So what that person needed to do was become more aware of the layers of inappropriate behaviour, and what the real issue is. And to do that they needed to become aware of a 3-4 year old child inside, who was dominated their relationship with me (and I’m sure other people too). So we need to become more aware, or we will keep sticking into other people intense feelings that are really about terrible things done or passed on by our parents in our childhood.
A huge part of mindfulness practice is just this. Working with the intense feelings of a child inside, and the havoc it reaps on our relationships if we do not allow it into awareness as it really is.
Let the 3-4 year old child be here and talk, and the pain we inflict on others decreases dramatically.
All it takes is a willingness to be mindful, to see, to hear, what’s really here. who’s really here.
The only way to do this is to stop and ask ourselves the right questions. To be willing to ‘hang’ with the feelings like intense anxiety, and to ask them why they are so anxious about whats happening now, and by being willing to hear the answers that they will give if we are listening. And then to ask the feelings about the answers they give, maybe 4-5 times, until we drop into the young child inside.