Why am I feeling like this?
You arrive in a new relationship or a new situation and find yourself reacting unusually. It feels out of character, not how you ordinarily respond in such situations. It feels uncomfortable, disorientating. You struggle to contain it, ignore it, behave normally but it persists, gnawing at you inside. You feel anxious, prickly, agitated and it’s hard to keep things in perspective. You know something is wrong but you don’t know what and you can’t understand why. What could this be about? Is it simply a strange, inexplicable intuition? Is it just about you?
Some psychological theories, e.g. transference or pattern matching, suggest that aspects of a new situation may resonate deeply and subconsciously with personal experiences from the past. It’s as if something seems familiar and we transpose feelings from the past onto that situation. This ability enables us to approach new scenarios with an element of experience, rather than trying to navigate every new experience from a blank sheet. Problems arise, however, when similarities are only superficial or the feelings are inappropriate or unhelpful.
If we find recurring patterns in our responses, one way to address this is to notice the feeling and to reflect back on, ‘When was the first time I remember feeling like this?’ Often, this takes us back to a specific childhood experience. We could vividly re-imagine that situation, (a) as if knowing then what we know now, (b) as an alternative scenario in which what we would have liked to have happened did happen or (c) if another person was involved, with what we would have liked to have said and the response we would like to have received.
This process takes concentration, allowing ourselves really to visualise and feel the revised situation as if it had actually happened. It can have the effect of desensitising our memories and, if they were painful, taking some of the sting out of them. At the point of imagination, we may choose a colour that captures the feeling of the revised scenario, as if painting it in that colour. This anchors the positive feeling in the colour and enables us to recall that colour when facing new situations, thereby associating the new feeling with them.
But what if it isn’t about resonance with a past experience? What else could explain our feelings and responses? Some psychological theories, e.g. countertransference or parallel process, locate the source of the feeling outside of ourselves. It’s as if we receive a subconscious stimulus from a person or our wider environment that causes us to feel what the other is feeling. It’s one step beyond empathy, an actual experiencing of another’s experience. Coaches and therapists may use this kind of awareness to identify unspoken issues in a client or system.
Some ways to recognise this internalising phenomenon are if we find ourselves (a) feeling very alien to how we normally feel in a relationship or situation, (b) reacting out of proportion to what a situation appears to call for or (c) experiencing the same each time we encounter a particular person or environment. We can test this tentatively with others to check it out, e.g. ‘I’m aware of feeling X…is that how you are feeling?’, ‘Each time we meet I feel quite ‘parental’…is that how you see me?’, ‘I feel X when I visit…is that how it feels to work here?’
It could be that we’re experiencing a combination of various internal and external dynamics. After all, it’s sometimes hard to unravel what we’re experiencing and why. Perhaps the boundaries between our present and past experiences, our internal and external worlds, are more permeable than we realise. As a coach or therapist, what do you attribute experience to? How do you discern and differentiate between your own experience and that of the client or system? What do you do practically to help clients handle their experiences differently?
11/4/2013 03:43:58 am
Hello Nick! It was inetersting to read your thoughts about the quiestion who's feeling is it, whetever we feel. Psychologically we call it projective identification, when the feeling I feel is actually the feeling of another person. It's not an easy issue. But there is at least one method to be able to differenciate between my feelings and the other one: I have to ask myself: do I feel the same feeling with different people/organoisations too, or only with a specific one? If I have the ceratin feeling with several people/organisations than there is a big chance that source of it is in me. But if I have it only in case I meet the certain person or organisation than there is a big chance that it's not coming from my inner reality.
1/6/2013 09:19:04 am
Hi Judit and thanks for your helpful comments. I agree it's not an easy issue to discern the precise source or combination of sources of a feeling. Thanks for your helpful practical examples of how to recognise projective identification. With best wishes. Nick
11/4/2013 03:45:05 am
Fear, anxiety or apprehension based on past experience?
1/6/2013 09:22:53 am
Hi Stephen and thanks for the note. Yes, I believe that emotions associated with experiences from the past can flow into current experiences, i.e. by transference or pattern matching. With best wishes. Nick
11/4/2013 08:22:27 am
From your other entry, this is a cognitive framework and can be developed and then conditioned from many sources. As well, it is constantly evolving, although usually slowly and without our conscious participation. When the frameworks, however, result in our actions creating outcomes that are not acceptable it is necessary to understand the roots of our frameworks and take intentional action to change them. This is often a show, and perhaps painful, process. However, without taking this approach, actions and results simply cannot change.
1/6/2013 09:28:38 am
Hi Art and thanks for the interesting comments. They reminded me of insights in cognitive behavioural therapy and coaching that feelings in the present can arise from cognitive beliefs, perceptions or distortions, i.e. our feelings arise from how we perceive an experience or event rather than as a direct consequence of the experience or event per se. With best wishes. Nick
11/4/2013 11:07:15 pm
Nick, here is a brief excerpt from "Who's REALLY Driving Your Bus?" on this pattern of significant shifts in internal feelings/reactions?
1/6/2013 09:39:00 am
Hi James and thanks for sharing such a though provoking exerpt. Some aspects reminded me of the notion of 'pattern matching' in human givens therapy. It's interesting how the emotions attached to previous experiences can be triggered so vividly and powerfully in the present, sometimes completely unexpectedly which can leave us feeling confused, upset or destabilised.
15/8/2013 04:35:20 am
10/1/2014 10:24:40 pm
What you share good things concerning a new relationship or a new situation if given the analysis can truly recognize what it's like bringing the aggregate.
Leave a Reply.
I'm a psychological coach, trainer and OD consultant. Curious to discover how can I help you? Get in touch!
Like what you read? Simply enter your email address below to receive regular blog updates!