Imagine you come home to a beautifully wrapped gift on your table.
If it is your birthday, and you live with someone – you may feel excited
If it is your birthday, but no one else had a key to your apartment – you may feel concerned
If it is your anniversary – you may be angry with yourself for forgetting
Context shapes our expectations, and our expectations shape our emotions.
I will let you in on a secret…the media lies to us. Even our own parents lie to us. And THEIR lies become OUR context!
Most of us have received the message that we are supposed to be happy…pretty much ALL of the time. When someone looks sad, we even ask “What’s WRONG?“. We also learn that life is supposed to be fair. If we work hard enough, are kind enough, if we are a good enough partner, son/ daughter/ friend / employee etc, we will be ok. We are all striving to feel emotionally and physically safe. What this looks like and how we try to get this can look quite different based on past experiences (our survival maps- this is our CONTEXT), but that we strive for it is part our genetic blueprint.
When we have these EXPECTATIONS (that we are supposed to be happy and life is supposed to be fair), we keep trying to carry relationships where we are being taken advantage of, with the expectation that eventually they will see what they are doing and be thoughtful and considerate of us. Alternatively, we keep accepting work from our boss in the hopes that they eventually show some sort of appreciation for us. We feel ENTITLED, even when we consciously KNOW we are not, and this is in fact NOT how the world works, we still unconsciously often still feel entitled to that expected appreciation and thoughtfulness because it is a part of our survival map. As a result, when we don’t get it, we have BIG EMOTIONS.
As we work harder and harder to be good enough, we become more and more distressed and run down. A big part of that comes from feeling emotionally exhausted, because we are needing to keep stuffing all the feelings. Anyone who has pretended to be happy when they are really upset can vouch for how exhausting and draining this is.
We are biologically wired to be activated and mad when our needs are not met. We get the surge of energy that comes with anger because our bodies are giving us the fuel to help us get back on track to safety. This is why we only ever really get angry when we feel threatened- physically, (this is self explanatory), OR emotionally, which happens anytime we feel NOT SEEN, NOT HEARD or like we DON’t MATTER. This is why someone being unfair, dismissive, or invalidating can be so infuriating. The biological imperative of anger is actually to keep us safe and to be constructive. Unfortunately, if we only saw destructive anger or didn’t see anger at all, we don’t know how to use it that way, but that is its purpose biologically.
So when we feel taken advantage of because we are doing everything we are supposed to in order to be good enough, and we are still not feeling emotionally and physically safe- we get MAD. But if we weren’t doing anything wrong and we weren’t getting our needs met, then showing the people whose approval we are trying to get that we are mad will make it even less likely we will have our needs met, and this gets compounded by any survival map stuff we also learned about anger, its acceptability and how it gets used…so for the most part, we turn it on us! After all, the only explanation that still allows us to hold onto the belief that we are supposed to be happy and that life is fair is that WE ARE DOING IT WRONG. We need to try harder, we aren’t being good enough, otherwise it would work out.
So all that energy that was activated when our needs weren’t met goes into anxiety, negative self talk or self destructive behaviours, or it goes into spending, drinking, worrying about things outside of our control. If you want a reminder of some of the common defenses, check out our All About Feelings video and More About Feelings on our landing page.
Now imagine if our survival maps, the media and our tribe taught us that it is healthy and appropriate to be mad, sad, upset when our needs are not met, and that life often isn’t fair. After all, bad things happen to good people all the time and vice versa.
There is no question that we would need to GRIEVE and be sad for the loss of that false sense of security that comes from thinking we have an almost fool-proof map to safety, but it would also FREE US from being a slave to people and situations that make us feel weaker. We would know when we are consistently not having our needs met, it is just one of those situations it is ok to be upset about and to take action to be safe again.
So let’s do a thought experiment
- How would YOUR life be different if you LET GO of the belief that you are supposed to be happy and that life is fair? How would that FREE you?
- Which Survival Map do you WANT to keep investing in?
See you next week!