Problem: Feelings can set off “vicious circles” of interaction.
Imagine a child being scared. The child’s feeling triggers fear and perhaps anger in the parent. The parent’s feeling scares the child even more; the “super-scared” child, in turn, scares the parent even more!
These “vicious circles” can be hard to stop. Emotional reactions can reverberate and escalate between two people in a split second. They can become automatic and internalized — a ready-made problem waiting to happen. For instance, this child is likely to grow up being scared of being scared. We can imagine how this old “vicious circle” could get re-triggered in this grownup child’s marriage. Such “vicious circles” underlie many marital problems.
Suggestion: Couples can begin to identify these vicious circles and team up to overcome them. This means becoming less “reactive.” Before reacting, pause to consider if a vicious circle is set to begin. If you can do this, you will see that you have more options than your original reactive impulse. You can reach out to your partner in a more sympathetic and effective way.
Problem: We can have “mixed feelings” and internal conflicts.
Human beings generally do not have “simple reactions.” We don’t just experience the “here-and-now.” Before we have a chance to think, our initial emotional reaction sets off all sorts of memories, feelings, and action impulses. Our mind has to deal with this confusing assortment of contradictory information. Part of us may say, “Go ahead — she is a good mother,” while another part may say “Don’t do it — she has hurt you in the past.” We feel an “internal conflict” which can be difficult to tolerate.
Suggestion: Accept that life is mostly a “mixed bag,” and that this leads to mixed feelings. Take a moment to identify your mixed feelings and then work with them. It is good, for example, to be able to be angry at someone and, at the same time, to remember that you love them. If you tried to simplify your feelings by being only angry or only loving, you would be making a mistake about yourself, the other person, and your relationship. However, if you hold onto all your mixed feelings and think about them, while putting off the confusing impulse to act on all of them simultaneously, you will probably figure out a way to bring them all into a coherent picture rather than remaining stuck in an “internal conflict.”
When contained and orchestrated by thoughtfulness, mixed feelings can become complex and refined feelings. You will be able to be more lovingly angry and more maturely loving.