“After that, the weekend was a nightmare.”
“I’ve invested too much at this point to leave.”
“It is going to require a great deal of purging before a resolution occurs.”
In the three examples above, zero in on the words in italic. What is really being said in each of these statements?
A) Not sure?
B) Bummed this post isn’t about how to deal effectively with narcissists?
C) Concerned that someone has started a war against metaphors?
I assure you, my love for metaphor is undiminished, but if you picked Not sure, then you see what I am talking about.
These are statements using Emotionally Camouflaged Language.
Whatever happened during that nightmarish weekend, caused the person who said it a lot of feelings. Feelings that for issues of safety, awareness, or distance are easier to describe as a nightmare, than whatever the reality was.
This kind of talk distances us from our emotional experience.
Before you say, but Mr. Therapist, distancing ourselves from our difficult emotional experiences is a useful coping strategy, I agree with you. But these statements were not made in haste while on public transportation, or during the operation of heavy machinery, or while running down a hallway trying to evade a horde of zombies. They were said during therapy sessions. The mutually agreed upon time and place were adults supposedly talk about their feelings.
The good news is that almost everybody does this. I will put myself at the top of the list so there are no bad feelings, and so you know that I mean business. The bad news is that I am asking you to take a closer look at this behavior and consider changing it.
The capacity to abstract is a wonderful, useful, indelible human ability. But it doesn’t do you any favors when you use it to describe how you fucking feel.
Moving on to the second quote: “I’ve invested too much to leave at this point.”
So not only is there emotionally camouflaged language being used, but whatever is being felt by the person making the statement is causing a behavior conflict—should I stay or should I go now? Is the person saying they are unhappy with how much they invested, that they were previously fine with their investment but now feel trapped and unable to leave, or are they saying investing in anything makes them feel uncomfortable, even vulnerable? To take the statement at face value would require a lot of assumptions. And, I know, you are tired of hearing that making assumptions is bad. But I am going to tell you again. Making assumptions is bad! And it allows people to get away with using emotionally camouflaged language. A simple response, the anti-assumption response, would be to ask this person, “Can you tell me more about what you mean by invested too much.” If they can’t or don’t, or play coy, you could follow up with: “It sounds like you are feeling something strongly about leaving.”
The third example: “It is going to require a great deal of purging before a resolution occurs.”
Purging sounds bad, right? I mean there are examples where purging is a good thing, but mostly it has a negative connotation. But we don’t know for sure. Purging can have a net positive effect but the act of the purge itself can be distressing. Is the person saying he or she is ambivalent to the purging?
I will continue next time with more on this topic. Thank you for your emails and comments about my posts and for your patience.
Not sure what to call your feelings and want a handy guide? I got you covered here.
Need more convincing?
If there is a theme for this year that I want to encourage, it is to be fierce with your emotions. To stand up and protect your needs. And a key in doing in that is to understand what your needs are in the first place and to communicate what they are to the people in your environment. You’re the only champion your emotions have. The more you embrace this, the less likely someone can take advantage of you or your emotional state(s).
So, when you are angry, express that you are fucking angry. When appropriate and appropriately. No beating your chest like a gorilla. When you are sad, describe the sadness. Stay with your sadness. Don’t obfuscate. Because you aren’t fooling me. You might be fooling yourself though.