False emotions are essentially words that are trying very hard to hide their judgmental sting, either of others or of self. It’s like a furry jacket on an icy cold winter night that promises warmth, but when you put it on, you discover that it is lined with thorns 😓 Put another way, it’s another excuse to “interpret”, to “impose a judgment narrative”, to “stay in the head”, instead of dropping into the bodily sensations of suffering.
As you continue reading, kindly keep in mind that the principle is more important than semantic precision as the science of emotion is very new, and we’re at the beginning of our understanding about the biochemical basis of emotions. So, a healthy dose of intellectual humility is in order.
Also, this is first and foremost an exercise in understanding and reflection that hopefully, enables you to more confidently practice compassion, and not intended to be used as a stick to correct others or one’s self.
Below are some examples of false emotions and what the underlying ‘actual’ emotions may be. The structure would be, instead of “I feel betrayed”, it may be that “I am angry / afraid …”
- Bullied — Confused, Scared
- Criticised — Anxious, Hurt
- Insulted — Embarrassed, Angry
- Misunderstood — Frustrated, Upset
- Unsupported — Sad, Lonely
To ‘feel’ betrayed / bullied / insulted is an interpretation of another person’s behaviour as proof of harmful intention. To ‘feel’ criticised / misunderstood / unsupported requires an element of self-judgment and a sense of “should have”, either about others and/or self.
In the context of a compassionate conversation, the objective is not to ascertain whether the speaker is being betrayed or bullied or criticised or insulted or misunderstood or unsupported. They may very well be. The objective is instead, to help alleviate the suffering in a wholesome manner, without compromising the dignity of all involved.
As the person holding space for compassion, your objective is to guide the person back towards embracing their emotions, so that they may identify the unmet needs that are triggering these emotions. Once the need is named, there is an opportunity to return to wholeness. In other words, when you are guessing what emotions lie behind the judgment and interpretation, it’s not about getting it right. Instead, it’s to redirect attention back to being in the body, and being present to the underlying needs.
Let’s use an example, in the form of a self-reflection exercise, to bring to life the difference between false emotions and ‘actual’ emotions. Let’s say I received an email from my manager about the report I’ve been preparing for the Board meeting. One part of the email reads “… section 3.2 needs to be entirely rewritten because the way the chart’s been presented makes us look incompetent. The rest of the report is great, so just get rid of the chart. Please do this by EOD, and run it through me first.” My response?
- Option 1: Feeling criticised, I’m thinking to myself, “Sh*t, he’s right. Should have caught that. But he could have been more PC with his choice of words. And, doesn’t he trust me?”
- Option 2: Feeling anxious, I’m thinking to myself, “Hmmm, I can see his point of view. Wondering if he thinks I’ve messed up and didn’t display the level of strategic thinking he had expected.”
- Option 3: Feeling hurt, I’m thinking to myself, “Yeah he’s right. But with the amount of all-nighters I’ve had to pull to get this done on time, mistakes are to be expected.”
Each of the above self-thought will differently influence how I would respond to my manager. Option 1 may plant the seed for passive-aggressive and/or antagonistic interactions, and is unlikely to allow for a good conversation with my manager because chances are that I’ll constantly be on the defensive. Option 2, if unattended to, may plant the seeds for self-doubt. If however attended to, it may lead to a healthy conversation about talent development (as one among possible outcomes). Option 3, if unattended to, may plant the seeds for avoidance behaviour. If however attended to, it may lead to a conversation where I share with my manager how to bring the best out of me (as one among possible outcomes).
If you’re interested to further explore how to meaningfully use the false / ‘actual’ emotions in your life, check out Nonviolent Communication:
PS. If you are curious about how I came to compassion, click here 🌹