HOW DO OUR FEELINGS DRIVE AND DISTORT OUR BEHAVIOUR?

If we never come to understand the origins of our feelings, we will never learn to be accountable for how we treat ourselves and others, we will simply shame others; and in so doing shame ourselves.


This picture says it all about the kind of fortnight it has been. I have been watching the global reaction to George Floyd’s brutal murder by Derek Chauvin. As a young Sociology student, I studied the film American History X as an example of extremist behaviour. I was haunted then as I am still by that iconic scene in the film where Edward Norton’s character (also called Derek) makes a young black victim put his head on the pavement. I have been haunted again in the last two weeks by the fact that 22 years after the film’s release such dangerous hate still exists. I can only surmise that the global reaction to this is reflective of how much hate, and variations of hate, still exists, everywhere. And when I say everywhere I don’t only mean in each country, I mean in every system of our society,however subtle.

Why Do We Hate?

Professionally I am fascinated by why we hate,what makes us hate; and how quickly we can be ignited in to hate (and variations of hate), when neurobiologically we are wired to love and trust. I have researched this in the form of tribalism, dehumanizing propaganda, extremism and cults, for example. I observed subtle bias and prejudices in my coaching practice and sometimes shocking bias in my own experience. In May of 2010 I was incarcerated for being ‘racist’ towards a police officer, who was not obviously distinguishable as such, because I asked him for his police ID, which is my legal right. I never mentioned his or my race, but I was physically hurt and unjustly treated because of the emotions that were so quickly ignited and blown up by the police officer and 22 colleagues who appeared on the scene within minutes as ‘back up’ to arrest me, one unarmed woman who was terrified.

What are our distorting filters?

My arrest is a good example of a distorting filter. For the policeman who over reacted, my guess is he has some trauma around race. Our distortions come from what, in social science, we would call ‘origins’ - the part of our story that shapes our perception of others and our experiences. When we carry shame or hurt around highly emotive issues like poverty, slavery, race, gender, religion, sexuality, body image, social class (or hierarchical positions), education and another parts of our identity, any of us can be defensive about them. When we don’t deal with our pain, it can make for dangerous reactions from individuals and a very dangerous culture potentially. Distorted perceptions because of our origins play out subtly and not so subtly in every system of our lives.

We therefore all have a responsibility to heal our own distortions and help others do the same, because stress brings our distortions to the surface.

COVID is stressful, which is why it is bringing out extremely bad behaviour in people like Derek Chauvin and extremely emotional reactions from angry people who have been bottling up their rage for decades about how they are being systematically undermined because of their race by every system.

All of us, no matter which side of the ‘English speaking, dominant, white (often male), Baby Boomer’ fence we sit could probably do some emotional intelligence building muscle around our own relationship to this global narrative, because we probably all have a distortion here. For decades this White Supremacy narrative has been infiltrated in to all our psyches via what is called ‘Cultural Imperialism’.

The consequences of our distortions

Brene Brown talks often about the power of owning our story, both our individual and collective stories. I encourage my clients to learn to become emotionally non-attached to the origins of their shame through seeing it and acknowledging that their behaviours in response to their pain can cause even more pain. Essentially this is because if we don’t own our distortions we unconsciously behave in ways that perpetuate in-group bias, which results in divisions between people as we have seen on a global scale recently. This is a very effective way to break authentic trust, which then perpetuates an environment that does not embrace the complexity of human behaviour and therefore support the conditions needed for the nurturing of emotional intelligence – the number one critical competency needed in business today.

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