Differentiating Feeling from Emotion

In light of the idea that the presence of emotion may be the most accessible and reliable indicator the unconscious is activating, learning to differentiate feeling from emotion or affect becomes a first order priority.

Recall, on the differentiation of feeling from emotion, Perry, with help from Jung, observes:

“. . . feeling is of a different order from that of emotion; feeling is a function of consciousness, and – to the degree to which it is differentiated – has the quality of choice and intentionality in judgments of value.” J W Perry p.2

“. . . emotions are the activity of the unconscious, the non-ego” (Jung, 1907)

“. . . emotions are autonomous and happen to the ego without its bidding, and the ego is the recipient of the impact of the emotions” (Jung, 1939, 1943).

“. . . we think of the unconscious as being the autonomous psyche, and it can as well be called the emotional psyche.”

Before moving into thinking about the problem of emotion and importance of discerning feeling from emotion, consider the following quote that captures emotion in its fullness:

(Jung) “…conflict engenders fire, the fire of affects and emotions, and like every other fire, it has two aspects, that of combustion and that of creating light…for emotion is the chief source of consciousness. There is no change from darkness to light or from inertia to movement without emotion…” (Perry paper)

For me the observation “there is no change from darkness to light or from inertia to movement without emotion” supports directly the importance of developing one’s capacity to work within the blur. In recognizing emotion as an essential element to this process, we might imagine encountering the blur as something like this: the fire of the emotion generates light; the light in turn, when we can bear to look into it deeply, guides us to the discovery of the missing component of development. For this to be revealed requires we bring a witnessing consciousness to the scene of emotion; this allows the activation to be suffered directly; this in turn reveals the original scene, and thereby the suffering becomes meaningful. In this moment, if/when we can pay attention to the depth of the self-other experience in its fullness, what needs to happen can happen. This time, after all this time, it is as if the help that saves the day shows up in the nick of time. Now, all is understood. It all makes sense in this happy moment.

And now back to the difficulty at hand. A trial acceptance of this premise – emotion = activation – equates with making a personal commitment to withdrawing one’s energy from an escalating power struggle. This means choosing to surrender the ego’s position of needing to make a point, and doing everything possible to acknowledge the presence of an unconscious driver. This is in the service of activating the power of witnessing consciousness. Let’s try that descriptor on for this function.

In terms of understanding what generates the emotion, Perry observes:

“. . . I find the occurrence of any emotion to consist of the interplay between two complexes. . . The subject experiences the affect that belongs to the complex with which the ego aligns itself, and assigns the other pole to the object. During the emotion the energetic value of the ego is lessened, and that of the complex heightened, and in this situation one should speak of an interrelation of an affect-ego and an affect-object.”

When you sense the presence of a feeling tone, what Perry is calling an interrelation of an affect-ego and an affect-object, perhaps having noticed clear evidence of someone’s  ego powering down, including your own, you may still have a choice to try not to surrender your own consciousness. While a melt down in process may be very obvious, it is surprising how often all of us seem willing to abandon ship and jump in, contributing our material to strengthen the power of the complex. As if a perfect storm will help the situation. (see Emotion and Invulnerability to Fire page)

The couple complex image as symbol puts the experiential state complex graphic back into the bodies of the two who find themselves engaged at the level of the participation mystique. The experiential state complex image in the center of the two then represents the interplay of two complexes, in the moment. For me this suggests the blur exits both in self and other, with the central image standing in for both parties complexes.

The Persona Submitting to Emotion plate views this scene  from the perspective of an individual Experiential State Complex.

If/when one is unable to stay conscious enough to contain an activation, the complex splits and is at risk for moving out into the room. When one pole hijacks the originator’s ego, the other pole is projected onto the object or environment. If the other unwittingly introjects the projected content, the “offering,” it is likely the re-enactment of the wounding will take place. I have positioned the symbol for the complex between the two parties, indicating the scene is under the spell of the originator’s complex image and affect.

Side note: Remember projection and introjection by definition refer to the unconscious aspects/layers of our process.  In that sense, intojection is always unwitting, as we don’t recognize we have just absorbed a projected content. We are always becoming aware of this, as intuition senses this. Really tuning in to this level can be hazardness, perhaps along the lines of the difficulty captured by William Stafford in his observation: “I call it cruel, and perhaps the root of all cruelty, to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.”

The teaching moment here is to support developing a sensitivity to picking up on this early enough to intervene with awareness. When we are conscious enough to see it coming our way, we have many options. If one misses reading the signals, and one’s own unfinished emotional business provides a hook for the projection to catch on, the stage is set for the enactment.

This is the mechanism of projective identification. While I understand there are severe forms of this defense, which is very difficult when fully activated, I find it helpful and useful to consider something of this gets constellated, at a less intense level, more frequently than we might think. Here, an intolerably painful self assessment, unable to be thought about directly, gets projected onto you, and then my experience of you is you are looking at me as if I were x, y, or z, in perfect alignment with the projected critical judgement. I feel hurt, upset, misunderstood by you, and you are going to hear about it! This dynamic also could be understood as an exteriorization of the inner antagonist.

The Couple Experiential State Complex suggests another layer of complexity, reflecting an established co-created complex. This recognizes the fact of the couple’s shared history of activations; over time these have contributed significant material to the original individual complexes (see Stein on Complexes page.) While life partners have time to notice the ritualistic, repetition compulsion aspects to their communication breakdowns, it seems activations with strangers can be every bit as problematic, if not devastating. In fact, it is quite common to get lined up on your complex at home, bringing enough consciousness to it to recognize the blur, only to then have it activated somewhere on the road. We want to try to contain this deeper work within our personal and couple’s process. When these activations occur “out there”, the goal is to recognize the “exteriorized inner antagonist” and bring him/her home.

Here is another lengthy but exquisite observation from Perry on the difficulty and importance of striving to stay conscious:

“From the fire of the passionate life grows the light of awareness, but the activeness of the ego’s attitude decides the gains or losses. If the ego is passive and allows the contents to remain habitually ensconced in their emotional form, there may be only gain on the side of the unconscious. In their emotional form the images remain merely intimations of meaning; one can speak of true understanding only when the meaning is recognized by an active ego-consciousness and adopted into its structure of values and meanings. Instead of passively allowing an affect-ego to relate to the affect-object, without the effort of understanding, the active ego intervenes, insisting upon an assimilation of the meaning over a period of time.” (Chuck’s italics)

If images in their emotional form are in fact mere intimations of meaning, the presence of emotion, when viewed from the position of an active ego consciousness, represents a bridge to true understanding. The emotional activation is an opportunity to deepen consciousness, moving from an intimation of meaning to the direct experience of the meaning. This how we come to self-knowledge. Might this be the most direct pathway to finding the mythological gift believed to be at the center of wound?



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