Comment: The skill described in this email is subtle, but powerful — it allows you to identify where you have power, and where you do not.
MacQuarrie Email Program #09 — The Pointing Finger
In these next eight emails, we are going to focus more on actual skills, skills that will allow you to gather data about your issues, and begin to make changes in how you respond. Be aware of two things:
- the skills I will be offering will be applicable to any emotional issue, not just anger. (I hope it is apparent by now that anger is simply an emotion, like any other emotion — one that many people have difficulty with, but no different in mechanism from sadness, fear, joy, et cetera.)
- depending on mechanism, you can make many changes in yourself. Alternatively, it may be helpful to work with a skilled therapist — often an outside observer can see much that is not apparent to yourself (partly this is because we are all past masters of avoiding our own deepest issues).
This activity, The Pointing Finger, is a way to explore any issue, a way that emphasizes where and how you have power. It is part of a larger context, called Emotional Triangles, which we will explore in more detail later (Email #12).
Your task: do the activity of this email.
Think about any memory when you were very angry with another person about a specific situation — make it very specific, a single situation (when, where, what, et cetera — the specific details).
Imagine first of all, that you are standing outside yourself watching yourself in this memory. As you do so, notice what sensations you feel in your body. (When I first did this kind of exercise, I was totally unaware of my body! If such is your experience, simply recognize it, and carry on as best you can — your skill will improve, especially if you continue to practice the Awareness activity of Email #03. Be patient!)
Take a piece of paper, and briefly write down your sensations. This process of standing outside watching yourself is called being dissociated. It is a very common way in which people experience their memories.
Give your body a shake — to let go of the experience (from your body, not just your mind).
Now step into your body, and experience the memory as if you are right there, right now. Notice how the sensations change. (Write them down again.) This is an associated position.
I am willing to bet that the sensations of the associated position are much more intense. Again, give your body a shake, and go back to the dissociated position.
Now I want you to step again into the memory in three different ways. When you do, notice your body sensations, write them down, give your body a shake, and go back to being dissociated.
- step in, and notice how angry you are at the other person. Really focus on that person.
- step in, and notice how angry you are about the situation, how it should not be.
- step in, and notice your own body as you become aware of the other and the situation.
As you study your sensations in each of these exploratory positions, I imagine that your sensations are different in each case, perhaps in subtle ways, perhaps in very dramatic ways. Just explore; don’t simply take my word that they should be different.
In my particular case, when I do this exercise, this is what I find:
- when I focus on the other, my body sensations are mainly in my face. My face feels tight and hot, as if I am piercing the other with my looks.
- when I focus on the situation, my sensations move back, as if they are inside the back of my face, much less intense.
- when I focus on myself, my sensations move down somewhat into my neck and upper chest, and now as well as anger, I fell somewhat sad.
These sensations of mine are quite consistent over a variety of conflicts.
Your experience will almost certainly be different from mine.
Do this activity with a number of people and situations over the next few days. Explore whether or not there is a consistent pattern to your body sensations, that is consistent sensations for each of the three positions. As note, in my case, there is.
So what is important here?
- Your experience changes depending on where you focus.
- You cannot change the other person.
- Nor can you likely change the situation very much.
But you can change yourself! That is where your personal power lies.
If you imagine this activity as your hand pointing at the other, in the typical pose of your index finger doing the pointing and your thumb in the air, there are also three fingers pointing back at you. These three fingers are to remind you to ask yourself:
- where is my focus? On the other? On the situation? On myself?
- how am I contributing to this issue?
- what else could I be doing? What would allow me to live my own personal power, authentically caring to resolve this conflict?
(As a hint for later, this pointing finger is also an emotional triangle: any two people, and a third person or issue. The relationship between the second and third components is called the third limb, and it is always a place of powerlessness, and potential stuckness.)
An important adage:
The more something bothers me, the more I have to learn about myself.
Coming next: Gathering data — the John James Game Plan.