Start paying attention to the kids in the back

The quiet kids in the back of the classroom are usually right

A recent, unpleasant situation made me realize that I suck at noticing my feelings. I was telling a friend about it and the other person asked me how I felt when it happened. I couldn't explain because I couldn't put it in words. Being an engineer and realist I can tell you exactly what happened, the reason for why it happened and all the logical outcomes. But my feelings? I have no idea.

This got me thinking, and my thinking normally involves lots of research. I am currently down in the psychology rabbit hole trying to understand different theories about how our mind works. Freud, Jung, Adler and friends.

One interesting theory is the Affect theory. It states that there are nine primary affects. An affect is an emotion or subjectively experienced feeling. These affects can be either positive, neutral or negative.

So you just learned that you have a core set of affects (or emotions). Great, now what? The hard thing is to notice them because your true core emotions are often suppressed by your other (false) emotions. It happens unconsciously and it happens for a good reason. To protect you, or sooner your ego, which is your personality. All this is explained by the Triangle of Conflict model.

Simply explained in layman terms: a situation triggers a core (raw) emotion in you. This emotion triggers an alarm and a committee is gathered to decide how you should deal with this emotion. This committee (your superego) is based on your upbringing, past traumas, values and a bunch of other stuff. If this committee decides that this emotion is somehow harmful or dangerous to your ego it replaces the core emotion with some other emotion (laughter, sarcasm, etc) or simply suppresses the emotion. It's a form of defense and is done for your own good. This process also happens at the speed of light without you even noticing it.

To explain it in computer terms, you have a built-in proxy that sits between your unconscious mind and your concious mind. This proxy decides if it should let your true feelings pass, drop them or replace them with something else.

Turns out this Change Triangle, as it's also called, is a useful tool to get to know your feelings better.

The first basic step is to start noticing your core emotions. Because everything happens automatically, and so fast, you can't process things in real-time. It's psychically impossible. What you can do is to carefully think about a situation in retrospect and see if you can identify your core emotions and if they were replaced by some other emotion. If you stick to this habit you will start noticing patterns in your behavior. This knowledge will slowly some shine light on your true feelings and you will start to notice small changes in yourself. Your behaviour and your reactions to various life situations will change.

I've been doing this for a while now and have identified that I normally suppress a lot of feelings than change them. My ego doesn't allow me to feel because it thinks that feelings are dangerous for me.

Even noticing my core emotions is super hard for me. I like to compare them to the shy kids sitting in the back of the classroom. When I ask a question there are a bunch of kids who sit in the front raising their hands, almost jumping out of their chairs, yelling "Me! Me! Pick me! I know this!" These kids are logic and reason. The over-achievers, the Besserwissers.

But then you see a tiny thin and pale hand that is slowly raised in the back of the classroom. Scared, unsure. You tell the kids in the front to be quiet and ask the shy kid in the back to speak. Everyone turns around and the room goes quiet. The kid in the back starts to speak in a quiet voice. All the kids in the front start laughing because that's the stupidest thing they've ever heard. You hush at them to be quiet and ask the kid to continue talking. When the kid is done talking the room is silent. You can hear old florescent lights buzzing. Nobody is laughing now. Because deep down everybody knows that this is the best answer, even if it can be hard to admit.

Start paying attention to the kids in the back of your classroom and you will get true answers and not only the right answers.