- Understanding how others take control of your nervous system can give you the chance to deny access.
- Mindfulness and self-reflection can help you notice feelings that don’t line up with your beliefs.
- When an emotion is projected, you can choose to either absorb or deflect it.
Do some people make you feel guilty? Angry? Afraid? Ashamed? If so, you are giving them control of your nervous system. Perhaps you have been doing this all of your life without realizing that you don’t have to. Understanding how you give other people access to your nervous system will give you the ability to deny access if you choose to.
How Others Get Access to Your Nervous System
Emotional reactions are experienced through your nervous system in many different forms. Muscle tension, pain of various sorts, stimulation, activation, heaviness, and etc. are just some of the many different forms. These feelings are then interpreted by your intellect based on the onset, intensity, and provocation of these reactions as well as history with these sensations. So how do others cause you to feel? Consider the following example where Emma in a few sentences “makes” her sister Shannon “feel guilty."
Emma: Where are you going?
Shannon: To hang out with my friends.
Emma: What about Daddy?
Shannon: I don’t know.
Emma: You don’t even think about him?
Shannon: Not at the moment.
Emma: Don’t you love him?
Shannon: Of course, I do.
Emma: You don’t show it.
Shannon felt so guilty at the thought that her father might not feel loved by her that her evening with her friends was ruined. She ruminated over how to make it up to her father and couldn’t get the image out of her mind of her father sitting at home all alone while she was out having fun with her friends. In a few sentences, her sister got control of Shannon’s nervous system for the rest of the night. How does this happen?
The Wonderful World of Projection
Projection is where people express expectations or preformed perceptions of others, often causing the target to experience emotions related to the projection. This is generally done without awareness (unconsciously). In the above example, Emma expresses the expectation that dad needs constant consideration by his daughters and that Shannon is less loving in this area than Emma is. Emma does this just by asking questions! Shannon ends up feeling guilty even though she didn’t do anything wrong.
Emma was able to temporarily gain access to her sister’s nervous system and make her feel guilty. Can Shannon deny access to her nervous system to her sister and others? How is this done?
A Guide to Protecting Your Nervous System
Step 1: Identifying Projections. The first step in securing your nervous system is to identify contaminants: other people’s emotions stimulating your nervous system in the form of projection. Mindfulness and self-reflection will allow you to identify feelings that you have that do not correspond to your thoughts or beliefs. Feeling guilty for something that you don’t think is wrong is an example. In the above example, Shannon does not think she did anything wrong: she did not believe that her dad needed to be constantly attended to. This signals a projected feeling rather than a self-generated one.
Step 2: Absorb or Deflect. Once you have identified a projected emotion, you can choose to absorb it and make it your own by treating it as your own, or deflect it, which involves identifying it as someone else’s feeling but rejecting it as your own. In the following example, Darren and Wilson just got into a car accident. Darren backed into Wilson while he was driving by.
Darren: Didn’t you see me backing out?
Darren: Why weren’t you paying attention?
Darren is clearly projecting guilt/responsibility for the accident onto Wilson (the law would not agree). Wilson naturally begins to feel guilty, just because he is being accused. If he allows access to his nervous system, he will absorb the projection and make it his own. This might sound like:
Wilson: I am so sorry. I thought I was paying attention but I obviously missed you.
This will probably result in Wilson feeling guilty and taking responsibility for an accident that he did not cause. The guilt will become his through absorption. Alternatively, he can refuse to allow Darren access to his nervous system and deflect the projection. His response to Darren would then be more along the lines of, "Why are you blaming me when you are the one that backed out into traffic?"
Under this circumstance, Wilson would not feel guilty because he didn’t do anything wrong. He might feel annoyed that Darren damaged his car and was trying to blame him. The annoyance is self-generated in this case and not a projection.
Many individuals don’t realize that they have a choice as to whether or not to absorb the projections of others. They passively allow others access to their nervous system and accept emotions that are not self-generated.
In some circumstances, you might choose to absorb projected emotion. For example, if someone projects a feeling onto you and your self-reflection causes you to resonate with the projection, then it may naturally become yours. Good and excellent parents point out to their children when they have done something productive or positive and state that they are proud of the child. If the child agrees that there is something to feel proud of, the child will absorb the emotion and feel proud of her/himself.
You now have a tool that gives you a choice. By following the two steps described above, you can choose to deflect projective emotions that are not consistent with your beliefs, expectations, and experiences. As you practice using this tool, you will become more fluent at feeling the difference between projected and self-generated emotion, which will streamline the process of deflection.
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