Without even knowing it, we live our lives behind a mask. We are filled with feelings the we don’t even know we have.
When we look at or current political landscape, we see reasonable, and by all accounts, ordinary people screaming and yelling at each other as if we are at war with one another. It is as if all civility is gone, and has been replaced by raw, unrestrained rage and anger. Where does all of this come from? Are we really animals who fake civility and are prompted into blind rage by the slightest of nudges? Is all of this rage the by product of fear? Or, is there something else at play here, something more subtle and further out of our conscious mind and thought?
Away, and mock the time with fairest show. False face must hide what the false heart doth know. — Shakespeare, Macbeth
In Shakespeare’s play, Macbeth tells Lady Macbeth to “put up a false front” to hide the true intention of their diabolical act. This is a suggestion of a conscious choice. They were having one feeling or intention, while showing something completely other. When we consider our current world and the display of raw emotion, we must certainly concede that some of what we see is conscious and intentional. However, much of what we see is coming from the unconscious.
Defense is the protection of the ego against instinctual demands — Freud
Anna Freud, Sigmund Freud’s daughter, expanded on Freud’s concept of repression as a defense with an expanded repertoire of defenses we employ, some conscious and many unconscious, to protect ourselves from unwanted impulses. Suffice it to say that we have a vast array of means of keeping unwanted feelings out of our conscious awareness. I haven’t really talked about defenses yet, and though I will hold a full discussion of them for a later post, it seems like a good time now to begin a part of the discussion of our defenses.
How often have we heard someone yelling with intense anger, and when confronted, seems surprised that we think they are angry? To quote Freud, defense is “the protection of the ego against instinctual demands”. We are capable of holding feelings in the background, and acting as though they are not there. We can feel anger, rage, love, hate, among many feelings, and never even be aware that we are feeling them. We may even act as though someone else is having the very feeling that we are experiencing ourselves. It can feel like we don’t have any of the feeling we perceive in others when, in fact, it is we who are feeling and not the one we accuse. You can read my post about projection for more about this.
So we can move along through life without any awareness of unwanted feelings until someone comes along who seems to “bring it out” of us. Looking at the world today, we see a number of our political leaders who seem to “act out” our unconscious feelings in living color. Because of this, and because it is easy to project unwanted feelings, we see a surge in aggressive and rage-filled behavior coming from people who until now, seemed pretty “level headed”. I believe that it is possible to “own” our negative feelings, and accept that we can have them without being terrible people. I am certain that we can learn to tolerate negative and unwanted feelings, and that we can tolerate being in the presence of intensely negative and vitriolic leaders as we are today without acting out unconscious feelings. Wouldn’t that be nice?
— Stephen Taylor, MD