Interview
10 May 2019

We can hide from our feelings, but we are only hurting ourselves

Psychotherapist Bogdan De Barbaro believes that avoiding rage, anger or jealousy can prevent growth and that for our own good we must be ready to feel a full range of emotions.

Wysokie Obcasy
Agnieszka Jucewicz Wysokie Obcasy, Global
We can hide from our feelings, but we are only hurting ourselves - NewsMavens
Woman, PixaBay

Agnieszka Jucewicz's interview with Professor Bogdan De Barbara first appeared in the Polish weekly magazine Wysokie Obcasy.

Agnieszka Jucewicz: Do people really know how they feel?

Professor Bogdan De Barbaro: Some do, some don't, and most of us fall somewhere in between. Those with alexithymia do not have access to their own feelings. When asked how they're feeling, they can't answer. To a lesser extent, this problem is also present in people who are able to identify their own feelings, but unable to read the feelings of others.

But, of course, there are also people who are passionately preoccupied with what they feel.

AJ: How does this manifest itself?

For example, they are constantly exploring and reporting their experiences. To put it bluntly, they're often people who are in love with themselves.

One can say that they are engaging in one of the basic human instincts -- self-knowledge. But they do so in a way that is not creative. Because a person not only feels, they also think, work, and communicate with others. 

AJ: But will you agree that self-knowledge is a skill worth possessing?

I agree, although observation alone is not enough.

It is particularly advisable that a person should not be afraid of a situation in which they experience mixed feelings.

And it is also important that a person is able to analyze their mixed feelings. For example you can like someone a lot and still disapprove of their behavior. It's a bit like with green -- it's made of blue and yellow. Altogether, it's worth knowing and recognizing all of your mixed up  emotions, because then your understanding becomes deeper.

AJ: What is most troublesome for people when it comes to feelings?

A lot of people block their access to the so-called "negative" feelings: rage, anger, jealousy. They were brought up with statements like "smile no matter what" or "I'll love you if you're well-behaved" or "respect your mother and your father no matter what". I don't mind these statements if they're used to foster an atmosphere of respect, but if they're used to repress "negative" emotions, then they can hold people back in their development.

AJ: Clearly, we need pleasant feelings. But why do we need anger, jealousy, rage?

Because feelings are an important clue. They help us to navigate our way through the world. Unpleasant feelings are a lot like physical pain. If someone doesn't have nerve endings and leans on a hot stove, they won't realize that they are sustaining an injury.

To sum up, emotions perform a regulatory function, and people who do not have access to them suffer and unknowingly hurt others or themselves.

It is even sometimes said that depression is repressed aggression, so a person who is out of touch with their anger can become sad or anxious. Repressed emotions can also resurface as various psychosomatic symptoms.

AJ: Sometimes, one emotion takes over and obscures everything else, anxiety for example.

Indeed, it happens that someone "learns" early on to fear the world. And people like this will miss out on the subtleties of life, because they will be too afraid of the world to look at it properly.

AJ: Will someone like this also miss out on happiness, joy, euphoria?

Yes, because they will be afraid of failure and pain. Both are a part of risk-taking, which is necessary for joy.

A person who grew up with a so-called secure bond, where they were unconditionally loved -- it's a cliche, but also proven -- will possess a certain confidence in the world.

When they see a stranger coming towards them, they will react with curiosity: "Oh, maybe we'll get to know each other!" 

Whereas someone who is less secure would think: "This person will harm me."

AJ: What do people do with feelings they don't want?

There is a whole range of defense mechanisms. If someone is angry but do not allow themselves to be angry, they may begin to see anger in others. Anger can also be sublimated, for example: "I'm not angry, but I am a real patriot ready to defend my nation to the last drop of blood." 

But anger can also be a source of creative energy. For example artists are often able to successfully channel their anger into their work.

AJ: Is it only negative feelings that can be difficult to access?

Also tender ones, for example those related to intimacy and closeness. This is a pattern that often appears in couples'  or family therapy -- a great need for closeness, and at the same time fear of it.

Someone who needs closeness wants to say "you know, I need you very much, I want to be close to you, but I'm scared because I was hurt during my childhood". So instead they will say "you forgot to take out the garbage again!"

AJ: Even if we need a hug, we push others away?

We think that in this way we can solve our internal conflict between the desire for closeness and the fear of intimacy. What's more, it can be a problem for both partners. There are couples where one person tries to get close, then the other retreats, so the first one feels bad and withdraws, then the other one approaches. A dance like this can last for dozens of years.

***

Interview translated by NewsMavens

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