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Do You Have One, or
Are You Passing One On?
Volume VI # 89 Copyright
2014 All Rights Reserved
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Contact with other people is an essential part of human life. Since before
recorded history, people have always lived in groups. In fact, it’s likely we would not have survived as a species
if we had not had support from other humans. Clearly, relationships with others have survival value, both for
each of us as individuals, and as a group.
But human relationships can have disadvantages too. No
doubt if we started to name them we could compose quite a list. Luckily, some of these don’t have to stay
disadvantages, but rather can become opportunities to grow and evolve. Topping this list is something called an
An emotional infection is like a virus, only it’s an
emotion. It’s a feeling or experience one person disowns and handles it by setting up another person (or people) or
animal (!) to feel instead. A classic example is someone who feels hurt from being chastised by a boss at
work and comes home and kicks the dog. Another classic example is the bully who disowns his or her own fear but
sets up others to feel it instead by threatening them.
Sometimes in a family or organizational system, one
person has this assigned role - to carry some disowned feeling or experience. Its certainly never stated as
part of an agreement to marry, say, or as part of an employment contract. Instead it’s communicated and
enforced non-verbally, ‘under the table’. Take the example of an office assistant who compulsively arrives
earlier than the boss and leaves later, having become ‘emotionally infected’ with the boss’s fear of being
abandoned. Often without being aware of it, the assistant ‘believes’ at an emotional level that job security
depends on protecting the boss from those feelings.
To work with this situation, when you notice an emotion,
you can ask yourself these simple questions:
” Whose feeling is this?
someone else’s that I’m carrying?”
As you reflect on the answers that pop up, you may
realize that the feeling or experience you’re carrying belongs to your life partner or your boss or your child or
your parent, and not to you.
If you realize the feeling belongs to you, take care
that you own it. In other words , that you take responsibility for it rather than passing it on to someone
If you discover you’re carrying someone else’s feeling,
beware of an all-too-common trap people fall into, which is to try to pass the feeling back onto the person (or
people or organization) from whom you got the ‘emotional infection.’ If you do that, you could spend the rest of
your life struggling to get the other party to own it.
Instead, treat it as if you just discovered you were
holding some rotten, smelly bit of garbage. Instead of handing it to somebody else, just put it down.
You might even hold the image of an actual garbage can marked ‘emotional refuse’.
Then, awaken your thinking capacities. Next time
you’re in contact with that person or people or organization, notice what happens when invitations to pick up that
disowned emotion get passed around, and you don’t pick it up! Nor do you struggle or argue or get mad or in
any way engage with it.
You’ll find out just how much the stability of the other
person/people/organization depended on your carrying it for them.
Plus, you're back in a position of power over yourself.
That's because youve used this situation as an opportunity to become more conscious - to grow and
This content was excerpted from The Emotional Development 101 - a series of ten
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