All affect is interior

All affect is interior

Here’s a little passage from Inner Gold, a book Arnie Kotler put together from some lectures by Robert A. Johnson. Arnie is a friend and a former teacher of mine. Robert A. Johnson is a psychoanalyst. I am going to quote the entire passage first so you can read it as one piece and get a feel for it. So just relax and read it, holding your questions for the moment. I will talk about it some after the passage. It’s a very good book, by the way. Arnie did a great job selecting material that makes it easier to understand psychological projection in the Jungian sense.

Robert Johnson writes:

All affect is interior. Any emotional impact we experience is inside of us. If someone were to denounce me, spreading all the gossip and defamation he might find, I would probably wither. It would weigh me down, but the withering is my interior matter. If you hurt my feelings, it is an interior matter for me.

If you accuse me of having green hair, that won’t bother me. It’s not true, I’ll say. But if you announce that I was rude yesterday, I’ll have to duck. If it has an impact, that means that there is a war inside me. You set it off, but what you set off is my business. Anything that can burn inside a person should burn. Only the things that are fireproof are worth keeping. If you can hurt my feelings, they are better off hurt, because it is an error in me.

To take inwardly what is inward is a great art- I am getting better at it. I don’t get my feelings hurt as much anymore. But there are still things that make me wince. That means that there are things inside me that I haven’t dealt with yet. One of the most powerful realizations we can have is that all affect is interior and needs to be understood and worked on in an interior kind of way. Robert Johnson, Inner Gold, pp 28-29.

Discussion:

All affect is interior. Any emotional impact we experience is inside of us.

This is huge. When you can live in this level of awareness, many of your relationship problems will disappear- including problems with your self esteem, which is really your relationship with your Self.

If it is inside of you, it was built by you. If you built it, you can remodel it.

Now- you probably were not the one who got it all started- that usually comes from our parents, family, and others who are involved with us, especially in our earliest years.

If someone were to denounce me, spreading all the gossip and defamation he might find, I would probably wither. It would weigh me down, but the withering is my interior matter. If you hurt my feelings, it is an interior matter for me.

When your feelings get hurt, it is an interior matter for you (the hurt one) to deal with- it is not something for the other person (the hurter) to fix. Now- this does not mean that you should simply roll over and tolerate whatever other people say to you. Asking others to change the language they use with you is a perfectly legitimate thing to do. But be clear that the hurt you feel is caused by how you are built inside your head—it is not, per se, caused by them.

The deepest, most permanent relief from your suffering results from you restructuring your interior.

If you accuse me of having green hair, that won’t bother me. It’s not true, I’ll say. But if you announce that I was rude yesterday, I’ll have to duck. If it has an impact, that means that there is a war inside me. You set it off, but what you set off is my business.

The one who says the hurtful words is responsible for saying those words and might truly be trying to hurt you or control you with words. But, that person is not responsible for your reaction to the words- you are. When you have a strong reaction to what someone says to you or about you, it points to an interior issue for you to address. You need to observe yourself deeply and clearly to understand what’s going on with your reactions.

Our reactions always make sense in some sort of private logic. However, if we blame the other person for our feelings, we will focus on attacking, defending, or explaining the other person instead of looking at how our mind is interpreting the experience.

We are looking for the solution in the wrong place. We think the solution is getting them to change or to treat us right. The solution to our reaction is instead between our own ears, in our interior reality.

Because the mind learns and remembers, you will not always be able to simply change how you think and react. It is not easy to go from destructive interior reactions to something new and improved. Rather, if you understand that the initial interpretation comes from within yourself, you can often choose another more constructive way to deal with things. You go from sleepwalking on auto pilot to being very awake, consciously choosing your responses to other people and situations. From a puppet ruled by her history to someone who can pull her own strings.

There’s a tremendous freedom to be found here. When you can understand that your reaction to the words that other people say to you is of your own mind’s making, you have a chance to change it a bit. You will not have to be automatically reactive to their words—if you are awake, that is. If you are sleepwalking you will respond reactively based on your history.

Anything that can burn inside a person should burn. Only the things that are fireproof are worth keeping. If you can hurt my feelings, they are better off hurt, because it is an error in me.

To take inwardly what is inward is a great art- I am getting better at it. I don’t get my feelings hurt as much anymore. But there are still things that make me wince. That means that there are things inside me that I haven’t dealt with yet. One of the most powerful realizations we can have is that all affect is interior and needs to be understood and worked on in an interior kind of way.

This is a very powerful view. From this point of view it is not a bad thing to get triggered by another’s words or actions because it shows you where you need to do your inner work. You can see more clearly where you have some sort of interior conflict when you react strongly to another’s words.

Since words are not real threats to anything that is real, any strong reaction you have to words is a reaction to a concept or belief you are holding on to—you are attached in some way to some sort of mental image of how things are supposed to go. Mental images are not realities- they are not fireproof. Mental images can, and should, burn. Especially mental images of who you should be and who others should be. Burn those images—reality will still be there when the images are all burned up.

From this perspective those who trigger you are showing you where your interior issues are. The issues are there already- when you get triggered you can simply see the issues better.

Consider thanking them- they are like sparring partners who nail you with some good punches. They are your Dark Angels. If you pay attention to your mind regarding your dark angels you will learn where you need to do interior work.

Some people misconstrue this perspective and make it into a blame or shame game. It is about understanding the process of how the mind creates the interpretations that it creates. All of our minds do this. It is not about blame or shame. Take responsibility for your mind and you are on the road to freedom; blame others for your feelings and you are enslaved by your history.

To free your mind you have to see your mind. To see your mind you have to stop sleepwalking. To stop sleepwalking you have to consciously practice awakening in each moment. Mindfulness practice is one of the ways to wake up.

Here, now, just this moment. That’s all.

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2 Responses to “All affect is interior”

  1. Cliff,
    Great post. I really needed this in my life right now. I decide whether or not i get burn. I am the first interpreter of the words being fired at me. Golden information.

    Even the dark angel statement hits close to home.

    keep up the good work superman

    -Kenny U.

  2. Hey K-man. Yes, this info is very powerful. Epictetus knew it, too, and wrote about it in his Roman way.