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FILTERING FEELINGS


The communication loop also
operates at a somewhat different level, involving our becoming a part of the
individual’s own communication process. 
We serve as a rational, objective, feeling, caring sounding board for
his feelings and ideas and as an emotional filter through which his feelings
and ideas can pass.  Hopefully, this
filtering will make his feelings and emotions more manageable and less
disruptive and result in a lower likelihood of eruption and possibly
destructive outcomes.


In Chapters 7 and 9, this process
of working with the feelings and emotions of people in crisis will receive
detailed attention.  The notion of
filtering feelings, though, is basic to dealing with crisis situations.  Think about the fact that it takes at least
two people to have an argument.  Someone
is extremely upset and angry with you. 
He is accusing you of being irresponsible and of making a mess of
things.  Your natural temptation is to
become defensive, try to explain your behavior, attempt to reason with him, and
as a last resort to attack him, accusing him of being insensitive and
unreasonable—and, anyway, the difficulty is probably his fault.  Suppose that the problem was that you were
eating popcorn in the living room and had made a mess.  Your wife discovers the mess and accuses you
of being irresponsible, setting a bad example for the children, making more
work for her, and really not caring about her feelings and how hard she works.  Obviously, she has had a bad day, and your
making a mess was the final straw. 
Instead of becoming defensive and trying to justify your behavior, you
say, “I’m really sorry about making a mess. 
I am sorry that I have made you so angry with me.  I can tell you’re really mad about this, and
I don’t blame you.”  You would never say
that?  Why not?  When people attack us, we are “supposed to”
defend ourselves.  Anyway, she is making
a big deal over nothing.  What do you
think her reaction would be if, instead of getting angry or defending yourself,
you simply “absorb her anger” and tell her that you are sorry?  She will probably be at least less angry than
she was initially.  You have managed to
keep the conversation focused on the problem—the popcorn in the living
room.  As the two of you think about the
problem, she will probably calm down, and both of you, for example, could clean
up the mess.  You have avoided a serious
argument, and had that argument followed the pattern of most blowups, you have
avoided getting into other problems. 
Arguments tend to start over something minor and then move from topic to
topic.  It is common for people to report
that they had a “huge argument,” but they are not able to remember what it
started over.  In the case of the
popcorn, you have filtered the intense feeling out of the conversation.  This enabled you to focus on the real
problem: the fact that your wife was upset about having to deal with “one more
mess.”


Just as you were able to filter the
anger out of the conversation, you can filter the feelings of people in
crisis.  To do this, you start by
acknowledging the feeling.  You let the
person know you understand why he or she is upset, angry, afraid, confused,
depressed, sad, and so on.  In many ways,
this requires a somewhat unnatural emotional response on your part.  We usually reflect the feelings of other
people.  If someone is angry, we become
angry; if he is afraid, we become apprehensive, if he is sad, we become sad.  In crisis intervention, we avoid reflecting
the feelings of the individual in crisis, that is, we do not feel like he
feels.  Instead, we attempt to absorb or
filter their feelings.  This lets them
get past the intense emotion and lets them think with us about the problem and
about possible solutions.




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