Feelings and why you may not have any.

I have been in therapy lately, and this is the world’s worst kept secret.

Ok… not only lately. I’m one of those people who needed a fair bit of analysis in my life. (I just wrote lie for life – the recognition of Freudian slips is one of the disagreeable side effects of too much therapy).

Well, like all of us, unpleasant experiences occur in my past. However, unlike all of us, I needed to pay huge amounts of money to overqualified people to get over them. (Of course the punch line is – you never get over the past, you learn to accept – which, you then find out is what your best friend told you over coffee all along.)

In the most recent manifestations of this self indulgent journey, I came to discover some things about feelings.

I like to lay claim to a lot of feelings. At least I thought I did. I was a bit like Homer from the Simpsons. I had: “You’re driving me crazy.” and “My stomach hurts”. As Dorothy Parker would say, “I had the full range of emotion from A to B”.  As a teenager I had “No one understands me” and when I hit my thirties I had “How do I cope with my own greatness?”

It turns out, most of these were masks. (I know! Gasp! Who knew?) Masks I used to avoid the fear of emotional depth we humans are capable of; emotional depths in which you experience a bottomless and great pain leaving you struggling for breath and toying with ideas of suicide. This moment used to be called the dark night of the soul when we still had religion. The dark night of the soul, as far as I am concerned, still exists.  In the book I reviewed for Kris Saknussemm, he calls it your Private Midnight.

The scenario plays itself out thusly.

The individual lives an “ordinary” existence accompanied by a perpetual apprehension about not doing enough with their life and not living up to their full potential.

These feelings exist for two reasons:

1. They are not doing enough with their life


2. They are not living up to their full potential. One of the diseases of our self-affirmation culture is the tendency in all of us to see ourselves as special. Let’s face it, we’re all genius’, and we all know deep down we could be the great / famous – painter, writer, singer, scientist, actor, athlete – you fill in the gaps, if only we got our act together.

This residual anxiety, the feeling of holding ourselves back, will be due to several different types of defence mechanisms. At any given time, any individual will be displaying one, a few or all of the following symptoms:

1. Repression – this is where you forget the times you were a fool.

2. Denial – where you refuse to believe you were a fool.

3. Projection – in order to stop feeling like a fool, you label everyone around you a fool.

4. Rationalization – where you decide it’s really good to look like a fool and you always intended to anyway.

5. Intellectualization – you understand the process of becoming a fool and therefore are able to prevent foolishness from happening.

6. Regression – you use old techniques that worked in the past to prevent you looking like a fool, such as obsessively cleaning your house, or smoking an extra amount of cigarettes when nervous (if you are orally fixated)

7. Displacement – When your supervisor calls you a fool, so you decide your spouse is the fool, and you go home and call them one, and they call your child a fool and your child kicks the dog.

These are all methods of dealing with repressed feelings which prevent you from living out this deep potential we believe exists deep within us.

In the rich tapestry of what it takes to self actualise and become an autonomous adult, I am wondering what is wrong with the life of defence mechanisms that lead to a frustrated existence of banality.

The mediocre is underrated and if our own deep self assessments are anything to go by, the ordinary person is few and far between. Greatness subverted under the tremendous weight of the defence mechanism is de rigueur – so why not keep our well honed defence mechanisms and life with the vague anxiety?

In the modern day and age of the internet, we are all able to express, via rationalisation, our own brilliance so that it may shine to the entire world. Social media gives us an inflated sense of our own significance and we all have access to Andy Warhol’s 15 minutes and the tools with which to make them last so much longer. So what if we crash and burn? We can always project, pick up the pieces we want and deny the rest, Intellectualise the process and just keep going sideways.

Either way, tonight as I sit on the edge of my own dark night of the soul, I am thinking banality looks pretty damn good.


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