by Judy Braley
This article is a personal story of how I have come to understand both my anger and the inner negative energy of someone very close to me. Through sharing this story I hope to help others who struggle with negative emotions without a clear understanding of why.
I have someone I’ll call Alex who is very close to me in my life and who is one of the few people who can really push my buttons. In the past, he has frequently been able to push me to the point where my anger is explosive and overtakes my entire body. I end up upset, often yelling, and hold this residual anger for hours if not days.
He is difficult for me to deal with as often as I have to, and I have even sought therapy to help me cope with the challenge he presents to my mental health on an almost daily basis. And while therapy gave me techniques to use to try to heal our relationship and to look at my own part in the problem, it did not give me a clear explanation for what was going on.
To most outsiders, Alex appears to be happy, smart, kind and funny – really a great person. But I don’t get to experience that side of him much because to his close family he is often miserable, disappointed, unappreciative, and mean in a passive-aggressive manner. I find it very difficult to let go and let my guard down to enjoy the happier side of his personality when he has just spent an hour doing his best to make everyone around him feel miserable. Even when he puts on a smile, I know that his negative energy is lurking just below the surface.
I used to think that the explanations for this included the following:
- the idea that negative attention is better than no attention – but he gets plenty of positive attention, so this didn’t completely make sense,
- his age – but I’ve watched this behavior for close to 10 years, so that’s a lousy explanation, or
- his background – Alex has faced some difficulties from his childhood that occurred before I met him, including the loss of a parent. This is probably a contributing factor but I don’t think it is the whole explanation.
My Breakthrough Insight
For a while now I have been studying the work of Eckhart Tolle which you will find mentioned frequently on my website and listed on my Recommended Reading page under Spirituality. Tolle talks about the “remnants of pain left behind by every strong negative emotion” that is not released. This pain forms “an energy field that lives in the very cells of your body.”
This energy field of old but still very-much-alive (negative) emotion that lives in almost every human being is the pain-body. (A New Earth, page 142.)
The way I currently understand it, the pain-body manifests in our lives as an unconscious and negative part of our personality. This negative emotional energy surfaces when it needs to renew and strengthen itself with more negative energy or when it feels threatened. The pain-body “thrives on negative thinking as well as drama in relationships.”
It may be shocking when you realize for the first time that there is something within you that periodically seeks emotional negativity, seeks unhappiness. You need even more awareness to see it in yourself than to recognize it in another person. Once the unhappiness has taken you over, not only do you not want an end to it, but you want to make others just as miserable as you are in order to feed on their negative emotional reactions. (A New Earth, page 145.)
While I have been reading Tolle’s material for months (I have read A New Earth twice now, and plan to start it from the beginning again soon :-), and I have found that it explains so much of what occurs in life, it wasn’t until recently that I fully put together the connection between Alex’s behavior, his pain-body, and my own pain-body. It came to me with a clarity that was really astounding.
One day Alex did his normal routine of passively picking a fight with another family member. How? He usually accomplishes this by doing something that he consciously or unconsciously knows will cause a problem for someone else. This starts the ball rolling, and he keeps pushing until he upsets several members of the family most often including me. Then he gets angry, complains that he isn’t treated fairly (makes himself the victim), says as much nasty stuff as he can to get other family members upset and reacting even more, and then he retreats – only to return later acting as though nothing occurred and everyone should happily interact with him.
But on this day, I was able to watch this sequence with more detachment and awareness. I watched what was occurring without letting him draw me into it much, and by keeping this awareness I suddenly saw the whole situation clearly.
Partially because of his early childhood perhaps, I believe that Alex probably has a very strong pain-body. It surfaces often and when it does, he wants everyone around him to be miserable AND he wants conditions to be more miserable for himself.
I will tell you that Alex is under 18 years old, and when he causes these problems, he often loses privileges and opportunities as the consequences of his behavior. I could never before understand why he would push so hard to lose his privileges. Why work so hard to make himself miserable? Because that’s what his pain-body thrives on.
A second thing that became clear to me is that Alex’s pain-body and my own are very attuned to each other. Although I can’t see mine with the same detachment, I believe that I too probably have a fairly strong pain-body, perhaps partially stemming from emotional abuse in my childhood.
During most of this episode’s turmoil, I was able to stay peaceful and detached – until Alex turned his negativity directly at me. I could feel my entire body tighten and the anger start to flow through me. Being consciously aware of what was occurring was intense, but I was able to control my reaction and response – probably for the first time ever!
It is hard to resist another person’s pain-body that is determined to draw you into a reaction. Instinctively it knows your weakest, most vulnerable points. If it doesn’t succeed the first time, it will try again and again. (A New Earth, page 148.)
Being able to stay aware of what was happening, having an explanation for it, and being able to control the reaction of my own negative emotional energy was truly a breakthrough to me. I have subsequently been able to understand much of Alex’s and my own behavior in light of our underlying pain-bodies. For example:
I think I am a fairly happy, kind, and caring person. But in my family relationships, I have sometimes experienced explosive anger. In my younger years, it was the kind of anger where I would even throw or break things, usually when I was alone but not always. I was always embarrassed afterwards. Who was this person who acted like this? Why did I seethe with anger and resentment over sometimes small things? Now I know – it was my pain-body taking over, spreading and feeding on negative energy.
As a family, when we are about to do something fun – go on a vacation, take a day trip, even go to a ball game – minutes before we are about to leave, Alex will almost always cause some kind of upset. It has often made family outings an unpleasant experience. Now I realize that this is a prime time for his pain-body to surface. If you unconsciously want to, it’s easy to create misery when you’re going to be stuck with other members of your family for awhile.
Other than this penchant for creating turmoil in the family, Alex is generally a nice person. But in his friendships, he seems to seek out other people who are troubled. I could never understand this. But I now think it is because other troubled people probably have strong pain-bodies too and it is easy to create negativity between two people with strong pain-bodies.
If I can recognize my own pain-body as it starts to react to Alex’s provocation, then I can keep myself from reacting negatively and causing more upset for me, him, and everyone around us. And, I have to question whether sometimes it is my own pain-body that tries to pick a fight with him.
I know that all of this can sound like some spiritual/mental health garbage that someone has just made up to explain how our minds and emotions work, but I have truly found that this concept is helpful in understanding why people create and spread misery and negativity – even why people do things that they know will cause themselves more emotional pain.
I hope that you will find this information useful if you:
- find yourself unable to control some of your own negative emotions,
- often or even sporadically experience unhappiness or depression,
- deal with someone else who is often negative in some way, or
- feel that there is someone who tries to provoke you into anger or some other negative emotion such as guilt or sadness.