“There is a Man (or Woman)”

I want to share something that I have been doing. The results have been amazing.

We know that whenever we are caught up in a strong emotion, like fear or anger, the feeling consumes our consciousness, and our responses are automatic, often to our great embarrassment.

After a moment our body begins to speak to us. We notice what is already happening — increased heart rate, respiration, sweaty palms, etc.

Once we realize that we are feeling something, we can start to identify what we are feeling.  Upon reflection we can say, “I’m afraid.” “I’m mad.” “I’m sad.” Whatever.

Now that the feeling has a name that makes sense of our sensations we find they have lost some intensity.  The emotion no longer “has” us; we are having the emotion. We can talk about it with ourselves and others. Order is emerging from chaos at last.

That’s progress! Until recently I never went any farther. But there is another step.  Strange as it seems, it really works.

Instead of saying, “I am afraid, (or whatever),” I say, “There is a man who is feeling afraid.”

When we shift from the first person to the third person it flips a switch in the brain — in my brain, anyway.  Of course I know that I am the man, but by stating it like that I am now looking in from the outside.

I look down on myself “from the balcony.”  I see myself as an actor on a stage, or perhaps as a character in a story.  “There he is–that guy–down there.  Look at him. He is really afraid.”

This activates our curiosity. The emotional intensity is further diminished.  We have a greater sense of control.

But there is one more step, and this is where the treasure lies.

“There is a man who is feeling very afraid.  What should he do now?”

The path to victory lies in that question. Each word is significant.  Start with “he.”

When we are caught up in an emotion we tend to fixate on what someone else should do for us, or fume over what someone else did to us.  But now “that guy” has our full attention.

Somehow I find it easier to come up with more options for “him” than for me.  “What should I do now?” can be intimidating.  “That guy” can help me sneak up on personal responsibility.

Looking at his problem creates a safe distance and enables me to think better.  It is amazing how quickly three or four things will come to mind, all good options.  Then I get to decide which one is best.

By the time we get to this place we are operating almost entirely in the “smart part” of our brain.  We are no longer on reflex.  The world is bigger. We no longer feel trapped.

We are now in a position to coach “that guy,” to be his friend, his counselor.  We are getting ready for action.

“What should he do?”

As we move from a passive to an active stance it only takes a moment to tell which options are more likely to get him where he wants to go, and which will only make things worse.


That little word hits me like the report of the starting pistol. Go!

There is always something he (I) can do, right now.  We are released.  We do not have to wait for anything or anyone.

Thanks to our little friend–that guy, that gal–we are moving, and in an intentional direction.

That’s it.

But isn’t  going “up in your head” like that just a form of denial?  I suppose it could be, but not necessarily.

Sometimes we will decide that the healthy choice is to go back into the emotion and deal with it at that level. “There is a man who is feeling very sad. What should he do now?”  “He should find a place, maybe a friend, and cry (or curse) it out.”

Sometimes I have found that taking action leads me right out of the problem.  Sometimes it turns out that the emotion was nothing more than a by product of passivity and hesitation all along. Once I got active and intentional again it evaporated.

Well, that’s my story.  I have been trying this for a couple of weeks now.  So far so good.  It is making a huge difference.

2 thoughts on ““There is a Man (or Woman)”

  1. Yes, this is helpful, not only with responding to emotion, but also in implementing decisions that need to be made, about things to do or to stop doing, along the line of John Lee’s passivity of doing what keeps you from doing what you say you want. Also reminds me of Peterson: treat yourself as if you were someone you were responsible for.

    Did you read his book?

    On Tue, Jan 29, 2019 at 1:20 PM St Peter’s Anglican Church wrote:

    > bcp1662 posted: “I want to share something that I have been doing. The > results have been amazing. We know that whenever we are caught up in a > strong emotional, like fear or anger, the feeling consumes our > consciousness, and our responses are automatic, often to our great” >

  2. Yes, I read Peterson’s 12 Rules. You can see its influence here. But the basic idea I lifted from Scott Adams’ How To Fail At Almost Everything. He gave it about two sentences and said it is a Zen technique.

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