By Hifzija Bajramovic
The following REAL-U process is another of the tools that I took part in developing and using in a clinical setting at the Ottawa Hospital General Campus over the past 30 years. It is designed to allow an individual to use emotional paths in working through life situations. Initially it gives individuals true personal information about their needs, and helps to reveal the personal and social obstacles faced when meeting them.
REAL-U is the foundation of the emotional education program. It reflects most of our life training starting from the baby stage where control is being placed on us by outside authorities such as parents. REAL-U teaches people how to re-localize and practice this control within themselves and to operate from the inside-out.
REAL-U stands for R-Recognition, E- Expression, A-Amplification, L-Logic, U-Utilization
A quick overview is in order here. A person is an emotional, physical, intellectual, social and spiritual being. Emotion is the energy that is released for action to satisfy our needs. Energy is distributed in the body and in the brain because both are active in meeting specific needs. Since the body usually has to use more energy to move, emotional energies tend to be stronger in the body.
Emotion also reflects our interactions with the external environment which is most often the source of our needs. In this sense, emotions connect our lives to all that is around us. They are the spice of our life. Since emotions come from our needs, the language of emotion is a great internal feedback tool as it tells us much about our own personal state of affairs, or our own truth if you will. When we move inwardly into the core of our emotions on the deepest levels we connect with our needs. When we move outwardly from there, the very innate intelligence of the need will find its own economic and creative expression when interacting with the environment.
Indeed, if we hope to know the true self of a person, we need to listen to his/her and our feelings, especially since intellect can easily manipulate the facts and modify reality. Reasoning feelings away may also lead a person away from information about needs that feelings are trying to convey. Intellect may also block the expression and even recognition of feelings. Subsequently this will be experienced as inhibition which may show in: difficulties in making decisions, inertia around acting on blocked feelings, disconnectedness from life – being an observer. Blocking emotions in the body can cause body problems like pains, headaches, weakness, high blood pressure...
Anxiety symptoms come when stored up energy begins to come through. It can have a form of undetermined-generalized anxiety, feelings of falling apart, losing control, going crazy, panic and even seizures. Feelings of being blocked and stuck is a feeling as well. Such symptoms can be used as a start in the REAL-U practice. In this case the feelings that were inhibited will emerge. Listening to our emotions will give us clearer information of our needs and eventually tell us who and what we are.
Let’s now look at each of the steps in the REAL-U process.
Recognition of emotions is the first step and requires intense focus. How do we feel in our body? It is important to experience the feeling in a part of the body to which the feeling draws our attention. Our mind tends to start labelling this experience and may move into logic too soon and disconnect us from emotional experience. If so, we could refocus on the feeling in body and let the logic be somewhere on the periphery of our awareness. We could also observe how the logic moves us away from experiencing emotion, and then go back to experiencing emotion in the body again. The body is to be trusted, for if we are patient with it, the body will produce results that will “tell” us about our emotion. When we focus on experiencing the emotion in the body there is a slowing down of time to the now-moment because emotion is in the now. One needs to recognize the difference between memory of emotion and experiencing of the emotion. Logic moves us into the past and future in a speeding way which will bring the memory of an emotion that is not in the present. This is the basis of the hungry ghost. In my practice the hungry ghost reflects important unmet needs from the past. Many people try to feed the hungry ghost by recreating in the present situation(s) and relationship(s) of the same kind from the past. And as occurred in the past, the result generally ends up the same way – in failure. While attending the needs of the hungry ghost, the needs of the present are neglected. This potentiates the production new hungry ghosts as well as many dysfunctional relationships where co-dependency becomes a major theme with huge promise in the beginning and then meets its demise in the end.
Emotions are layered on top of one another; one often mixed with others. We do have more than one emotion at a time, yet one emotion seems stronger to which we may give the only priority while neglecting others.
Assuming a person does recognize and then emotion in the moment, its intensity is usually strong in the beginning. Yet, after a short time this intensity will diminish because by experiencing the emotion we start burning its energy. Expressed emotion has a short life, while blocked emotion is “forever”. As one emotion gets weaker another may start to surface, likely a deeper seeded one.
Often enough, a “new” emotion can also sidetrack us away from painful emotion. Instead of recognizing hurt, we recognize anger, which means we don’t stick with the emotion that expresses weakness. It is important to recognize that blocking of the emotion creates emotional pain, while the emotion itself is a natural release of energy, and therefore energizing.
Remember, emotion is generated by our needs – it is energy for action towards satisfying our needs. Emotion informs us about our need and about the preferred action in meeting it. If we do that action, even in our mind, we will start to burn its energy through which the emotion will lessen. We recognize an emotion when a need is frustrated. When our need is satisfied the energy is spent and we stop experiencing this emotion. At this point, we can recall the memory of the emotion which may have similar qualities of the original emotion. However, it is of a lesser intensity and a shorter duration. This is why if a person tries to replay this emotion, it tends to feel “forced” because much of its energy has been dissipated. If on the other hand the memory brings up a strong emotion, a person is likely accessing the accumulated emotions from the past.
Recognizing emotion in our mind is a very difficult proposition because our mind immediately starts to label emotion and attempts to find reasons behind it. This then leads into logic which can in turn derail the experience of the emotion and make our life observational. When this happens, we start “looking” at our emotions from a distance. In such a case, the strategy is to go back and recognize and experience the energy of our emotion in the body. To recognize emotions in our mind, we look for similar and coexisting ones as we have in our body, but without labelling it. This one takes more practice.
Now we come to the second step called Expression. The expression of emotion starts with its recognition and acceptance of it. It continues by carrying out an action prompted by an emotion that is generated to meet a specific need. Expression is not what we “want” to do to avoid a specific emotion. It is what the emotion wants us to do to meet its underlying need.
For example – when we are sad we try to avoid that feeling by: (1) reasoning it out like “I should not feel sad because…”; (2) by avoiding situations that trigger our sadness; (3) by escaping the social setting to prevent “embarrassing” ourselves; and (4) by “putting on” another more honourable emotion like anger. Yet, sadness wants us to express it by feeling it, by talking about it, by crying, by recognizing what source of our need is missing, and by attending to such a need in a usual or a new way.
Remember, every emotion is energy for action to satisfy our needs. Since our needs are in a constant flux this means that the same emotion will vary in intensity and duration. For example, we miss somebody less after we have just parted and more after longer a time. We are not hungry after we have just eaten, yet very hungry after a longer fast. Put another way, different levels of need frustration will result in different emotions and therefore require different actions to meet our needs.
When we fully carry out its specific action the energy of the said emotion will be spent. At this point we are in a state relief, relaxation and satisfaction with no further action necessary for the same need until we get “needy” again. Being “needy” is not a weakness, it is a strength; it is a quality of recognizing and accepting our needs and being in control of it. Handing over control of our needs to an external source is likely how neediness becomes a weakness.
At times, the strength of the emotion mismatches the situation. If the emotion is stronger than a situation or a trigger requires, it is likely the consequence of emotional inhibition over a longer time. This type of stored up/accumulated emotion is best discharged in a safe way usually in privacy. It may work even better if we do it with people who understand what is going on and who are able and willing to assist us with it. Accumulated emotions tend to find extreme, polarized all-or-nothing expression. As such, this initially gives us a good sense of relief. However, if this expressed unsafely in a more social setting, it may cause more problems than solve. If this happens, that particular emotion is apt to be labeled as a “negative emotion” which often results in subsequent inhibition of its later expression, and even suppression of its recognition. When the vicious circle is closed, this will guarantee the subsequent accumulation and all-or-nothing emotional discharge down the road.
Now we come to what happens with partially expressed emotion. This leaves us with the feeling of some relief but also the feeling of frustration. This is a common experience at the beginning of discharging of stored up emotional energy. It makes people feel that this particular emotion is a bottomless pit, which is why they are only willing to allow themselves to express it partially. In so doing, they never plumb its limited depths. “People who don’t cry enough need to cry more, and people who cry too much, don’t cry long enough.”
By contrast, some people feel their emotional expression in a given situation isn’t strong enough. This can come about for different reasons. One such is emotional blocking both in the immediate and long term. This could be a result of lifelong social training in emotional inhibition. The tell tale sign of this is a quick switch from emotion to logic. Said emotion may surface later in the safety of an individual’s private life and is often accompanied by obsessive thinking. A second reason for under expression of emotion is due to mental and physical exhaustion which weakens emotional arousal. In addition there are some medications that numb emotional responses by slowing down the transfer of stimuli through the central nervous system. This may involve the release and/or quick re-absorption of brain transmitters. Such medications can help or hinder the progress in emotional education work depending on how it is used.
Amplification of emotions is the third step in this process. It happens when we pay experiential attention to the emotion. It also happens in the initial part of expression. Amplification serves the purpose of exploring the complete range of an emotional experience, where “emotion being the enemy becomes a friend”. Amplified emotion burns its energy faster than carrying out a specific action. It is good tool to allow accumulated emotions to be discharged. We often recommend a strategy of Emotional Scheduling which is done in the morning for about 30 minutes. Within this time periods recognition and expression parts are the primary focus. At the end of this session, one might spend few minutes considering the logic behind the emotions, how the emotions were recognized and expressed, and the mode of action that was used to meet the needs in question. For the rest of the day, one is to attend to regular life activities. Emotional scheduling is not to be done in the evening or at night because it is apt to interfere with sleep. Moreover, the logic that comes with late night emotional scheduling is likely distorted and will lead to inappropriate decisions.
Logic, the fourth step in the process, serves the purpose of: (1) understanding the connection between emotions and needs; (2) the efficacy of our methods of meeting our needs starting from recognition then expression; (3) our expectations for ourselves and the environment in terms of meeting one’s needs; (4) where we perceive the locus of control resides; and (5) eventually it helps us understand who we are as people.
Utilization, the fifth step in this process, uses the insights we have into ourselves as individuals, as well as insights into our social and spiritual being, and provides us with the feedback we need to respond to every situation in the most creative way. One example of utilization is the strategy we can use to deal with the Hungry Ghost. The first part is to realize that the Hungry Ghost is dealing with unmet needs from the past. Then we realize how we are setting up our current situation to satisfy our previous unmet need(s). This cannot work because the need of the past is not a need of the present, and chasing that old need will lead to a failure of the effort, and eventually of us as people. In this case, what is important is to grieve the needs from the past that were not and cannot be met. With this procedure the power of the Hungry Ghost to organize, control or direct our behavior will dissipate. When this is done, we can now attend to our present needs to prevent the creation of new Hungry Ghosts. This same process was played out in The Great Gatsby. Jay Gatsby, the lead character in both the film and book, pined for Daisy, who had married Tom Buchanan after she thought Gatsby had died in the First World War. As she married into wealth, Gatsby realized he could only win her back if he himself became wealthy. Such was the power of his Hungry Ghost that he became a gangster to make money and in so doing, needed to become ruthless. By feeding the Hungry Ghost people become the food of that Hungry Ghost, and lose themselves and their lives in the process.