Emotional hurt: the third option (Englisch)

Human beings, in general, are subject to mood swings and emotional hurt. We can see this as the undeveloped level of the emotions. There is, however, a level above, which is rarer, and usually requires training and guidance.


Artists and creative people can temporarily reach this upper level, through the medium of their creativity, in plays, novels, essays, paintings, poetry, and the like. In spiritual processes this higher level is called peak experience, a term taken from Abraham H. Maslow's terminology. In Zen it is called Little Kensho.

If we are at a lower level of the emotions, we are more subject to emotional hurt, and then to becoming personally involved in it. At the upper level, however, we possess more self-awareness, and not only can we free ourselves of mood swings and emotional hurt, but also a reversal happens: instead of remaining anchored in the common lower level, we can “jump” and move upwards.

Many artists and creative people say that if it were not for their creative process they would be in a very bad state. Their creativity is therapeutic, and without it, they would be lost.

In this upper level, we observe neutrally what is happening to us emotionally, and then the energy of pain goes through a process of metamorphosis and becomes an energy of freedom and elevation. The emotions themselves become like a quiet lake, and the hurt energy becomes, at this higher level, creative energy.

The transforming of hurt, insult, discrimination, humiliation, and so on, into creative or spiritual energy, is very similar to what the alchemists termed transforming lead into gold.

In a state of neutral observation, the energies generated by hurt not only fail to destroy us, but they pass through a process of quantum leap. It could be said that for a person with self-awareness, the more painful the hurt, the higher the leap.

This idea of a leap is also significant in Change by Paul Watzlawick, John H. Weakland, and Richard Fisch. A first-order change deals with the existing structure, and means doing more or less of something, and involves a restoration of balance. Second-order change, however, means creating a completely new way of seeing things. Second-order change requires new learning, and often begins outside the existing structure.

This transformative approach to pain is also in the spirit of Friedrich Nietzsche’s famous saying, “What does not kill me makes me stronger.”

It involves a rather radical explanation of the phenomenon of emotional hurt: the idea that there is more power in pain than in good emotions. There is a saying: "The power of the bad to do bad is greater than the power of the good to do good." We would like to believe that the power of good in the world can correct and make good what the bad powers have done. “Bad people,” however, are usually more powerful than “good people.” It is easier to destroy than to build and construct. It takes a long time to write a book, but you do not need much power to tear the book to pieces. Good is built slowly and gently, while bad things happen suddenly, and are powerful and destructive.

It is easier and quicker to corrupt and deteriorate than to grow and create.

The idea discussed here is the possible sublimation of the energies of being hurt, into creative higher energies. Then the power from the negative emotions is transferred, to charge and give power to the creative or spiritual energies.

It is called stealing the power from the bad.

It is difficult to grasp that the effectiveness and strength of those high energies could be the result of sublimating negative energies that have been through a process of reversal.

The strength is in the negative emotions, not in the positive ones. Relatively, the power of positive emotions is lower. Consider, for example the difference between a hug and a punch in the face: it is clear that there is more power in the punch than in the hug. The same is true of the difference between a bite and a kiss.

And here we come to what is even more difficult to grasp: it is difficult, if not impossible, to create or reach a high spiritual level with positive energies. Only the sublimation of negative energies can supply us with powerful creative or spiritual energies.

Many creative people say that if it were not for their creative occupation, they could have become criminals, or succumbed to mentally illness.

We generally believe that creative or spiritual capabilities come from above, but they come, rather, from below, from low energies being transformed.

And how is this transformation achieved? Well, by being an uninvolved observer. This observer is the complete opposite of someone who identifies with their ups and downs.

To be an uninvolved observer is the opposite of getting lost in what happens to you.

The quality of this transformation depends on the quality of the observer’s consciousness. A high-quality consciousness is wide, deep and high, thus mastering its three dimensions: subtexts or hidden meaning (depth), the spiritual aspect of what is said (height), and what is pushed away, outside the space of what is happening (width). Without these three, the consciousness of the potential observer is narrow, shallow, and low. So, the sublimation of energies depends, first, on the existence of an uninvolved observer, and second, on the quality of consciousness.

Quantum theory is much concerned with observers of a phenomenon, and the belief that the quality of the observer’s consciousness can influence what is observed. This issue of the influence of the observer’s consciousness on an object was explored by a Nobel Prize winner, the physicist Eugene Wigner.  He claimed that not all observers influence the phenomenon they are observing in the same way, and that the influence depends on an observer with consciousness. He said, if the observer were a living creature with no consciousness then there would be no change in what was being observed.

David Boehm, also a famous physicist, a leading figure in the development of quantum theory, said that in the future we will have to include human consciousness as one of the factors in physics equations.

He further claimed that if there is no observer, then the phenomenon which is taking place will be in “superposition” (that is, in two different states, both at the same time). Only when an observer who possesses consciousness looks at the measuring device, will any result be definite.

To return to our subject: an observer for our purposes means a completely neutral self-awareness.

The observer is the result of our changing an inborn, automatic reaction into a conscious response. Thus, identification with our moods and hurt feelings becomes, instead, uninvolved observation. If, in identification, we get lost in particular emotions which take control of us, then in self-awareness we must develop an ability to separate ourselves from the self. We must create, in addition to the experiencing self, a neutrally observing self, to look at what happens without personal interest.

There is, in the neutral self-awareness, an ability to change the most painful feelings, to change their nature into creative or spiritual energies.

The American philosopher and psychologist William James sheds light on this issue in The Varieties of Religious Experience. Interestingly, he shows how the most meaningful, mystical experiences happen precisely to people whom he describes as having a neurotic nature. This idea is mainly developed in the first lecture in the book, "Religion and Neurology." He writes that neurotics - people who, as a result of emotional hurt, have developed personality disorders - are especially excellent raw material for a consciousness-changing religious experience.

A good analogy for this process of turning a neurosis into high religious experience is fermentation, defined as a process where there is a

chemical breakdown of a substance by bacteria, yeasts, or other microorganisms, typically involving effervescence and the giving off of heat. This process of fermentation is involved in the making of beer, wine, and liquor, in which sugars are converted to ethyl alcohol. If we take wine, then in the beginning it is only grape juice.  It needs an agent (zymase) which causes the glucose to become ethanol. The fermenting agent, if we want to sublimate hurt emotions into creative, spiritual power, is the neutral observer. The wine is the high energies that have resulted from a process of transformation.

The addition of the fermenting element causes fermentation and change.

In reality, there are very few creative artists (or seekers of truth) who possess only a neutral observer, and thus succeed in turning their hurt emotions into full high creations, whether in themselves, or in an art form. Usually people who have some genius, whether spiritual or creative, but have only partial observing consciousness, move between two states: emotional downfall and flashes of high inspiration, or spiritual enlightenment. A typical example of this alternation between two states is Vincent Willem van Gogh, who painted wonderful paintings, but suffered periods of mental illness.

The more we activate our self-awareness and decrease our emotional identification, the greater our degree of emotional maturity, the less we will break down, and the more we will experience creative or spiritual elevation.

The raw state of our emotions is like grape juice. If it is left too long without going through a process of fermentation, it will rot. Grape juice that has been fermented, however, and has become wine, is not only unaffected by time, but actually improves with time.  The fermentation does not heal the hurt and painful emotions. They are needed in their raw state so the sublimation can take place.

Gabriel Raam
Philosoph, Dozent (im Ruhestand) und Experte für nonverbale Kommunikation
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