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Imagine an iceberg

In previous articles I have referred to a set of concerns that we are all share. They are the need for acknowledgement, belonging, status, meaningful work and activity and the ability to have some sense of autonomy or control over our lives. They sit back of mind until someone or something fails to address them adequately. Then they very quickly become front of mind.


When unmet, these concerns cause us to feel some level of emotional pain and sensitivity. The degree of emotion we feel at these times is determined by the extent of meaning we attach to our unmet need. A need that is unmet by our partner or close colleague tends to cause us greater hurt than that same need not met by someone less close to us. This is because the closer our relationship is, the greater our expectations will be of them.


How do we express our hurt?


Although we feel hurt when our needs are not met, we often express this hurt as anger. Imagine an iceberg. Above the water is the anger that we show each other when our core concerns have not been met adequately. Below the water and out of sight, is all the pain, loss, fear, injustice, betrayal, and anxiety that comes when our needs are not met.

Despite these feelings being hidden by anger, emotional pain sits closer to the surface that we often realise. It only takes a small action or inaction for pain to be reactivated, especially when previous experiences of harm have not been acknowledged by the other person, and behaviours changed.


This is why people can react in anger over seemingly small violations. There is an African saying; “the axe does not remember the tree, but the tree remembers the axe.” Emotional pain can linger far longer than we imagine and well after others have forgotten about it. To feel emotional pain is to be human. In this regard we all stand together, however how we show or release this pain, is unique to each of us.


Many of us do a terrific job at concealing our sensitivities and pain. Some of us have been taught by our caregivers and the culture we live in, to put on a brave face and not speak about such things. As a mediator, my job is to discover what feelings lie beneath the anger and why they are there. I coach parties to put their hurt into words that can be understood and in a voice that can be listened to as they negotiate a better situation for themselves.