2018-01-11 / Guest Column

Relieving Uncomfortable Feelings By Externalizing

By Michael Feld, L.C.S.W.
Certified Psychoanalyst
Licensed Psychotherapist

One of the ways we deal with uncomfortable feelings about ourselves is to believe that these feelings are not ours but those of other people. What this means is that instead of owning a feeling as ours, we imagine it comes from someone else. Psychoanalyst Karen Horney called the process of disowning our own feelings and ascribing them to others “externalization.”

Any and all inner feelings can be externalized or experienced as though they are coming from outside of us. This can include any faults we feel we have, as well as any good feelings. For example, we might feel someone else is angry with us when we are in fact angry with ourselves. We might blame others for our failures, or we might give them credit for our successes. We can see how externalization can cause us problems in our human relationships and make us unaware of our feelings about ourselves.

One of the most common feelings we externalize is our own anger. We do so in the following ways:

1. Feeling angry at the faults in other people that we hate in ourselves.

2. Feeling that other people will be angry with us because of the imperfections or shortcomings we despise in ourselves.

3. Feeling bodily disorders or psychosomatic complaints in the form of physical tension, stomach upsets, headaches, backaches, fatigue and so on, instead of owning our anger.

All three ways of externalizing anger can cause us many problems with other people, as well as hamper our own growth and progress. Even more damaging is that externalization places the emphasis for change on others and away from the individual. It can also place the emphasis for change on something biological, when in reality the problem is psychological. This shift in emphasis causes us to wait for others to change and make things happen, and in doing so keeps us from putting forth our own effort to help ourselves. Or, in the case where we externalize an inner psychological problem onto our body in the form of a physical disorder, we look for a physical cure when we should be looking for psychological help. In all cases, externalization relieves self-hate but at the cost of losing touch with ourselves and our feelings.

Psychoanalytic psychotherapy gives us the courage to take back our externalizations and feelings, and explore them with compassion and self-acceptance. In the process, we accept responsibility for ourselves and begin to make constructive efforts on our own behalf. This, in turn, gives us the power to change our own lives.

Prepared as a public service from the office of Psychotherapist Michael Feld, L.C. S.W. (347) 248-1092

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