Our reactions to other people's words or behaviors can be complicated emotional events. Often we react with strong emotions, and it takes work to understand what is going on in ourselves. It is important to understand that in many cases the current event is upsetting partly because it is bringing up old feelings. We realize that we have to deal not only with feelings generated around the present issue, but a backlog of old emotions. Gaining some awareness of these older feelings helps us to clarify why we are feeling so strongly about what is going on now. It can make it possible to separate what has happened from old feelings attached to the events.

Our egos get threatened very easily. Sometimes even a look can feel devastating. As we grow up, we build defenses to protect us from feelings that are too difficult for us. One defense that works well is to get angry and blame the other person so that we do not have to feel what we are feeling. We can focus on the other person's faults and make judgments about him or her. It is important to be aware when we become defensive and to make efforts to understand what it is we are defending against. Once we take the time to connect to what we are feeling and begin to think about it, our egos do not have to defend themselves so strongly. Being able to think about a feeling is a way of containing the emotions involved. When we can use thought to contain our feelings, we are not as reactive. Our focus can move away from blame and judgment.

Another defense we use is projection. If we experience our thoughts and feelings as existing in others, we don't have to experience certain of our own feelings. For instance, we can experience the other person as being angry with us, but if we check into ourselves, we realize we are angry with him or her. Being aware that we might be projecting, or ascribing our own feelings to the other person, opens up the possibility of experiencing the current upset in a clearer way.