It is a function of self preservation to want to hide the fact that we are vulnerable.  People get confused when their pets don’t show that they are sick or injured until things are pretty darn critical, but that’s animal instinct.  Being vulnerable gets you picked off by your peers or others higher or possibly even lower on the food chain.  We are no different, we just have a great deal more ways to feel vulnerable.

One of the ways we feel most vulnerable is emotionally.  When we have a strong emotion, one we aren’t prepared for, one that would expose us in a way we don’t want, it is common and natural to want to hide that.  Most of us develop some form of polite society acting so that we can keep our emotions to ourselves as necessary such as when we meet someone with a behavior we can’t stand, having a conversation with someone who has very strong BO, keeping the smile on your face when someone is repeatedly (knowingly or unknowingly) offending you, etc.  But when we are surprised it’s almost impossible to get that shielding in place.  And so we react.  Not by showing how we really feel, but by doing something to distract the other person, often by doing or saying something to the person who evoked the emotion, something that will hurt them a bit or make them angry.

It’s the magician’s sleight of hand.  It’s easier when we know the person, but even if we don’t  we immediately know something that will end the conversation and make them go away.  It’s knee jerk, it’s subconscious, and the hard part is that it seems completely appropriate and disassociated from the emotion we’re trying to hide.  In fact, it might actually hide the emotion from us as well.  Sometimes we don’t know what started a fight, why we or they picked such a random thing to talk about or get hurt/upset/angry about.  If we track back the actual events in sequence, we can find it, but until we do we may have no idea why we or they “went off.”  We are very good at camouflaging our emotions from others and ourselves.  We can do it for years at a time!

Sometimes we can’t see it ourselves and need others to point it out to us.  Yes, it’s very cliché for the therapist to ask about our parents, but that’s because it continues to be relevant so often.  Sometimes we can’t see the issues until the pattern becomes so repetitive, so large, that we can’t avoid seeing it as it has encompassed our lives. Sometimes our camouflage and someone else’s collide in our competing need to not be vulnerable and to make each other stop poking us with the vulnerability stick. If the irritation isn’t random or you can see the problem coming from a mile a way, that’s a horse of another color all together.  Naiveté, ignorance, and open warfare don’t often use camouflage.   Pretty much guaranteed that if the emotion erupts out of nowhere over something that seems trivial or random or thrown over the transom, there is some camouflage at work.  Yours, theirs, or both…getting to that is the first step towards resolving the matter.