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  • Writer's pictureGina Greenlee, Author

The Emotional Iceberg

Image credit: Simon Lee, Unsplash

I recruited an acquaintance to help market my third book, Postcards and Pearls Life Lessons from Solo Moments on the Road. We met and laid out milestones for achieving goals. She promised to advance on those milestones but procrastinated. Months passed. I was enraged with her for not keeping her word.

Long-form writing was new to me at the time. And scary. Rather than confront my writing fears, I projected anxiety onto my acquaintance. Of course, it was unconscious. If I involved her in a marketing deadline for a launch, that required me to finish writing the book. In asking for her help, I was also self-imposing an external publication deadline. When she didn’t follow through, that forced me to confront what I’d been avoiding.

I froze her out for half a year. During my thaw, an epiphany crept to consciousness. I dove beyond my misplaced anger (the tip of the proverbial iceberg) to the complete truth beneath the surface: fear that I might not have what it takes to be an author.

The Emotional Iceberg

A 1990s book by psychologist Barbara DeAngelis first introduced me to this model. Countless others have adapted it.

“Our emotions are like an iceberg, where the very top, floating portion of the iceberg represents our anger. Underneath the anger is our sadness or hurt. Under the hurt and sadness lies our fear. Underneath the fear lies a level called responsibility (or accountability/self-responsibility). And the deepest layer beneath the surface of the water is love, wants, needs and desires. We often use the surface level of emotions of anger, sadness and hurt as a cover-up for our fear.
“Only in confronting our fears can we begin taking responsibility for our emotional choices in life. Once we take ownership of our fear, we can learn ways to release it, confront it and work with it, without allowing our fear to overwhelm us.
“In letting go of our fear we can begin to feel the love inside of us and better express our true needs, wants and desires. By expressing our emotions at every level of the iceberg, we reach what is called ‘The Complete Truth,’ which says that we are more than our anger, more than our sadness, more than our fear. All these emotions and the desire to love and be loved (that underlies them all) comprise the complete truth of who we are.”

The Complete Truth

I phoned my acquaintance; asked her to meet me. Then I spoke the Complete Truth and apologized for my misplaced anger. She accepted my apology with grace. Also, she owned her truth: “I didn’t want to do it,” she said. “I should have just told you that.”

We did not ride off into the sunset hand-in-hand with a movie soundtrack playing in the background. We did however, each take responsibility for our share of what hadn’t worked and how we both had been dishonest with each other. Not out of malice but fear. Her fear of saying, “No” to me. My fear that I didn’t have the goods to work my dream. Having reached the core of the iceberg – the Complete Truth – new energy was available for me to nurture my deepest desires.


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