Facts about emotions you probably didn’t know. Part 1: Some emotions have a “flipside”.

In all of my posts, I talk about mastering emotions and strategically deploying feelings (remember that feelings and emotions are the same) to improve your life and your relationships.

You master an emotion when you understand the emotional process, validate your specific feeling, give yourself both physical and psychological distance from the threat, analyze the nature of the threat, and choose a response.

If the threat is valid, you use the energy of the emotion as motivation to effectively deal with the threat.

All of this is very good information, but there is something I haven’t told you about emotions…

I want to introduce you to a different way to understand some of your feelings.  Emotions such as anxiety and anger, which may be experienced as hedonically negative and which focus on a threat to be eliminated have a flipside which has a similar message to the original feeling and provides motivation but which transmutes the original feeling into a hedonically positive emotion and focuses on creating a desired outcome rather than eliminating an unwanted outcome.

Think of the two sides of a coin.

  • On one side, you have “heads” and on the other side you have “tails”.
  • The two sides, while different, are not opposites.
  • There is no positive side and there is no negative side.
  • They are two sides of the same coin.

Now, let’s think of emotions. Each emotion…

  • conveys a message about how you perceive the situation in which you find yourself.
  • prepares your body to “deal” with the situation as you perceive it to be
  • can be mastered when you learn how to read the message and strategically deploy the energy of the emotion to the situation.
  • like a coin is neither positive nor negative.

Two widely experienced emotions and their “flipsides”.

Anxiety

Anxiety is a future based emotion the message of which is: There might be a threat out there which could be harmful to me.

Anxiety is an early warning emotion which alerts us to a possible upcoming event. Because anxiety is hedonically experienced as negative or uncomfortable, it motivates us both to choose how we might deal with with the threat and to take action. Note that anxiety, per se, is not negative (there are no negative emotions) but it is experienced as negative as you would want it to be.

Anxiety can become toxic and debilitating if..

  1. you can’t easily identify the nature of the possible threat you think you perceive.
  2. you can identify the possible threat but do not believe you can do anything about it
  3. you procrastinate and do not use the “warning” as a motivator to prepare for action
  4. you deny the validity of the warning

In all of these examples, anxiety can be labelled as distress.   Anxiety in this form is debilitating and will tie you up in knots. Another word for anxiety in this form is stress.  When chronic, stress can harm you physically. By the way, this is the anxiety that most people experience and want desperately to avoid.

If you choose to listen to the warning, use the energy of anxiety as motivation to take effective action, then your anxiety become eustress.

This is what happens when my students get anxious (nervous) about an upcoming exam and get motivated to study.

The “flipside” of anxiety.

Very few writers talk about the flipside of anxiety.  But it exists.

The flipside of anxiety is an emotion that is.

  • future oriented
  • hedonically pleasant to experience
  • prepares you to look forward to a desirable future and take whatever action you need to insure that this future occurs.

This emotion is called anticipation or desire.

The energy of anticipation is the same as that of anxiety and, therefore, is just as motivating. However, you are upbeat, sitting on the edge of your chair waiting for the specific event to occur, and you are motivated to engage with and facilitate the desired future.

So, let’s look at an upcoming exam.

The good student notes the scheduled exam and gets anxious.

Choosing to master his (or her) anxiety, he heeds the warning of his anxiety as eustress and uses the energy of the emotion as motivation to study. The exam is still a “threat” and he is using his anxiety to prepare so as to eliminate the threat.

Doing all that he can, he knows he is prepared. He can now engage the flipside of anxiety and can effectively anticipate doing well on the exam.  If there is any residual concern about what might be on the test, and there might be, it is diminished.

You don’t need to experience anxiety to engage anticipation.  Whenever you are looking forward to an event such as Christmas, the arrival of a friend, taking a trip, you engage anticipation.

Anger

Anger is an in the moment emotion, the message of which is that you perceive a threat that you believe you can eliminate if you throw enough force at it.  You are prepared for battle and believe that when you engage the threat, you will be victorious.  The threat can be to your values, your family, your sense of right and wrong, your goals and so forth.

My second Amazon Best Seller book Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool specifically focuses on the emotion of anger.

The flip side of anger is the emotion of determination.  When you are determined to do something, you focus on the task or process at hand and you are highly motivated to succeed and get the task completed.  It is the same energy that you experience with anger but there is no threat.

To put it another way…

Anger prepares you for battle.  Determination prepares for engagement.

Anger is certainly energizing but it doesn’t always feel hedonically positive.  Determination is both energizing and experienced as hedonically positive.

Chronic anger can be physically harmful. “Chronic” determination can make you successful.

I welcome your comments.

 

 

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