Facts about emotions you didn’t know. Part 4: You create your emotions (and this has implications).

What was your first reaction to the title of this post?

Was it…

“What does it mean that I create my emotions?” This expresses a lack of knowledge.

or

“My emotions just happen to me. I don’t create them.” While partially correct, this reflects a common myth about emotions.

My goasl with this post are to help you understand both how you create emotions and the responsibilities that you have because you create your emotions and to clear up some common myths.

What does “to create” mean?

I have written two books and, while working with wood is not my best skill, I built shelves from scratch in my garage because I needed more storage space.

I can say that I created the books and the shelves.

Here are two “facts” about the books and the shelves…

  1. I envisioned, designed, and brought into existence the books and the shelf.
  2. As the creator, I am totally responsible for the content of the books and the physical integrity and appearance of the shelves.

While the process of creating emotions is different from books or shelves, the responsibility you have for the emotions you create is the same for any thing you create.

How do you “create” an emotion?

In order to answer this question, you have to understand how the emotional process works.

Here is an overview.

You are constantly scanning your surroundings for threat.  When you perceive a threat, your Amygdala unconsciously prepares you to REACT to the threat.  Almost simultaneously, the thinking part of your brain is alerted which gives you the opportunity to evaluate and RESPOND  to the the threat.  Threats are not always what they initially appear to be. The choices you make determine the emotion you end up expressing.

There are 6 (mad, sad, glad, fear, disgust, and surprise) primary emotions. All of these primary emotions with the exception of glad and surprise function as primitive threat detectors and all have been around since we, as a species, lived in caves or on the Savannah.  The purpose of these threat detectors was, and is, to keep us alive so that we could procreate and insure survival of the species.  While our survival is no longer an issue, these primitive mechanisms continue to function today as they did eons ago.

Incidentally, you are hardwired to constantly scan your surroundings for and react to any threat.

When you perceive a threat, an unconscious message is rapidly sent to the Amygdala in your brain which prepares your body for:

  • battle (so you can confront and overpower the marauders who want to kill you),
  • running away (so that you can escape from your enemies and live another day), or
  • staying in place (freezing so that the saber toothed tiger can’t see you and will move on).

I call this the “fast track” reaction. It is also called the fight or flight response.

You do not control fight or flight. Nor, should you, if your life depends on it.

This unconscious reaction is linked to your very quick (and not always accurate) initial perception of the threat.

You haven’t started to create, yet.

At the same time that your body is reacting to the fast track message from your sense organs, a slower track message goes to the thinking part of your brain, the Cerebral Cortex.

Now,  you start creating.

As soon as you become aware of your emotional reaction, you can choose to assess the nature of the threat and the appropriateness of the emotion.

In other words,

  • how real is the threat,
  • to what extent does your initial emotional reaction fit the situation, and
  • to what extent does the action you were initially motivated to take match the situation in which you find yourself?

If you do nothing, go with your initial emotional reaction and do something you later regret, you, in effect, have chosen to let the initial reactive emotional process proceed.  This is now your emotional response and you are now responsible because you have “created” (by choice) the emotion on which you are acting by doing nothing to change it.

If you take the opportunity to assess your situation and either strengthen the initial emotion (if the threat is valid) or change it (if there is no threat), you are “creating” an emotion and acting on it.

The implication here is that you are always personally responsible for any actions (responses) you take which follow from the emotions you are experiencing. This is true because you are “creating” that emotion by the choices you make after the initial emotional reaction.

It is this personal responsibility that gets denied when someone acts out on their anger and says, “If I had not been angry, I wouldn’t have (x)”or “If I had not been so anxious or nervous, I wouldn’t have (y)”.  Yes, your initial emotional reaction set you up for the action you took and you probably would not have done x if you had not been angry or anxious. This, however, is not the issue.

This is the same as saying that because the forward momentum of your car was taking you directly into the pedestrian in the cross walk ahead of you, the law of physics are responsible for the accident not you. If a child runs into the street in front of you, physics may be responsible.  If you could have assessed your situation and chosen to stop or diverted the car in a different direction, it’s on you.

Not to choose is to choose.

Regarding your emotions, the truth is that you did not assess your situation and the appropriateness of the action you were initially moved to make.  Had you done this, the action you eventually took most likely would have been different.

The point here is that, while you are not responsible for the initial emotional reaction to which your perception is leading you, the slower track message to your cerebral cortex empowers you to  make a decision about how you want to proceed.  This is the point at which you “create” the emotion that elicits your behavior and puts the responsibility for your actions on you.

Emotional mastery suggests that, as soon as you become aware that an emotional reaction is starting in your body, you need to create some physical and psychological distance between you and the perceived threat by taking a step back and a deep breath.  In doing this, you give yourself the time and space to assess what is going on and choose how you want to respond to the situation.

You are responsible for any actions you take and the consequences of those action which occur after the initial emotional reaction.

Accepting this responsibility will give you the motivation you need to learn how to master your emotions by:

  • learning to read your body,
  • knowing the message of each emotion,
  • creating physical and psychological space,
  • assessing the nature of the the threat and
  • choosing an effective response.

All of these specifics are covered in earlier posts and in my two Amazon best selling books:

Emotions as Tools: Control Your Life not Your Feelings

Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool

You can download the first two chapters for free without any opt-in by scrolling up to the Welcome  post.

Ignorance is no longer (and probably never was) a justification.

I welcome your comments.

 

 

Facts about emotions you probably didn’t know. Part 3: Functions of emotions 6 through 10.

Just to recap, in my last post, I discussed 5 functions of emotions.  What I have called functions are labelled as “aspects”, “values” or “purposes” of emotions by authors Michael A. Jawer and Marc S. Micozzi, M.D., Ph.D. in their book  The Spiritual Anatomy of Emotion   from which this list is taken.

The comments on each function are a combination of the two authors and my own take on the specific function being discussed.

6. The Motivational Function: Emotions are a barometer of needs unmet or goals unfulfilled.

This is the very essence of what emotions are.  They are motivators and, by evolutionary “design” prepare us for action and “propel us toward acceptance or rejection of whatever external reality (we) (are) encountering” (The authors).

7. The Ethical function: Emotions facilitate socially acceptable behavior and serve as a powerful reminder when one fails to live up to standards whether held internally or externally.

Emotions such as guilt, shame, pride, and embarrassment appear in our children around the ages of 2 1/2 to 3 1/2.  They appear once the child had the cognitive ability including memory capacity to conceive of himself as a separate being in time and space.  These emotions are called self-conscious emotions.

These emotions alert us to our views of ourselves and our behavior often in the context of our goals (pride), and how we measure up to internal and external standards (guilt, shame, embarrassment).

The message of embarrassment is that we have violated some standard.  The message of guilt is that we have done something wrong which we regret.  The message of shame is that there is something wrong with us as a person.

The ethical function of self-conscious emotions is to alert us to when we have crossed some internal or external line of appropriate behavior and to motivate us to take action to  correct the transgression.

8. The Developmental Function: Emotions are essential to personal development and self-actualization.

The authors note that emotions alert us that we are in the middle of a difficult situation so that we can learn from it much like a fever alerts us that we are fighting off an infection.

9. The Evolutionary Aspect: The emotional feedback loop, which involves the recognition of what we and our fellow individuals are feeling, is the driver of our species’ progress.

As I have noted in my books and my posts, emotions evolved to help us survive as a species.

The authors note that the emotional interaction between human beings      “(drives) our species’ rapid intellectual and cultural development”.

10. The Qualitative Function: In tandem with thinking, emotions determine the quality, value, and, ultimately, the meaning human beings place on their lives.

I teach an Introductory Philosophy Class and one of the topics I cover is what makes each individual unique.  One of the examples I discuss is a man who was very interactive, emotionally expressive and involved with his family and his surroundings.  Following a brain tumor, he was unable to experience emotions.  He would look at a picture of a man emaciated by hunger and note that he was looking at a “very skinny man”. Intellectually, he responded to the picture but he was devoid of emotion.

Emotions add color to our lives. Emotions allow us to experience  an interaction in addition to understanding it.  The technical term for these experiences is qualia.   A physical example of qualia is the difference between knowing about and seeing a red apple and experiencing the essence of a bright red apple.

Your emotions allow to experience many different aspects of an interaction. You go to a lecture. While I can video the lecture and record the content, what you take away from the lecture will be very different if you are bored than if you are excited.  This difference is entirely based on the emotions you experience.  This is qualia.

The authors quote Psychiatrist Elio Frattaroli who states, “The simple act of paying attention to your inner world, to the finely tuned layers and qualities of inner experiencing… crystallizes the core meanings of your life.” (citations noted in the book).

The qualia in your emotions creates your experience.

I welcome your comments.

Facts about emotions you probably didn’t know. Part 2: The Functions of emotions 1 through 5.

There is a book entitled: The Spiritual Anatomy of Emotion  by Michael A. Jawer and Marc S. Micozzi, M.D., Ph.D. in which the authors list 10 values of emotions.  The authors refer to these values as “purposes” or “aspects”.  I think a better term in function.

In this post, I discuss purposes 1-5.  I will discuss the values 6-10 in my next post.

Disclaimer: The “functions” are taken from the book. The commentary is a combination of my take on the “function” and the authors.

  1. The Self awareness Function: Emotions enable individuals to discriminate “us versus them”.

When we become aware of our own emotions and those of others, we can use the contrast between what we feel about a situation and what others feel to improve our sense of self and learn about how we are interpreting a situation.

Have you ever had the experience of sitting down to a meal, eating too much, and commenting, “I didn’t realize I was so hungry.”  In this example, you are “learning” about your own internal state by observing your own behavior.

When you experience an emotion and analyze the nature of the perceived threat, you can learn about your own values.

2. The Adaptational Function: Emotions enable the individual to react quickly and expeditiously to changes in his or her environment.

This was, and is, the basic function of emotions.  Emotions evolved as primitive threat detectors to help us survive as a species.  This is the “fast track” process I write about in my books and my posts.

3. The Collectivity Function: Emotions enable individuals to communicate something of importance to one another.

A very important function of emotions is to inform others about how you perceive a situation and give them the opportunity to respond accordingly.

The emotion of anger communicates that you are ready to go to war.  When we lived in caves, or even today, an angry face and body posture clearly says “Back off, I am a force to be reckoned with.”

In the process of mastering your emotions, awareness of this function of emotions lets you both read other people and use other’s reactions to you to help you determine how you want to effectively deal with the interaction in which you find yourself.

4. The Interpersonal Function: Emotions cement bonds between people, especially between parents and children.

The authors note and tone of voice are crucial to the healthy development of an infant.

You also experience this function of emotions when you tell you significant other or your kids that you love them. And, you can see how emotions work when people come together in times of emergencies, shared experiences of mourning or distress or joy. Ever watched a sporting event when the home team scores an important point?

5. The Continuity Function: Emotions are integral to memory and learning.

The authors note that memory and learning is strongly reinforced when accompanied by strong emotion.

There is a concept known a “flashbulb memories”.  A significant event occurs about which you have very strong emotions and the memory including everything about your situation at the time is solidly burned in.  For older readers, like myself, the Assassination of President Kennedy is such an event.  For younger readers, it might be the death of  Princes Diana.  For all of us the 2001 bombing of the the Twin Towers certainly qualifies.

The same phenomenon can occur whenever an event is accompanied by strong feelings.

Functions 6 -10 will be discussed in the next post.

I welcome your comments.

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.

 

 

The Anger Cycle-“CliffsNotes” style

When I attended UC Berkeley, way back in the day, if you wanted a quick overview of a book or a specific topic, you could buy the CliffsNotes version.  This would give you all the important information about the topic and would save you a bunch of time.  If you wanted or needed more indepth knowledge, you could always go to the original source material.

In my most recent Amazon best seller book Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool, I discuss the Anger Mastery Cycle in detail.  You can get a PDF of the Cycle by scrolling up to the Welcome Post and downloading it.

That being said, for any reader who would like it, here is the CliffsNotes version of the Anger Cycle.

Anger starts as a perception which gives rise to a feeling which elicits a reaction which is reinforced by an explanation which becomes a response.

Anger: This is the label we put on the emotion we experience.

Perception: By evolutionary design, we subconsciously scan our surroundings for any threat.  In caveman times, this was a specific survival mechanism as all threats would kill us.  Today, the scanning is the same but the nature of the threat has changed from a survival threat to a psychological threat.

Feeling:  This refers to the “sensations” you experience.  These sensations are matched to the threat you perceive and involve your body and your thoughts. Anger energizes you and prepares you for battle.

Reaction: This is the initial action you want to take to eliminate the perceived threat. The reaction is behavioral and not necessarily well thought out.

If the threat is not valid, your reaction will be seen as excessive.

Explanation:  This is the justification you give yourself about your feeling and your behavior which reinforces both the perception of threat and the actions you want to take to eliminate that threat.

When you master your anger, you take a step back from the threat and analyze what is really going on and adjust your explanation accordingly.

Response:  This is action you finally choose to take.

If you have evaluated the nature of the threat, your response will be valid for the situation and will include only the amount of force needed to eliminate the threat.  If there is no valid threat, there will be no aggressive force.

Again, as a reminder, you can download a PDF of the complete anger mastery cycle by scrolling up to the Welcome post.  You can also download the first two chapters of both of my Amazon bestselling books in the same post.

I welcome your comments.

Your emotional toolkit.

As I have discussed before, the most adaptive way to conceptualize and think about your feelings is to view them as tools.  This metaphor not only accurately describes the way emotions “work” (as tools to accomplish a specific task) in your brain and body but also allows you to demystify emotions in general.  When you view emotions as tools, it is easier for you to realize both that the tool (your feeling) doesn’t control you and that you can learn to master the tool to get the most out of what it was “designed” (by evolution) to do.

Emotions are experienced as happening very quickly and, therefore, seem to have a life of their own.  This is how you would want emotions to work if your life depended on an emotional reaction to a survival threat.  A good example is the emotion of fear (not anxiety).

Based on this experience, however, many people tend to (incorrectly) believe that their emotions control them.

But, think about it.  While you may have some challenges getting your smart phone or TV remote to do what you want, you never complain that the phone “made” you upset, controlled you in any way, or acted upon you in some autonomous manner. The phone or remote is just a tool.  You control (or not) it and not vice versa.

You have, however, probably said (or heard someone say) “You made me angry.”(Someone else has absolute power over you.) or “I wouldn’t have (fill in the blank) if I hadn’t been so angry.”(Your anger has absolute control over you.)

Your emotions were “designed” by evolution as tools to do a specific task. My goal, with my books and posts, is to help you learn what the task of each emotion is and how to master each emotion as a tool.

That being said, let’s carry the analogy another step forward.

And, by the way, while it may be applied differently, the information in this post is useful to both men and women

If you are like me, you have a tool kit, tool bag, or some collection of familiar tools in your shop, your car, your kitchen, or some other easily accessible place.  While the specific tools you have in your kit will vary with the job your set of tools is designed to help you do, let’s look at a standard household tool kit.

The kit probably contains a hammer, a pair of standard pliers, two screw drivers (both Flathead and Phillips), a tape measure and so forth. These are basic tools which will allow you to do most of the repair jobs that come up. You may also have some “specialized” tools like different size screw drivers (tiny for your glasses or small parts of your sewing machine) a rubber mallet,needle nose pliers, power tools and so forth.

You set up your toolkit to be there for you when something requires your attention because it needs to be fixed.

Have you ever been faced with a job that required a tool you didn’t have and you either tried to use the tools you did have to do the job or you gave up?

For instance, you needed to fix the side of a piece of furniture or cabinet and, where you should have used a rubber mallet (which you didn’t have), you used your regular hammer and left a dent. Or, you tried to use a Flathead screwdriver and stripped the Phillips head screw.

Or, you couldn’t get your cell phone or TV remote to do what you wanted and just gave up.

Now, while the analogy isn’t perfect, it can be informative. So, please, allow me a bit of leeway here.

You also have a “standard” emotional tool kit which would include all the basic emotions you are used to experiencing including  anger, sad, happy, anxiety, surprise, vulnerability, fear, and disgust.

Unlike the physical toolkit we spoke about above, all the emotions are somewhere in your emotional toolkit.  However, while they are all there and you can learn to access them, you may not experience most of them. For example, you might not experience Guilt, Envy or Jealousy but they are there. And, the emotion of Shadenfreude (feeling pleasure about the discomfort of another) is also in there but would be invisible to you unless you spoke German as there is no English equivalent.

Let’s look at some of your basic emotional tools and what they do.

Anger

Anger, as a tool alerts you to a threat you believe you can eliminate if you throw enough force at it.

The proper use of this tool is to assess the nature of the threat your anger has alerted you to and, if it is a valid threat, use the energy of the tool to motivate you to make a plan and eliminate the threat. This may be the tool you use the most.

Anger prepares you to go to war.

There are three main issues with anger.

You might deploy your anger when no real threat exists as that you might have misjudged the threat. You have misunderstood what tool is needed and just grabbed a familiar one from your tool kit.

You might not be able to use your anger directly because the environment in which the threat occurred either does not tolerate the expression of anger in general or specifically denies you the expression of anger because of your gender, status, or color. You have a hammer but you can’t use it because it is too heavy, too big, or not the right material for the situation.

You are deploying your anger as a secondary emotion.  In this case, it is the wrong tool for the job but it is the only tool you feel comfortable using.

Anxiety

Anxiety is a future based emotion the message of which is that there MAY be a threat out there that MAY harm you.

The proper use of this emotional tool is to check out how valid the future threat is and use the energy of the tool to motivate you to prepare for what is out there. This is anxiety as “eustress”.  When you use the energy of your anxiety about an upcoming speech you have to give to prepare yourself, this is using your anxiety as a tool to move you forward.

Many people, however, experience anxiety as distress and get stuck. This is a misuse of this emotion.  Anxiety, as distress, reacts as if the perceived (possible) threat is both inevitable and that there is no way to avoid being harmed by it. I’ve discussed the process of catastrophising as a worst case anxiety scenario in a previous post.

Vulnerability

The message of vulnerability is that a weakness of yours may be exposed.

The proper use of vulnerability as a tool depends on the circumstances. Being vulnerable in a relationship and sharing your concerns can enhance the relationship. Women, in general, may be better at using vulnerability as a tool.

Men, in general, tend to misuse the feeling of vulnerability because of a belief that weakness is to be avoided.  Instead of examining the perceived weakness and whether it has any merit, men will tend to express anger to cover up feeling of vulnerability. This is anger as a secondary emotion.

The next step is to look at your emotional toolkit.

  • Are you familiar with the emotions you typically use, the information they provide, and the best way to master them?
  • Do you have the right tools to match the interactions you have with others?
  • What information do you need to get in order to make you better at mastering your emotional tools?

I welcome your comments.

How do you deal with bad moods?

Most people do not understand the difference between the words, “feeling”, “emotion” and “mood”.

In Psychology, the words “feeling” and”emotion” tend to have different meanings.  In everyday language, they are essentially the same.

The word “mood” , while also used interchangeably with “feeling”, tends to have a different connotation.

A “mood” is a longer lasting “feeling state” that may not be related to any specific issue or point of focus.

The website 6seconds.org (a good source of information on emotional intelligence) defines mood as “They’re not tied to a specific incident, but a collection of inputs.  Mood is heavily influenced by our environment (weather, lighting, color, people around us), by our physiology (what we’ve been eating, how we’ve been exercising, if we have a cold or not, how well we slept), by our thinking (where we’re focusing attention), and by our current emotions.  Moods can last minutes, hours, probably even days.”

If you are dealing with a mood, suggestions which involve distraction including going for a walk or listening to music can be effective.  Questioning the weather, your environment, or your physiology is also good.  Finally, just waiting it out allows you to avoid giving the mood too much “power” by elevating its impact on you and lets the mood pass.

As I will show below, using distraction for feelings may not be a good idea.

That being said, let me address this issue in terms of feelings.

Feelings tend to be more short term and related to a specific trigger.  In my opinon, feelings, and how we relate to them, are,  a different story compared to moods. The reason for this is the function feelings serve and the information they provide.  If you don’t understand your feelings (or emotions), you may find yourself doing things you later regret (anger), failing to give yourself permission and time to recover (sad), being too hard on yourself (guilt and shame), or missing out on opportunities to positively impact your life and your relationships.

As I’ve written about in my two Amazon best seller books Emotions as Tools and Beyond Anger Management, while we can see manifestations of feelings in all human societies and in some subhuman species, feelings, in humans, helped us survive as a species and, in many ways, while we, as humans, have evolved, the 6 primary feelings (mad, sad, glad, fear, disgust and surprise) and how they impact us, have largely remained the same over time.

Four of the six  primary feelings are threat detectors which evolved in humans to subconsciously alert us to threats which in primitive times would kill us and prepare our bodies to deal with the threat. This is the emotional reaction to potential threats which we still experience today.

Over time, the thinking parts of our brains developed to the point where we now have the ability to choose how we respond to possible threats.

Incidentally, there are no good or bad emotions (This is an emotional myth.) just like there are no good or bad moods.

There are two reason that feelings (and moods) get labelled as “bad”.  The first is is that some feelings are hedonically negative (they are experienced as discomfort). Secondly, some people do dumb or hurtful things when they are reacting to a feeling.  Unfortunately, the feeling rather than the hedonic state or the unfortunate choice of behavior gets the label and the bad rap.

Each feeling communicates a specific message about how a “threat” is perceived.  Understanding this message gives you two advantages and it is these advantages which make feelings valuable and allow you to use them as tools to improve your life and your relationships. I’ve discussed the message of specific feelings in other posts.

While some writers suggest distraction as a viable means of dealing with uncomfortable feelings, I do not believe this to be the case. To ignore a possible threat(and the feeling which is alerting you to it) via distraction is the same as texting while driving.  If there are no obstacles, you may be able to multitask while driving.  However, if an obstacle or threat is real, you will miss it.

Moods do not have these advantages.

First, when you understand the message of the emotion you are experiencing , you can evaluate the nature of the threat and choose your response.  If the threat is valid, stay with the feeling, make a plan to deal with the threat, and execute your plan.  If you have misperceived the threat, change your perception and move on. This can have a positive impact on your life.

Second, when you understand the message of an emotion, you are in a better position to deal with another person who is directing this emotion at you.  This can have a positive impact on your relationships.

I welcome your comments.

Why you might dislike having emotions.

Let me start by explaining my (and others) take on what emotions are. I will then address why you may dislike having them. By the way, academic writers will distinguish between emotions and feelings but, in every day use, they are the same.

There are 6 primary emotions that we, as humans, and some subhumans are born with. You can see these emotions develop over time in your kids.

The six primary emotions are mad, sad, glad, fear, disgust and surprise. Some of these emotions appear at birth and some develop a little later. Many of the more common feelings with which you may be familiar can be thought of as a combination of these primary feelings.

With the exception of glad and surprise, all of the primary emotions are primitive threat detectors which have existed since we lived in caves and which were “designed” by evolution to keep us alive so we could procreate and survive as a species. Early man did not have sharp claws or teeth to protect him. He did have his emotional threat detectors.

Here is how the emotional process works….

You constantly (and subconsciously) scan your surroundings for threats. When you perceive a threat, a fast track message goes to your Amygdala in your brain and then to the Thalamus. This elicits fight or flight and prepares your body to react to the threat. At the same time, a slower message goes to the cerebral cortex or thinking part of your brain. The cerebral cortex allows you to assess the nature of the the threat and choose how you want to respond.

Two emotional myths are that there are negative emotions and that your emotions control you. These two myths (there are others) are the reason you may dislike having emotions. I address 5 emotional myths in my book Emotions as Tools: A Self Help Guide to Controlling Your Life not Your Feelings. You can download the first two chapters of my  book without an opt-in by scrolling up to the “welcome” post.

Some emotions are labelled as negative because:

  • they do not feel good when you have them (a negative hedonic quality)
  • you may be negatively labelled by others when you express them, or
  • you may do things you later regret when you experience the feeling.

Feeling disgusted is not pleasurable and feeling anxious or vulnerable may be equated with powerlessness (also not pleasurable).

If you are a woman, you may be labelled a “bitch” or “hormonal” when you express anger.

When you are angry, you may do dumb things.

The emotion is wrongly blamed for the “negative” sensations, the misogynist labels,  and the “negative” acting out.

In fact, there are no negative feelings in the sense that we would not want to eliminate any of them. We may turn off the smoke detector that blares when we burn toast or has a weak battery. This is not a good decision.

All feelings are adaptive and the behavior you exhibit is based on the choices you make in response to the emotion. The feeling may start the process but you are always responsible for the decisions you make and the behavior you exhibit.

So, you may dislike a feeling that is hedonically negative, elicits results you do not want or that appears to cause negative behavior.

Once you realize that all feelings are tools which give you information you can use to improve your life and your relationships, the hedonic quality of the emotion becomes secondary and unimportant. And, once your realize that your emotions do not control you and that you can use your emotions as tools and choose your response, you will welcome your feelings in the same way you “welcome” the little light on your dashboard that tells you that you need to service your car. You may say, “Oh, crap, I don’t want to service the car now (because you are out of town or don’t have the money)” but you ignore the warning at your own peril.

If anger is the emotion that you “dislike”, I recommend you xcroll  up and download the first two chapters of my Amazon bestseller book Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool. You can buy the book on Amazon.

As always, thanks for reading and I welcome your comments.

It’s 2 AM and you are wide awake. What you might be feeling and what you can do about it.

When questioned about the possibility of Donald Trump being elected as POTUS, many non-Trump  voters expressed grave concerns for the future of America.  I must admit, I was one of those voters.  After the election, I found myself awake at 2 AM worrying (or being anxious) about the future of America and the World. This post is the result of that experience.

Anxiety is another word for worry.

Anxiety is the speeding thoughts, the churning stomach, and the inability to sleep because you are thinking about something that has happened, that is happening, or more likely, that might happen and your brain is trying to sort it all out and keeping you awake while it does this.

It is very important for you to to be able to identify that you are anxious as opposed to having a stomachache or just plain insomnia.  Knowing how your body expresses anxiety will enable you to do this.

For me, anxiety presents as my stomach churning, a focusing of my thought/attention on a specific issue which gets replayed over and over. Sleep is elusive because my brain is churning.  Your physical correlates might be different.

It is important to note that anxiety is always a future based emotion.

Anxiety is worrying about some outcome that hasn’t happened yet.  If something has already occurred or is in the process of taking place, it is what it is.  Your worry is about where it might go or what might happen as a result of what is going on.  That is a future based concern about a current situation. Mr. Trump is the President-Elect. That is a fact.

As I mention in my book Emotions as Tools, the message of anxiety is: There MIGHT be a threat out there and that threat MIGHT kill me.

While the focus of your anxiety can be on anything, you can experience anxiety in two different forms.  You can learn to master anxiety so that it doesn’t control you regardless of the form in which you experience it.

The most common type of anxiety is distress.  This is the anxiety that keeps you up at night.  It is worrying about an unwanted future outcome to which you react as if it were inevitable, you are unable to to prevent it, and its consequences to you will be disastrous.

Another way to look at distress is the process of catastrophising.

You catastrophise when you take an unwanted situation and project it into the future in its worst possible form and then react in the present as if this future outcome is inevitable.

As an example, when I was in college, a med student jumped off the roof of a building.  He survived and when questioned about why he did it, he noted the he got a “D” in an Organic Chemistry class.  The interviewer could not understand why one bad grade could lead to a suicide attempt and questioned the student further.  The student’s reasoning was as follows:

  • A “D” grade would keep him out of med school,
  • if he could not get into med school, he would never be a Doctor
  • If he could not be a Doctor, he would not be able to support a family
  • If he could not support a family, he would be a failure
  • Since he is a failure, he had no reason to live any longer (emphasis added)
  • In summary, the “D” grade meant that he was a failure and his life, as a failure, was not worth living.

I’m sure you’ve noticed that the logic is flawed in that

  • it leaves out a whole lot of other possibilities,
  •  it focuses on the worst possible outcome in each situation and
  • it treats that outcome as if it is the only option.

The other face of anxiety is eustress.

Anxiety as eustress looks at a future outcome and uses the upcoming occurrence of that outcome as motivation to take appropriate action to change the nature of the future and thereby eliminate or minimize the occurrence of the unwanted consequences.  When my students study for an upcoming exam about which they are anxious, this is using anxiety as eustress.

The antidote to the 2 AM anxiety based sleeplessness is as follows:

1.Correctly identify that you are anxious.

2.Identify the issue about which you are obsessing.

3.Evaluate and rate the probability of the the future outcome on a 0 to 10 scale with 0 = I can’t really say, 1 = highly unlikely and 10 = very likely.

4. Determine what other outcomes are possible besides the unwanted future you are thinking about.  In other words, is a different future possible?

5.Identify if the anxiety is distress or eustress by assessing whether or not you can do anything to prepare for, minimize, or eliminate the undesired future outcome.

  • if you can do something about it, then it is eustress.
  • If you cannot do anything about it, it is distress.

6. Use the above information to make some choices all of which begin with the letter “D” which should eliminate the anxiety and let you go to sleep.  The three choices involve…

  • Deciding what you can do and writing down the steps you will later take
  • Delegating by writing down who you need to contact for help or what new information you might need to get or
  • Dismissing the situation and moving on because you can’t do anything about it.

The serenity “prayer” comes into play here and goes like this:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

The logic, behind this approach is this.:

  • If you can’t identify, determine the probability of, or do anything to prevent or minimize the undesired outcome or you can’t identify any alternative futures, you are catastrophising, your thinking is flawed and you need to decide to Dismiss or let it go.  With practice, you will learn to turn off the anxiety by focusing on the catastrophising process and realizing the futility of it.
  • If you decide that an alternative future is possible, you can break the catastrophising process and the anxiety that goes with it by focusing on the possibility that another outcome is possible so you can wait and see how the future unfolds.
  • If you can do something to eliminate or minimize the unwanted future outcome, you can Decide or Delegate and  take some notes to remind you to go back to the issue at a future time.  You can then let the anxiety dissipate and you can go to sleep.
  • As you are not able to get to sleep anyway, so you might as well get up, get out a pad of paper, and take some notes.  It may take you 20 to 30 minutes but you will be able to to back to sleep once it is completed.  You are ahead of the game in the long run.

This process is not easy but it is doable with practice.

Oh, and about Donald Trump.. While my worries about future war, the uprising of Russia, China and Iran, and what can happen when an easily angered Narcissist gets real power are possible, it is also possible that Congress might unify, Trump might modify, and cooler heads might prevail. I’ll just have to wait and see.

I welcome your comments.

 

 

The 3M approach to feelings. Part 2

In my last post, I introduced you to the 3M approach to feelings and discussed the first M: Management.  In this post, I will talk about the second and third M and conclude with how you can apply the 3M approach to the emotions of another person.

The second  M ==> Mindfulness

When you are mindful, you are present in, and aware of, the moment.

While we experience an emotion in the moment, our  perceptions of the situation we are facing may be impacted by extraneous information. As these perceptions elicit our feelings, “irrelevant” information can lead to misunderstandings and misperceptions.

This irrelevant information can involve:

  • any experiences we have had in the past which are similar to, but not the same as, our current situation,
  • our tendency to project ourselves into some unwanted future, or
  • our tendency to overreact for a number of reasons.

When we talk about our “buttons” being pushed or “jumping to conclusions”,  we are referring to these three sources of misinformaiton.

Examples include:

  • getting anxious (a future based emotion) because we didn’t do well in a previous interview and we react “as if” our next interview will turn out the same way
  • getting angry (a present based emotion) because we misinterpret the actions of another as mistreatment without getting all the facts
  • becoming jealous because our spouse seems to be giving attention to someone else without really understanding what is going on

Mindfulness says that you should stay in the moment and fully understand what is actually taking place before you “interpret”, “judge”, “draw conclusions about”, or take action concerning the perceived threat your feelings are telling you exists.

When you are mindful, you ask questions about what is going on, you gain the information you need to decide what actions you will take, and you reserve to yourself the option of choosing what you will do.

The third M ==> Mastery

The anger mastery cycle, which applies to all emotions including anger, can be downloaded from this website and involves the third M or Mastery of the feeling.  Mastering an emotion picks up where Managing one’s emotion ends.  Once you have lowered your arousal, you can remain mindful, or in the moment, and assess or validate the threat you perceive exists.

The process of assessment involves:

  • gathering information about what is happening by asking questions,
  • learning about the process and intent of the other person with whom you are interacting,  and
  • evaluating your own perceptions.

Assessment sets you up to make a decision about how valid your emotion is and how you want to respond to what is happening.

If the perceived threat is genuine, mastering your emotion dictates that you use all the energy the emotion provides to develop and execute a plan to eliminate the threat.

If the perceived threat is not genuine but is due to a misperception of what is happening, mastering the emotion dictates that you change the thoughts which are giving rise to the feeling and, by so doing, change the feeling or let the feeling diminish and go away by ignoring it.

The same three M’s can also be applied when you are dealing with someone else who is directing their emotions at you. The process involves lowering your own arousal (managing) so that you don’t react and escalate the interaction, (This can also result in the other person “powering down” somewhat.), remaining mindful so that you gather information about how the other person perceives you as a threat (mindfulness), and mastering their emotions by assessing how they see what is going on and responding to their perceptions (if they are open to this) by acknowledging or validating their emotion, apologizing (if appropriate), and suggesting a resolution.

I have a whole chapter on dealing with someone who is angry with you in my book Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool.

I have covered the entire 3M process and I welcome your comments.