The inspiration from this post came from some of the interesting comments on one of my previous post’s entitled Stoicism is overrated, self-care is the solution
But what if emotions are actually a really good thing? What if instead of looking outside of ourselves for inspiration, all we need to do is to pay more attention to our emotions as one of our greatest sources of truth and intuition.
In the book, The Language of Emotions, Karla McLaren describes emotions as “reliable…evolutionarily evolved responses” which are all trying to tell us something.
In his somatic market hypothesis, neurologist Antonio Damasio describes decision-making as the “emotional process of attaching value and meaning to data”. This is because his research demonstrated that when the emotional brain centres are disconnected from the rational processing centres of the brain (through surgery or brain damage), his patients were unable to make decisions.
Once we can access the emotions within our body, we find that unlike the mind, the body doesn’t lie.
The point of emotions is to help us to survive by moving our energy, abilities and information from one place to another by feeling things and then reacting to them.
To give some examples from The Language of Emotions; the feeling sadness makes you more aware of your interior state, this calms and relaxes you and helps you to release uncomfortable attachments. The feeling of anger fuels the setting and rigorous enforcing of boundaries for self-protection and self-preservation. On the positive side, the feeling of joy is a powerful tool for rejuvenation.
However, if we try to ignore or suppress an important, valid, emotion: rather than go through the process of recognising it and completing the actions that are required for the emotion to recede naturally and gracefully; the unconscious mind will start to increase the intensity of the message.
We can take anxiety as an example.
In its soft state, anxiety helps us to be aware of what we might need to pack for an upcoming trip. A small amount of healthy anxiety helps us to prepare for eventualities in the future.
[Image: The Fireplace by Robbie Sproule from Flickr.com via Wikipedia under Creative Commons license]
If we delay packing until the night before the trip, our anxiety will ramp up to the mood state. At this point, we will be feeling a greater sense of pressure to focus our energy on completing the action.
[Image by KC Green from Gunshow – On Fire]
However, if the morning of the trip has arrived and we still haven’t packed, our anxiety will ramp up another level to the intense state. Being in this state for a short, defined period can provides us with tremendous energy to complete a task.
[Image by Ada Be from Flickr]
However, if this state continues for a prolonged period of time without being properly discharged, this is when our anxiety can become problematic. This intense energy can become trapped in the subconscious leading to it mutating from overthinking, feedback loops, up to escalating mood swings and then even further into compulsions, addictions and psychosomatic illness or neuroses.
In this context, I think it’s very difficult to separate worthy emotions (eupatheia, which are feelings that result from correct judgment according to the Stoics) from unworthy emotions (propathos or instinctive reactions according to the Stoics) and to try change, stop or suppress these instinctive reactions through self-will alone.
A better distinction would be between the emotions that guide and support us in their softer state and under-acknowledged emotions that have ramped up to the more intense states. With this distinction, peace of mind can be achieved by developing much fuller emotional awareness in order to distinguish and act on valid emotions early on before they become reach the more problematic intense state. If a brief period of intense emotion is required, developing the ability to discharge that excess energy soon afterwards, so as to reset our equilibrium.
[Cover Image: Great Wave off Kanagawa by Katsushika Hokusai, taken from Wikipedia under Creative Commons license]
The Language of Emotions by Karla McLaren
Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain by Antonio Damasio
Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma by Peter Levine