Small Changes invites Joy
By: Troy Murphy | June 2013
Manipulating, controlling and burying feelings to create a positive experience, isn’t effective. Healthy emotional management requires more than simply eliminating discomfort and magnifying the positive. Each emotion has a purpose. If we eliminate—or attempt to eliminate—entire ranges of emotions, we obscure the intended emotional guidance. Emotions provide an evolutionary advantage. They alert dangers and push toward rewards. Blindly manipulating emotions—because they don’t feel good—is hazardous. Without honoring the purpose of discomforting emotions, we confuse the biological guidance system.
Emotions are physical—a biologically inherited hardware, activated by experience. The shots of emotions surging through the body are responding to a complex mixture of nature and nurture. Culture strongly imprints programming, merging the biological hardware with cultural expectations. The emotional guidance system isn’t perfect. Emotions react to faulty beliefs. Erroneous biases distort perception and activate felt responses. We fear the harmless and sorrow over the blessing. The context of experience changes, previously appropriate emotions misdirect when circumstances change. Circumstances demand we mindfully respond to experience, not haphazardly flowing with emotions, but acknowledging the emotional push, examine appropriateness, and then respond.
Emotions are imperfect guides; but they aren’t random. Emotions flare for a reason. An event occurs that triggers a response; the event can be internal—a thought, a memory. Often the emotional reaction is a combination of an external event, and the internal memories spurred by the event. When we experience arousal, the causes provide insight to those willing to investigate, searching the past connection to the present. The jolt of fear from the dark shadow is easily traced, but some fears motivating action have unclear causes. We feel robust emotions, igniting a need to respond with power, but only can have a vague gist of the underlying cause. We assign incomplete theories and justifying facts to an overwhelming emotion. Arousal is an automatic and unconscious processes; we may never know the real cause. Externalizing causes, affixing blame, relieves personal responsibility for self-examination. The blame game has some grounds. Partners say and do stupid things. We easily can build off their stumblings to create causes for our misery. Most change, the change we control, happens within; external triggers are unpredictable and difficult to manipulate, leaving us vulnerable to future arousal. When we change our contribution to the problems, we can limit reoccurrences.
Mindfully examining felt emotions illuminates missed internal causes. Occasionally we discover past events that alter the feeling experience of the present. Emotions remember the past, current discussions may have connections to previous disquieting arguments, easily arousing our system with certain phrases or words, flooding the present with emotion, interfering with communications and resolutions. By identifying these connections, we can effectively challenge the arousal instead of blindly externalizing the cause. These discoveries don’t immediately change future arousals but help to calm our souls when the emotions surface, preventing harsh reactions that damage important relationships.
When arousal occurs, a mindful partner is more likely to respond compassionately—instead of defensively. Examining complexity, emotions are seen in their strength and weakness, knowing emotional responses also include the past, we slightly separate from their critical jabs. Mutual understanding of past influences allows partners to actively work together with emotions instead of being alienated by them.
How we respond to emotions shapes experience. The actions following emotional arousal can hinder progression towards intentions. An emotional accusation may damage future intimacy. Our fear, anger or sadness when uninhibited destroys the closeness we desire. A general understanding of emotions allows deeper examination—a curious exploration.
Until we understand the building blocks behind emotion, we limit our effectiveness to adapt and change emotional experiences. We can’t simply proclaim, "I am going to be happy" and force our bodies to feel happy. Attempts to force feelings create a disconnection between the body and mind. Our body warns based on internal wisdom from the past but when our mind rejects the message, we create conflict, numbing the mind for reception of future messages.
By examining reactionary emotions, accompanying thoughts and behaviors, we find healthy alternatives to our destructive patterns. The emotional intelligence to live an effective life is within reach. Healthier choices create better futures. Healthier thoughts diminish anxiety, guilt, and sadness while simultaneously encouraging more peace, joy and compassion. ~Troy Murphy