Unrecognized Emotions The hidden influences of behavior BY: Troy Murphy |July 2015
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Emotions! Bubbling, prodding and disrupting as they are, sometimes fail to penetrate consciousness. Just because they’re unrecognized doesn’t mean they don’t influence behavior. Under the cover of darkness, emotions twist and turn, moving the body one way or another, responding to their calls for action. Emotions—the chemical changes in biological systems—sometimes insufficiently disrupting to demand attention. The emotions lurking in the unseen world appear not to exist but they are there, influencing and motivating behavior, creating inclinations towards action.
Our minds are limited. Body functions always are at work, breathing, heartbeats, metabolism all work independent of conscious thought. Even in deep meditation, we can’t grasp all the bodily processes. Human bodies functioned before the evolutionary arrival of consciousness. Consciousness possesses limited resources, focusing on the most salient experiences, emotional blasts of fear, anger, happiness or sorrow. Mindfulness isn’t awareness of everything--impossible; mindfulness is being aware of more, including acknowledgment of human awareness limitations, knowing much occurs beneath consciousness to motivate behavior that we miss. Unseen bodily changes direct behaviors; we often act first and only then cognitively justify the reason for the action.
When life is painful (lost love, shame, survival struggles), we soothingly proclaim victimhood, dodging responsibility. We consciously feel vindicated for the disappointments, not cognitively making a stupid choice causing the failure. Yet, often the driving force behind the disappointment is unseen emotions misdirecting our behaviors. As Spinoza puts it, “Men believe themselves free because they are conscious of their own actions and ignorant of the causes by which they are determined…” I’m not suggesting we’re puppets, acting without thought. We are empowered to change, seeking healthier living by magnifying areas of control. Our destinies are not solely determined by unmanageable forces—but unseen forces exist and influence. The process proceeding action is more than reasoned thought; but reasoned thought exists and also influences action. Hidden motivations dilute the purity of choices; hidden biases lurk beneath conscious recognition influencing behaviors. We must account for the unknown.
Hidden motivations may never be exposed to rational thought, stuck in the crevices of the forgotten past. We stumble upon occasional glances but unearthing all bias and motivation is impossible. Biological processes function independent of consciousness. Unconscious internal functions smoothly interact with the outside world. Effective living requires acceptance that small hitches in our behaviors exist that we miss. And those hitches help and hinder goal achievement. When life fails to meet expectations, it’s not necessarily the fault of a cruel world—we may be the cause. Trials may be consequences of personal behaviors motivated by unrecognized emotions. Examining personal behaviors as possible causes, rather than complaining about triggering events, often enlightens a path to resolving the pain.
We will continue to operate on auto-pilot, freeing cognition for other endeavors. Biology, culture and experience prepare us for success--sometimes. But when dreams go off course—as they often will—we can blame the wind and suffer or adjust the sails of our vessel and recover.
Practices in meditation and reflection bring deeper awareness. Examining past emotional reactions unearths hidden beliefs provoking emotions. These small practices of mindfulness and reflection identify painful patterns holding us hostage to detrimental behaviors to our well-being. With consistency, patience, and skill, we learn better alternatives. We can identify goal destroying behaviors and adjust, achieving the intentions we most desire.