Home | Flourishing in Life | Psychology of Wellness | Emotions | Emotion Article Archive | Emotional Overload
BY: T. Franklin Murphy | August 2014 (revised 2017)
Emotions are a significant aspect of living, giving meaning to experience; but strong emotions can misdirect action, destroying futures, and limiting opportunity.
We are emotional beings. The emotions we feel correspond with bumps and knocks we have in life, giving richness to experience. The emotions weigh experience creating a value, measuring personal importance to events. Sometimes life, in all its fury, overwhelms, with stirring a powerful storm; emotions race through our bodies, we freeze or explode.
Memories tagged with powerful emotions are stored, given importance, ready to emerge later, reminding of the past and warning of a treacherous future. We scan the environment, transferring data to various modules of the brain, alerting on perceived dangers—physical threats but also hazards perilous to our well-being. The information funnels from the individual modules conveying the dangers, emotions enliven the body, motivating action.
Significant threats poke biological systems into action, preparing body and mind for combat, the message warns, “this must be addressed;” the biological system activates. The threat whether real or falsely perceived moves the body to protect. Threats burst into calmness rising from a variety of experiences: a raised voice, a shadow, an uncomfortable question, a critical remark, unexpected change, or a crazed man running approaching with a ninja sword. Depending on the immediacy and severity of the information, the heart speeds, blood flows, and logic is suspended.
On our journey to self-actualization, recognizing bodily excitements calling for a response is essential. Sometimes, wisdom dictates, we simply act, and evaluate the entire event once we are safe; duct when the object is flying towards our delicate face. But many events don’t demand the same immediacy. We have time to look a little closer. We can utilize time to break chain reactions that impede on the quality of our lives, replacing thoughtless retorts with purposeful action. Abundant futures require thoughtful presents. If we blindly charge through life, thoughtlessly serving emotions, the outcome of our lives is formed by events not desires. Our blind responses strangle vitality, leading down dead-end pathways, ruining relationships and destroying opportunities. We must intervene with top-down cognitions.
Consciousness evolved for more skeptical observations in these events where the immediacy of response isn’t the primary driving force. We can think, research, and evaluate a better path, more certain to lead where we want to go.
The goal isn’t to extinguish feeling, relying solely on logic. Emotions provide essential information, giving value to experience based on past learning. Logic may determine a better path, but emotion dictates where we want to go. Emotional maturity smoothly blends feeling and cognition, each benefitting the other.
Understanding the human biological and our sociological heritage boosts effective action. Knowledge allows for smoother integration of thought and emotion. We have science available to assist with understanding the seemingly lawlessness of impulse and driving emotions.
Significant memories tagged as important by emotion assist to process the present, directing action to avoid dangers fraught with unnecessary pain. The salient memories effectively alert of reoccurring threats. However, overly abusive and chaotic pasts are difficult to be categorized. The flow of information was all marred, insufficiently balanced with healthy feelings. The mind protects in a variety of ways that serves the chaos but not normalcy. The patterns of adapting continue even when adult life is less threatening. Emotions then disrupt the wellness of the warning systems—the setting is overly sensitive. Small events trigger emotions warning of an impending catastrophe.
The brain needs re-setting with new experiences that disprove these embedded beliefs. We must find safety first and only then can we integrate trust, allowing sufficient vulnerability to rely on deeper connections.
In these cases, our rational brain must intervene, challenging unrealistic fears, and directing new behaviors. We need a plan, a teacher and practice to soothe our overactive system and the misguided over-reactions. Our learned responses will no longer do, originally adapted for a complex and frightening environment.
Change requires more than a couple forced adjustments, the chains of the past don’t reprogram easily. The sought changes require repeated and attentive actions contrary to emotional pushes to act. The dangerous world we perceive is no longer the dangerous world we once lived in.
Even with difficult pasts, we may still enjoy pleasure, increasing effective responses, and even contribute to the greater whole. To do this, we must channel the complex sources of information, slowing our responses with a better wisdom. We must learn where exactly we want to go in life, draw knowledge from effective guides, and seek support from loving peers. Slow down, choose wisely, breathe deeply, and soothe those misguiding powers screaming from within.