Emotions and Goal Fulfillment
BY: T. Franklin Murphy | January 2019 (edited December 29, 2021)
Emotions motivate and direct actions. Understanding the fundamental role of impulses and feelings opens new pathways to improving action and achieving goals.
Our bodies respond to experience. Our systems jump or retreat as we collide with life. Our minds and bodies intertwine with these affective movements to build a more concrete feeling experience—emotion. We perceive hazards with feelings that quickly are translated into fear or disgust; conversely, we respond to opportunities with feelings that become peace and joy.
These landing spots of emotion aren’t perfect. We draw upon memories (learning from encounters) to interpret the present, comparing the painful and joyful events of the past with elements in the present. When familiarity with abuse combines with the present, experience is received with more suspicion than someone raised in safety.
"The intensity and ways we express our reactions will vary depending on our personal experience, general mental health, other stress factors in our lives, our coping style, our ability to self-monitor our emotional state, and our support network."
National Association of School Psychologists
Frightening perceptions can be drawn from benign gestures. The experience, magnified by emotion, may signal danger where no danger exists. Because perceptions don’t mirror reality—only initiated by reality—our emotions are subject to miscues, requiring intervention, occasionally suppressing impulses that motivate unhealthy and future-destroying reactions.
"We perceive hazards with feelings that quickly are translated into fear or disgust; conversely, we respond to opportunities with feelings that become peace and joy."
Emotions are especially poignant in relationships. Within the bond of connections, joys and sorrows are magnified. Our fears of abandonment or rejection reach a fevered pitch, overriding normal sensibilities. We react with extremes, blind sometimes and overly sensitive. The frightened child living in our bosom fails to follow the nuances of connection. The slightest brush with conflict and our pulse rate skyrockets, and vision narrows. The feeling affect of something serious demands cognitive explanation. Our bodies scream danger and our minds haphazardly evaluates the facts.
"When people hold favorable views of themselves—and particularly when their views are inflated, unstable, or uncertain—negative interpersonal evaluations can lead to negative emotions and aggression toward people who threaten those views."
Leary MR, Diebels KJ, Jongman-Sereno KP, Fernandez XD.
In order to enjoy connection, experiencing the safety of intimate bonds, our emotional system may need intervention, rescuing our bodies and minds from these automatic loops of terror. We must manage experience early and often to alleviate these magnified bounces common in love. Otherwise, our attempts at closeness will always be frayed with unpredictability.
Healthy futures demand more than blind obedience to impulses; we must delay the normal adaptive responses, deferring to action with greater potential to achieve a better ending. We must assume responsibility for final outcomes. But logic alone fails; we can’t live completely cerebrally, for living is a feeling experience.
We think and feel; therefore, we are.
"You can’t control another person’s emotional reaction, but that doesn’t mean you should try to avoid it. You’ve got to be present for these emotions. You can use them to better understand how your message landed, and to adjust."
Kim Scott, Russ Laraway and Brandi Neal
Emotions Create the Rich Experience of Living
Emotions are what create the richness of life. We shouldn’t automatically reject them as fruitless, dismissing emotions for the coldness of logic. Emotions carry wisdom; they are key to connectedness. Emotions illuminate desires and motivate worthwhile endeavors. A healthy life requires a smooth integration of emotions and the mitigating caution of cognitions. Over-dominance of either function grossly limits experience and stymies growth.
Self-restraint eases the chaos of emotions. Like a muscle, self-empowerment is strengthened through use. Small choices that delay pleasure for the benefits of a better future exercises will-power. As we exercise self-discipline, we must not vilify the underlying emotions. Simple exercises of awareness refine our ability to feel experience. We integrate these two great aspects of living. Instead of mindlessly reacting or stoically disconnecting, we allow both processes to exist. Through this duel approach, we discover a more rewarding life, rich in feeling that is cautiously protected with wisdom. We feel the beautiful moments while simultaneously avoiding the dangerous future-disrupting pitfalls common to a reactionary life.
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