Unrealistic Expectations Staying in Contact with Reality
BY: T. Franklin Murphy | February 2018
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When we expect uninterrupted joy, life intrudes and we feel depressed. Life is beautiful; but not always.
We hope for a painless existence and suffer surprise when the unplanned drama disrupts. We long for the unattainable. These maladaptations of thought interfere with the spectacular feelings of life. Our story processing mind is driven to solve the occasional encounters with displeasure. Usually the fable centers around, “life shouldn’t be this way.” We can’t predict the drama that will disrupt our calm, but we should accept that some unknown drama is waiting. If we plan on constant pleasure, reality will disappoint.
Handling the ebbs and flows of life is a skill—an emotional skill. We vary in our abilities to soothe, respond and interpret emotions. For some, emotions overwhelm—not by choice. The slightest disruption motivates unhealthy action; a vicious retaliatory attack or plunging into a self-protecting depression. Others stoically march through hell and never break pace. Preparation plays a role in skillful living but perhaps predispositions have a greater influence on emotional sensitivities.
We encounter and then we feel; memories triggering emotions, a biological response planted with synaptic connections, often hiding beneath consciousness. We know we are upset but ignorant to the complex causes fueling the emotions. We may logically accept that life is imperfect; but the conscious acceptance and the emotionally programmed desires conflict, marching out of step. The knowledge and emotion conflict unintegrated causing mental disruptions and poor choice.
The world is not experienced singularly but modularly—by different regions of the brain, each region receiving information, spurring a response. Some modules struggle to integrate, pumping the emotional explosion, surrounding happenings and memories into a cognitive warehouse tasked with providing meaning. Our mind obliges and constructs a meaning. “Life shouldn’t be this way. He should act differently.”
"We may logically accept that life is imperfect; but the conscious acceptance and the emotionally programmed desires conflict, marching out of step."
When life fails—when imperfection strike—our mood spirals. Emotions plummet before we consciously investigate the cause. Our body knows something is wrong. The emotions bias the forthcoming interpretation. When biological expectations (learned from the past) are askew, they negatively impact feelings. But the past is rarely examined for the cause. We seek answers in the moment. Foundational triggers—expectations—evaluate incoming data and initiate a biological reaction. Whether you feel the emotion or not, the bodily changes motivate actions and bias interpretations. The prefrontal cortex jumps into the mix; evaluating social context, appropriateness and conscious goals, hopefully suppressing inappropriate expression. The mind imposes mental brakes. Stop! In this region of the chain reaction we may get back on track. Some are skilled at this, others meltdown and destroy futures, unable to suppress inappropriate reactions. We are feeling creatures; biologically programmed to respond. These feelings guide--ideally guiding us to appropriate action. But not all impulses have futures in mind; learning refines and confuses the process. Through experience, we create a complex web of associations, allowing for purposeful choice but also imperfect biases, spurring frightful emotion where no threat exists, misdirecting motivations—and feeling. We must examine emotions for legitimacy. Asking, “Is this emotion appropriate or is it an unwanted relic from the past?” With wisdom, we can skillfully navigate the confusing emotions. We will never eliminate all the stubborn relics imprinted on our souls; but we can proficiently manage the biases, refocus behaviors and live a productive enjoyable life moving towards our intentions.