The Emotional Response

2022, Apr 10    

Emotions are a complex construct, providing a means to both empower us to achieve greatness while also providing a crippling self-doubt that takes us to the darkest of places. One aspect of this that I have thought a lot about as of late is that of the emotional response given to those who seek it (and not always for the right reasons).

I've wanted to write this article for some time yet have found myself always pushing it back as I remember more events from the past where I look back and realise how I should have reacted differently. In recent months I have found myself revisiting memories of the past where there was an emotional response, looking at how I reacted and what the situation (and sometimes the other person) achieved. As having no emotions seems relegated to the movies at present and being a Vulcan seems somewhat boring at the weekends, working on situational awareness seems a better approach. To quote an old saying I am fond of: Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

The concept of trying to evoke an emotion in others is nothing new (consider almost every programme on TV). We watch content that is designed to make us feel, and sometimes it becomes the equivalent of a drug for some (a future article to follow on this). In other situations we have those we interact with who may act in a certain way or say something that stirs something inside us, be it deliberately or unintentionally. In most cases the act is innocent by nature and not linked solely to that of human beings (other species in the animal kingdom demonstrate this), however the latter are capable of misusing this capability and it is something that happens far too often.

At one corner of a complicated scale is happiness, that feeling brought on by so many things and linked to the release of chemicals within our brain. As with all emotions it is something we can trigger ourselves but for most is something triggered by external stimuli. It has the power to lift us and motivate us further, and is entwined with a feeling of closeness with others (for most). We try to make others happy in our actions (and in some cases inactions) owing to a desire to inspire joint happiness / brighten our surroundings.

At a different corner we have sadness, one of the many all-consuming emotions that can have serious consequences the longer it sits with us. Depression, heartbreak, and loneliness, are all facets of what can be a crippling emotion that in some cases can lead to someone taking their own life as an escape from what seems inescapable. I've always believed that in the same way excess weight is difficult to remove, true sadness is just as (if not more) difficult. Some look to their memories of the past, some look to their thoughts of the future, some look to others for hope when they feel none themselves, and some sadly don't see the light through the darkness.

At the most dangerous of corners there is anger... Called many things (the red mist is one that always sticks in my mind) the uncontrollable rage which typically results in people being hurt (be it mentally or physically). Court cases that talk of the defendant 'seeing red' and injuring those around are far too common, as are stories of those who can't control their own temper and lash out at those around them. In the world of today it feels like it's becoming a test for everyone in all walks of life, with yet more to be 'angry' about. This in itself creates a risk to all, with one giant powder-keg just waiting for a single spark to ignite it.

In an obscure corner there is inadequacy (and the inevitable responsibility). This is one that looking back through my own memories has resulted in this post being pushed back more than once. My work over the years has left me more than familiar with this emotion (and the subsequent guilt-trip that follows). Thinking about the amount of times I have worked through the night after being made to feel inadequate and responsible for something that has nothing to do with me is disappointing in itself. Phrases such as "you are letting the team down" and "if you cared we wouldn't be having this conversation" are all too familiar (and somewhat haunting).

Looking back at the many memories I have around emotional responses it becomes easier to see where someone has tried to invoke this reaction / emotion in me, and to delve into what they stood to gain. Despite the many instances of this at work (and the emotional train-wreck that was my childhood) I find one of the most prominent memories I have around this (and possibly one of the best lessons that I haven't fully understood until recently) is one from my teenage years.

One drunken evening with a few friends reached a point where one of them (to make a point that I would learn later about how easily I could be controlled) began a barrage of statements about how alike I was to someone I genuinely disliked (due to how I regarded them as the laziest person I knew, who seemingly had no morals and frankly couldn't be trusted). As the barrage continued I felt my anger levels grow until finally (without intending to) the glass I had within my hand shattered and left me bleeding.

While a fight at that point seemed highly likely, the barrage immediately stopped and a different tone was taken, pointing out that "pushing my buttons is easy if someone knows what to say". At the time (given the alcohol and the bleeding hand) I didn't put much thought into this, which thinking on this does leave me wishing my younger self had learnt this valuable lesson at the time. Considering the future torment and manipulation that was to follow, understanding how to be better than this would have saved me some headaches...

So what is the lesson in all of this? To that question I answer with a quote to which the origin is unknown (despite many stating it as spoken by either Bruce Lee or Warren Buffet neither did). Despite the unknown origin I take this quote as a life lesson that when understood correctly and applied allows you to rise above those that try to invoke an emotional response to control you.

You will continue to suffer if you have an emotional reaction to everything that is said to you. True power is sitting back and observing things with logic. True power is restraint. If words control you that means everyone else can control you. Breathe and allow things to pass.