I’ve never been a fan of dichotomies. Material and spiritual, masculine and feminine, logical and emotional, it’s all bullshit. People seem to see actual, real opposites where there are merely co-existing concepts.
Anyhow, I’m going to base this post on a supposed dichotomy and, after having written on emotions two weeks ago, this time I’m writing about reason.
Because as we experience emotions, we also rationally recognize, interpret, and explain them to ourselves.
An emotion can be felt within the body. Your heart beats faster, you get colder, your hands start shaking – that’s how you know something is happening. But to recognize that something as an emotion, you use reason.
It’s reason’s business to decide what to do with that emotion later, too. You may block it, but you may also let yourself experience it to the full. You may interpret it as “irrational dread”, but you may also call it “anxiety justified by the circumstances”. You may choose to make it known to another person, and also what words to use for that purpose.
When I hear people talk like the two – emotions and reason – are opposites, and you can listen to either one or the other, my emotions and reason (simultaneously!) protest.
Every moment, every move, every decision we make, involves both emotional and rational responsiveness. That’s because emotions always speak through reason, and we wouldn’t be able to know, or act upon them, without engaging our rational super-powers.
If you’ve made it so far with this post, be aware that the more substantial rather than crappy-theoretical part of it begins.
So, emotions and reason are not really opposites. Like all too many things that people contrast with one another so religiously, they’re merely co-existing concepts, which we can use to facilitate our understanding of ourselves and of other people.
During my therapy, and as this approach of mine was developing, I found that for those of us who struggle, or have struggled, with poor mental health, such a view of emotions and reason may be really helpful.
Because emotions need reason to be realised, recognized, interpreted, and understood. And at all of these “stages”, we can do a lot of good for ourselves by handling our emotions with patience, kindness, and some rational effort.
I think I first read it in “Psychology and Life” that our (rational) interpretation of an emotion plays an even greater role for how we feel in general than that single emotion itself. Don’t hesitate to check it out – even this basic psychology textbook can be a great help in understanding yourself and/or the illness you struggle with.
You know, I’ve experienced the kind of anxiety that makes you stay in bed and cry for hours rather than do anything because doing anything seemed so fucking scary. Quite incapacitating, that.
My anxiety used to work like a perpetuum mobile: after getting anxious about a specific thing, I would start thinking: “Just how sick is it to be this anxious about shit?” and would consequently start worrying about the state I was in. And when I’ve convinced myself that I was a good-for-nothing disordered scaredy-cat, I’d tell myself: “No. Now, I can’t do anything. Doing anything is impossible and too fucking scary.”
As you see, my thinking wasn’t what you’d call rational. In fact, it was a rather unfortunate application of reason to the task of coping on my part. But now that I’ve thought it through, and learned a thing or two about emotions during therapy, I can positively say that it’s possible, and may prove very beneficial, to cope with emotions rationally.
How so? Try to put your emotions under a microscope from time to time, and be good to yourself while you do it. You’ll probably figure out your own way of doing it in the end, but you can also take my tips:
1. Remember that there are many possible causes of your hands getting sweaty. Physical signs like this one are not restricted to particular emotions, and may accompany a variety of emotions. Allow for that variety when you recognize your emotion.
2. You may not like what you feel once you’ve recognized it. Some emotions aren’t pretty. All are allowed, though, and whatever you feel, it doesn’t make you a bad person.
3. Try not to overestimate the strength and scope of that emotion. Remember being scared to death, or your heart breaking? If you do, it means you survived the scary event, and your heart didn’t break, neither. Even the strongest of emotions expire.
4. Try not to generalize. Better tie the fact that you feel anxious, tensed-up, or angry, to particular circumstances, rather than say “I always feel this way.” In the long run, it makes the experience less frustrating, believe me.
5. Try to identify what triggered that emotion. In the beginning, it may appear to be something annoyingly trivial. Dig deeper, and you may find a lingering thought pattern, an event from last week, or some other covert cause of your current emotional state. Whatever the cause is, it’s worth knowing.
All of this takes some time, of course. It’s even sort of silly how long it can take to figure out one’s emotions at one single moment. But if you are keen to get better at understanding yourself, keep reminding yourself to follow the above tips and, with practice, the whole thing will get easier.
To tell you the truth, I used to see emotions as a sort of alien, unintelligible plasma that wants to take over my consciousness. But, having invested some effort into understanding that plasma, I can assure you: it can be done. All you need is patience, kindness, reason… and some time.