Rewiring our Emotions
Updated: Jul 29, 2021
Emotions are formed by our experiences and though they may feel engrained they can be controlled with understanding and practice.
Emotions are a weakness as they evolved in us to override rational thinking. They are one of the last links between our cognitively evolved species and the primal animals we developed from. Being that we are highly sensible creatures, we must try our best to no longer be driven by such 'animal instincts' and use our intelligence to our advantage. This can be done through anticipation, preparation, and practice.
Simply controlling our facial expressions during highly provocative situations can be extremely beneficial when it comes to socializing and appearances. However, internal feelings can actually be overwhelming or even debilitating despite how we look on the outside. Anxiety can feel like our whole body is curdling inside us or our heart is going to beat out of our chest. Sadness may have us on the brink of tears for days at a time or literally make the whole world seem darker and more dismal. Anger makes us want to hurt someone else as bad as we feel. With the worst part of all these being that we can't even think about anything except or through the lens of what we're feeling.
So what are we feeling?
Emotion is made up of two processes, a bodily physical reaction like butterflies in the stomach and mentally corresponding thoughts such as "I am nervous". However, the sequence of these two events has been long debated in the psychological community. Scientists argued whether emotions are 'top-down': starting in our thoughts and then feeling it in our body or vice versa 'bottom-up': a bodily feeling causing self diagnosing thoughts to enter our heads.
It was only recently proven and widely accepted that emotions develop through the latter method. They begin as a biological reaction or feeling that becomes interpreted by our mind based on the circumstances. "They are guesses that your brain constructs in the moment."-Dr. Lisa Feldman, emotional researcher of 25 years.
This may sound scary. If we feel it in our body first doesn't that make the emotion unavoidable? The answer is actually both yes and no. What we feel in our body is not the same as the emotion in our head. In fact, our body has very few ways of making us 'feel' an emotion. Our head, however, has many.
Fortunately, they can be rewired
Let's breakdown some of the most overwhelming and controlling emotions. Not by what happens in our head, but by what happens in our body.
Fear brings with it a rapid heartbeat, shaky hands, and anxiety. Well actually anxiety is the work of the brain along with all those thoughts of Murphy's Law. It doesn't actually exist until we combine the situation we are in with the prior mentioned physical feelings. When we are about to do something scary like ask for a raise or take a difficult test we often become fixated on the worst outcomes like getting fired or forgetting everything we studied.
But physically, excitement makes our bodies feel the exact same way. Going on a rollercoaster, starting a championship game, or breaking the news of having a baby will inadvertently bring about the same increase in heart beat and potential shakiness. Excitement and anxiety go hand in hand, the difference is perspective. So next time your heart starts revving up before the crucial test you studied for or long speech you are going to deliver, convince yourself that you're not becoming apprehensive but instead pumped up. You studied, you deserve it, and you're ready.
Anger is biologically quite similar to fear. However, I would say the difference between the two is that anxiety happens before an event and hatred happens after. This makes it harder to prepare for and harder to control given that we are already, well, angry. We immediately look to place blame on someone, something, ourselves, or (worst of all) nothing/everything.
Anger is a craving and a drive. It's like being horny and in the same way we must learn to restrain ourselves and release tension through an unharmful private channel. Any teacher that says, "Getting even will not make you feel better," is lying to you. When we hurt, all we can think about is making someone else hurt. However, addressing and reducing the compulsion to get ‘even’ allows us to make more thought out and beneficial decisions during unfortunate situations.
Firstly, when you feel anger recognize that you are feeling it. Admit it to yourself, "I am angry with this person and therefore my choices may not be my own". Ever heard the phrase, 'Don't buy groceries when you're hungry'? If you do not believe, deny, or rationalize your anger instead of addressing it you have already succumb to it.
Secondly, try to understand why something happened in the first place. Hatred on a mass or minute scale is often due to misunderstanding and an inability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes. When we cut someone off while driving we quickly dismiss it as an accident caused by the conditions we were put in. When someone else does it to us they are a blind asshole who doesn't deserve their license.
Lastly, and this one applies to fear as well, if there is nothing to do about it there is absolutely no reason to think about it. If you stub your toe, miss a goal, or drop your phone recognize the anger sparked inside of you then let it be doused by the knowledge that nothing can be done about it. If something can be done about it, focus your attention on the solution but only after leaving your anger behind.
Love, pleasure, attraction, or however we like to call it, is probably the most influential emotion in our arsenal. Society comes with many forms of relationships and seduction that ultimately boil down to "Who do I desire and how do I make myself desirable to someone?". Volumes of books and hours of film have been devoted and misinterpreted to answer the latter so I will keep my focus to the most pervasive version: Romantic Love.
I previously stated:
"If an artificial being wanted to reproduce it could figuratively 'stick its usb in any other computer’s port' and the deed would be done. Though it is basically just as easy for humans, we feel the need to give our lives entirely away to another..."
Why is this? Well, from an evolutionary perspective the need to reproduce is the most important drive in life aside from just staying alive. The most famous 'psychologist' of all time developed an entire field around uncovering the secrets of crippling, intrinsic love and its influence on other seemingly unrelated aspects of the psyche. Sigmund Freud realized that we don't always fall in love the way we would want to but by the way we were loved to begin with.
The Oedipal Complex describes our first experience with dependence, affection, and relationships as being how our parents acted towards us and each other. But parents aren't always perfect. They grew up in a different time and the way they show love may not always be how a child should experience it. Having an emotionally distant parent or watching their marriage splinter over the years can instill Rejection Sensitivity. It can cause attraction to similar traits of poor communication, abuse, or unavailability because that is how love was first experienced.
Another explanation may be the Forbidden Fruit effect.
Why did Eve eat the apple when she had the whole garden of Eden? Why do I only want cookies when mom puts the jar on top of the fridge? Simply, our brain gets bored. We crave to learn and attain new things and when love or cookies are out of our reach that makes them more interesting. When someone is over affectionate or easy we become sure of ourselves and bored of them. In relationships it is not good to be, or to look for, someone who is extremely affectionate immediately but it can be worse (and more attractive) if someone remains closed off for too long.
So don't fall in love too quickly
Sometimes love at first sight happens but it shouldn't happen every time. As I said before, it can be off putting to the person we are with and may even be a sign that one's emotionally stunted. Furthermore, charismatic, out going, and charming personality types (the easiest to fall in love with) are a Dark Triad of traits also more likely to be narcissistic, manipulative, and psychopathic.
I'm not saying don't fall in love, but be conscious that when we love someone, they have a control over us which we may not realize until it has been used against us. We must love the traits and aspirations of someone without associating the feeling with everything they do. This can lead to blindly staying with and following someone who acts as more than just what we fell in love with. There is no solve all answer for attracting the right people or being better at love. However, the first step is understanding what we love and why. The second is recognizing red flags and addressing or avoiding them in our relationships.
In conclusion, emotions are extremely fickle
Attachments can be created just by being with or seeing someone more often. Tiredness, hunger, heat, or hormones all have mal-effects on how we react and feel. Therefore, it is essential that we understand what causes even the slightest emotions, prepare for them to be inflamed, and control them instead of be controlled by them. While there is an innumerable spectrum of emotions all of them biologically feel similar to the ones mentioned above and can be rewired in the same ways.
Thanks for reading and be sure to subscribe below for more content on psychology and mental health!