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Pondering on emotional ownership/choice [May. 9th, 2013|02:45 pm]
I was reading a book, and I saw a passage about how people "make a choice" about how to feel.

That view is a decent model, I think. Like most models, it's good for what it does, but it's not capital-t Truth. And it doesn't have to be - it's a model!

What's good about it?

It encourages ownership of emotional states. If someone does something, and I get angry, if I view anger as a "choice" then I can recognize one fundamental fact: I'm angry because of stuff that's part of me. And I'm only going to become non-angry because of stuff that's a part of me.

In some ways, this seems ridiculous. If someone punches me in the face, didn't they *make* me angry? Well, no. I might have become scared, or I might have become proud (if I was teaching fighting skills!). If I was a perfect Buddhist, I might have viewed it with detachment - "wow, my face hurts, and this person seems to want to hurt me - and boy, do I feel a surge of adrenaline now!"

Thinking about other people's actions might help me decide if the emotional state I'm in is helpful or productive, but it doesn't change that my reaction occurred because of stuff that's within me. So if I see someone attack another, I might become angry, and might think that's the appropriate response. But the attacker didn't make me angry.

The model breaks down in one important way. "Making a choice" would, in most people's minds, mean making a conscious choice. "That person hit me in the face, I'm going to be - uh - oh, hell with it: angry!" More importantly, one can't "choose" to be not-angry, exactly. A person can realize "oh, right, you *did* tell me you were going to be late, and I forgot, so there's no need to be angry" and just stop being angry. Once a person has had a strong feeling, it alters body chemistry a bit, and it takes time for the chemistry to catch up to changes in emotional state.

What is true is that there's always a choice about what to do, right now, about how one is feeling. "I feel angry. I should..."
"...be angry - there's an injustice being perpetrated!" or
"...try to let it go; it's not worth being angry about," or
"...try to be not-angry, because no one did anything wrong in this case."

Those are all choices one can make, and they may be good or bad choices, depending on the situation, and the actions taken in response to those choices may work out well, or might not... life is like that.

But making choices is usually better than making the default choice of "...do nothing, and just let my emotional responses and mental state push me around, because I'm not aware I can make choices."

That is the ultimate usefulness of the "you choose how to feel" model.

[User Picture]From: droewyn
2013-05-10 12:53 am (UTC)
That model also doesn't take conditions like depression into consideration. Because some days, "Cheer up!" is about as in my control as "Flap your arms and fly away!"
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[User Picture]From: johnpalmer
2013-05-10 03:50 am (UTC)
Nod. That's really my big problem with it. There are times when the notion of "choice" is bad all around.

The idea of choosing reactions is *really* good, and the idea that "it really is all about me - so I'm the only one who has any hope of changing it" is also really good.

But I know when I'm depressed, there are a lot of choices that are only technically there. It takes so much energy to do X that it's not a free choice to do it or not. So even "choosing reaction/next steps" is a bit tricky.
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