Who’s Driving This Thing?

The feelings that we experience as human beings can be powerful. Sometimes they can be overwhelming. “Don’t make any big decisions for a while” is a common advice given to those that have recently experienced a significant event such as the death of a loved one. People need time to reorient themselves after being emotionally turned upside down. Rational thought can be impaired when emotions have taken over. In extreme situations, like grief, this is to be expected.

A similar principle applies to what we might consider to be the typical emotions of daily life. We encounter other drivers on the road, long lines at the grocery, a spouse that didn’t listen, annoying coworkers, etc. Or, perhaps the feelings are “good” emotions. We may meet a person that we feel attracted to, get offered a job with more prestige or money, experience the “high” of a chemical substance or an activity of some sort. Whether it’s a “good” feeling or a “bad” feeling, if we allow it to override our reason, we place ourselves on thin ice. Feelings are notoriously unreliable in guiding our lives.

The trend in our society is to place feelings above all else. We gravitate towards things we believe will feel good and avoid things we believe will feel bad. In the process, we tend to ignore facts and discard reason. We behave like children refusing to eat vegetables and throwing temper tantrums. We want the candy and the sweets. We want things to go our way, but we don’t want to do the hard work required.

This trend has impacted our relationships. We become increasingly self-centered. We regard others as having been placed in our lives to “make us happy.” When others no longer produce good feelings, we are tempted to discard or attack them. Essentially, we are losing an essential life skill, which is the ability to deal with disappointment and other emotions.

The ability to manage emotions can also be called self-control, or, the virtue of temperance. It does not mean that we become cold, unfeeling, heartless individuals. It simply means that, as we experience our emotions, we refuse to allow them to take the driver’s seat and control our lives. Our words, behaviors and choices must be guided primarily by reason, not emotion.

Having emotions is a normal part of being human, but so is reason. Our ability for rational thought separates us from the beasts that simply follow their drives and impulses. Improving our self-control is one of the best ways to improve our lives and relationships.

Hot Potato!

Unpleasant emotions are like the game “hot potato.” In our desire to get rid of them, we often try to hand them off to someone else. Anxiety in particular gets tossed around between people. It generally takes the form of, “I don’t like the way I feel, so you better fix it by changing who you are.” This usually does not end well.

Granted, there are times when a valid complaint is in order. If someone is standing on my foot, it is reasonable to ask them to move. However, there are many feelings we need to deal with on our own. It is a sign of maturity to be able to manage one’s emotions. The immature person constantly expects others to change in order to be soothed.

Of course, people need to be able to sooth and console each other. Nevertheless, becoming dependent on others for soothing is not what grown-ups do. Take responsibility by learning to manage your own emotions. It will make you a better person and partner.