'Illogical' Emotions May Not Fit the Situation We Are Dealing With

Article excerpt

"Hey, what are you so upset about?!"

"I don't know, but something is sure bothering me."

It probably happens to all of us. We find ourselves in a situation that ought to be only mildly irritating or threatening or painful. Yet the emotions of anger or fear or hurt that we feel are unexpectedly powerful and sometimes overwhelming.

There often appears to be no apparent reason for such emotional overreaction. Yet our strong feelings are certainly real and just about impossible to ignore.

Actually, such feelings can make sense. Their logic, however, is likely not to lie in the present, but rather in the past.

Emotions are generated by our cognitive (i.e., thinking) response to our environment. Granted, to us our feelings usually just seem to arise spontaneously. Yet, such apparent "instant emotions" are always the result of an identifiable cognitive process. It is simply one so deeply ingrained and so imperceptibly quick that we are most often unaware of it.

I guess we could call this process an "experience-cognition-emotion sequence." Many of these sequences are developed in early childhood. And, as we grow older and broaden our experience, still others are added.

As they are practiced and perfected, such sequences eventually seem to become part of our basic personality. That's often good. I'd hate to have to consciously think through to my emotional response every time someone gives me a hug. I just want to feel good!

On the other hand, such unconscious sequences also can get us in trouble. For example, I was rather chubby and clumsy as a child and adolescent. Naturally, I did rather poorly at athletics. In fact, I soon came to believe I would never develop the physical coordination and conditioning necessary for any sort of sport.

I also assumed others were as frustrated by this as I was. Athletics soon became associated, for me, with feelings of inadequacy, worthlessness, shame and rejection.

Eventually I actually developed some degree of coordination and conditioning, and wound up being able to do reasonably well in many physical activities. …