E-motion can be helpful energy to move. That's why I like
to write the word with a hyphen in it. It can motivate us to
try to make our lives better and give us the energy needed
to do so. For example, if we get frustrated, it can make us
try harder. If we are concerned, it can motivate us to take
precautions, like buckling up our seat belts, studying for a
test, avoiding a dangerous place, wearing a flotation device
when in deep water. If we have regret and remorse, it can
motivate us to want to apologize, make amends, avoid
|A Dysfunctional Amount of Emotion
Unfortunately, people often generate a dysfunctional
amount of it. By dysfunctional I mean:
1) More than is helpful or necessary
2) More than they want to have
3) More than is healthy for them
4) More than they know what to do with
5) A type and amount that works against them instead of
Feelings like anger, anxiety, depression, shame and guilt
typically end up being dysfunctional. The simple reason is
that people often end up doing unhealthy, self-defeating,
destructive and sometimes even illegal or self-destructive
things when they make themselves feel these ways.
The problem is that culture and society can change faster
than biology. We still have the same capacities for
generating anger, anxiety, depression, shame and guilt that
"cave" people did. In those times, and even not too distant
times in the past, life was much different. It was much less
civilized, more dangerous, etc. It still can be in certain
areas of the world, at certain times. However, for most of
us, life has become much more civilized, much less
dangerous in many ways. Yet we still have the capacity to
|How E-motion can be dysfunctional
The main way too much emotion can work against us is
that it makes us react to life instead of respond to it. It
makes us less response-able, or able to respond to life in
the best possible way. If a situation were truly life
threatening, reacting may be called for. It might make the
difference between life and death. However, as I noted
earlier, most situations aren't really life-threatening, but
people can and often do wrongly perceive them as such.
This is typically what happens when young people engage
in school shootings, or attempt to take their own lives after
|The Cognitive-Emotional-Behavioral Thermostat
Imagine an old fashioned thermostat with a needle that
you can push upward or downward. Push it upward and
the temperature goes up. Push it too high and it simply
get much too hot. Push it downward, and it gets cooler.
Push it too far down, and it gets much too cold.
Now imagine that the thermostat's face is divided into three
columns and three rows. The columns represent THINK,
FEEL and DO from left to right. As I discuss later, it's our
thoughts about our life events, ourselves, others and life
that really cause how we feel. Most people believe the
events of their lives, what others say and do and what
happens cause the way they feel. But they don't. It's
what we choose to think about such things that does.
Thoughts cause feelings, not events. I'll explain this more
on the "Internal Locus of Control" page.
Now imagine the FEEL column. The bottom third is
CALM. The middle section is FRUSTRATION,
CONCERN, SADNESS, REGRET and REMORSE. We
could also add IRRITATION and ANNOYANCE, but
there's not enough room on the diagram. The top section
represents ANGER, ANXIETY, DEPRESSION, SHAME
and GUILT. Within each section, you can range from
having a HIGH frequency, intensity and duration of a
feeling to having a LOW FID.
If you are CALM, you'd probably wouldn't be motivated to
do anything. If you get FRUSTRATED, IRRITATED, or
ANNOYED, you'd have some energy to move to make
your life better. However, it wouldn't be so much as to
cause you to REACT. You'd still be free to RESPOND.
However, if you generate ANGER, you'd be more likely to
REACT, or even OVERREACT. The more anger you
generate, the more likely you are to OVERREACT. If a
situation was truly life-threatening, that might be helpful, or
even life-saving. However, most situations people make
themselves angry about don't really rise to that level.
People just THINK they do.
On the page for "Recognizing Irrational Thinking", I'll talk
about four types of irrational thinking that Dr. Albert Ellis
identified. They are called Demandiness, Awfulziing, Can't
Stand It-itis, and Label and Damning. These thoughts
would be part of the THINK column of the Cognitive-
Emotional-Behavioral Thermostat. Imagine dividing the
THINK We can divide the THINK column into four more
In terms of the THINK-FEEL-DO Thermostat, there are
three goals. One, to teach people to have control over
their own Emotional Thermostat. Most people believe,
or see others and their life events as being in control of
their emotional thermostat. Technically, people give
others and the events of their lives that control. So the
goal is to teach them how to stop giving that control
away, and keep it for themselves. That's what teaching
people to have an Internal Locus of Control does.
A second goal is to teach people how to lower the
FREQUENCY, INTENSITY and DURATION of emotions
like anger, anxiety, depression, shame and guilt. The
way to do that is to take control over what they choose
to think. It's also to recognize when their thoughts are
irrational, and causing them to generate a dysfunctional
amount of emotion, and to behave in ways that make
their lives worse.
A third goal is to go from a feeling like ANGER, to a
qualitatively different feeling like FRUSTRATION,
irritation or annoyance. Many people view ANGER and
FRUSTRATION as weaker or stronger versions of the
same thing. They aren't. They are qualitatively different.
making the same mistakes again in the future. Even
sadness can cause us to reflect on what's happen and vow
to not let it happen again.
In other words, emotion can work for us. That's why it's
stood the test of time and evolution. If it didn't work for us,
and only worked against us, it would have been naturally
selected for elimination a long time ago. It hasn't. We're
hardwired to generate emotion.
generate anger, anxiety, depression, shame and guilt, and
often do needlessly.
Much of the needless emotion we generate is tied to our
"fight or flight" response. Every species has one. That
response is triggered when we perceive a threat to
ourselves, or something or someone we hold dear. "Fight
or Flight" tends to match anger and anxiety. There can be
some truly life-threatening threats in modern life. However,
too often the problem is that people treat non-life
threatening situations as if they are. People can do that
because everyone always has a choice as to how they look
at things. The way they do is always understandable given
their past life experiences. However, many times they
overgeneralize based on the littlest of things - something
about a current situation reminds them of a past situation.
There's a saying that an overreaction is an age regression.
It means that when people overreact emotionally it's
because the present reminds them of something traumatic
in the past. Finding the right balance between generating
too little and too much energy to move can be tough for
people. More often than not, they generate too much. You
could think of doing so as too much of a good thing (energy
Young people are often told they are not being
response-able. What that really means is they are not
responding in the best possible way, or the way adults
deem the best way. The reason they aren't is that they are
generating too much emotion. One of the important things
to learn is to be more response-able. To have
response-ability, or the ability to respond to life in the best
possible way rather than always reacting to it. The way to
gain response-ability is to learn to control the amount of
emotion we generate in response our life events. The way
to do that is to learn to control the way we choose to look at
The reason is because of how they come about. If you
WANT something and don't get it, you'll be frustrated. How
frustrated you get will depend on how much you wanted it.
If you instead think you NEED something, and DEMAND it,
and then don't get it, you'll get angry. How angry you get
will depend on how badly you thought you needed it.
The goal with anyone who is being bullied is NOT to teach
them to have no feeling. It's to teach them to have control
over their own thermostat instead of seeing others as being
in control of it. We can do that by teaching them to have an
Internal Locus of Control. It's to teach them to turn their
emotional thermostat down so they are LESS likely to react
or overreact in some way that ends tragically for them
and/or others. We want them to learn to turn their
thermostat down so they are freer to respond in the best
possible way. So that they are NOT either paralyzed or
overreact. Plus, no amount of emotion will ever change
what has already happened. The way to learn to turn their
emotional thermostat down is to learn to turn their cognitive
thermostat down. That's what teaching them to have
Unconditional Self-Acceptance and Other Acceptance,
and to Recognize and Correct Irrational Thinking does.
columns. That would make the Thermostat look like the
diagram below. The important point for now is that it's really
how we choose to think about what happens, ourselves,
others and life that really determines how we end up
feeling. It also determines what we end up doing. Attitude
is always the father of behavior.