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The Control Of Emotions








DEPENDENCE ON EXPRESSION.--Since all emotions rest upon some form of
physical or physiological expression primarily, and upon some thought
back of this secondarily, it follows that the first step in controlling
an emotion is to secure the removal of the state of consciousness
which serves as its basis. This may be done, for instance, with a child,
either by banishing the terrifying dog from his presence, or by
convincing him that the dog is harmless. The motor response will then
cease, and the emotion pass away. If the thought is persistent, however,
through the continuance of its stimulus, then what remains is to seek to
control the physical expression, and in that way suppress the emotion.
If, instead of the knit brow, the tense muscles, the quickened heart
beat, and all the deeper organic changes which go along with these, we
can keep a smile on the face, the muscles relaxed, the heart beat
steady, and a normal condition in all the other organs, we shall have no
cause to fear an explosion of anger. If we are afraid of mice and feel
an almost irresistible tendency to mount a chair every time we see a
mouse, we can do wonders in suppressing the fear by resolutely refusing
to give expression to these tendencies. Inhibition of the expression
inevitably means the death of the emotion.

This fact has its bad side as well as its good in the feeling life, for
it means that good emotions as well as bad will fade out if we fail to
allow them expression. We are all perfectly familiar with the fact in
our own experience that an interest which does not find means of
expression soon passes away. Sympathy unexpressed ere long passes over
into indifference. Even love cannot live without expression. Religious
emotion which does not go out in deeds of service cannot persist. The
natural end and aim of our emotions is to serve as motives to activity;
and missing this opportunity, they have not only failed in their office,
but will themselves die of inaction.

RELIEF THROUGH EXPRESSION.--Emotional states not only have their rise
in organic reactions, but they also tend to result in acts. When we are
angry, or in love, or in fear, we have the impulse to do something
about it. And, while it is true that emotion may be inhibited by
suppressing the physical expressions on which it is founded, so may a
state of emotional tension be relieved by some forms of expression. None
have failed to experience the relief which comes to the overcharged
nervous system from a good cry. There is no sorrow so bitter as a dry
sorrow, when one cannot weep. A state of anger or annoyance is relieved
by an explosion of some kind, whether in a blow or its equivalent in
speech. We often feel better when we have told a man what we think of
him.

At first glance this all seems opposed to what we have been laying down
as the explanation of emotion. Yet it is not so if we look well into the
case. We have already seen that emotion occurs when there is a blocking
of the usual pathways of discharge for the nerve currents, which must
then seek new outlets, and thus result in the setting up of new motor
responses. In the case of grief, for example, there is a disturbance in
the whole organism; the heart beat is deranged, the blood pressure
diminished, and the nerve tone lowered. What is needed is for the
currents which are finding an outlet in directions resulting in these
particular responses to find a pathway of discharge which will not
produce such deep-seated results. This may be found in crying. The
energy thus expended is diverted from producing internal disturbances.
Likewise, the explosion in anger may serve to restore the equilibrium of
disturbed nerve currents.

RELIEF DOES NOT FOLLOW IF IMAGE IS HELD BEFORE THE MIND.--All this is
true, however, only when the expression does not serve to keep the idea
before the mind which was originally responsible for the emotion. A
person may work himself into a passion of anger by beginning to talk
about an insult and, as he grows increasingly violent, bringing the
situation more and more sharply into his consciousness. The effect of
terrifying images is easily to be observed in the case of one's starting
to run when he is afraid after night. There is probably no doubt that
the running would relieve his fear providing he could do it and not
picture the threatening something as pursuing him. But, with his
imagination conjuring up dire images of frightful catastrophes at every
step, all control is lost and fresh waves of terror surge over the
shrinking soul.

GROWING TENDENCY TOWARD EMOTIONAL CONTROL.--Among civilized peoples
there is a constantly growing tendency toward emotional control.
Primitive races express grief, joy, fear, or anger much more freely than
do civilized races. This does not mean that primitive man feels more
deeply than civilized man; for, as we have already seen, the crying,
laughing, or blustering is but a small part of the whole physical
expression, and one's entire organism may be stirred to its depths
without any of these outward manifestations. Man has found it advisable
as he has advanced in civilization not to reveal all he feels to those
around him. The face, which is the most expressive part of the body, has
come to be under such perfect control that it is hard to read through it
the emotional state, although the face of civilized man is capable of
expressing far more than is that of the savage. The same difference is
observable between the child and the adult. The child reveals each
passing shade of emotion through his expression, while the adult may
feel much that he does not show.





Next: Cultivation Of The Emotions

Previous: The Producing And Expressing Of Emotion



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