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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

g 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


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.


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.


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.