Let’s just put it out there: Emotions are animalistic, instinctual reactions to outside stimuli. Boom! Mic drop.
Are you emotional? Of course you are! You’re human. But what if I was to tell you that you aren’t emotional at all; that you’re actually instinctual. How bout we think about it, and luckily, we won’t have to reason too far:
According to Webster’s, an emotion is a natural, instinctive state of mind deriving from one’s circumstances, mood, or relationships with others. So, in effect, emotions are thoughts that are created by external factors. Further, they are instinctive reactions to those outside forces. For example, while it’s possible to do so, humans don’t usually think: Hey! I’m going to be happy, and then become happy. What usually happens is that something occurs, and then we feel happy. It’s the effect of the cause. It’s an instinctual reaction to a stimulus, perceived as a feeling.
Instincts are Emotions
But, if we are to believe that emotions are instincts, can’t we control our instincts, thus controlling our emotions? Plenty of animals override their instincts in an attempt to carry out an action against their nature, right? Kind of. Let’s take a look at the “fight or flight” mechanism we have in our brains. The intense feeling we get when we’re in a threatening situation is actually the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine in our head. It’s the same neurotransmitter that’s released when you do cocaine, interesting enough. So, when an animal, like a human, faces a life-threatening situation, dopamine is squirted into the brain, causing intense focus.
Further, dopamine is a hormone in the hypothalamus, and it increases heart rate and blood pressure. So, in perilous situations, the neurotransmitter kicks our body into overdrive, resulting in the emotions of stress, fear, anger, etc. All the things you feel before a confrontation. Essentially, dopamine makes you physiologically ready to either fight or run in situations of extreme importance. And for lack of a better term, it causes the feeling of the instinct. The intense feelings you get when you’re in a life-altering situation is the release of dopamine, among other neurotransmitters and hormones.
Ok, so back to emotions. The point is that regardless of the control over our instincts, we still feel the instinct. However, animal, humans included, have the ability override their instincts, such as staying when they should run, and vice versa. So, while they still feel the internal response of dopamine, for example, they can control their outward response to that same chemical instinct.
The same goes for emotions. If our instincts are manifested as feelings, we can control them, too. However, we can’t stop feeling our emotions, we only get better at dealing with them. You see, our feelings are nothing more than a chemically-driven, instinctual response to external stimulus. Can’t we decide how we’re going to outwardly respond?
Emotional Control is Wisdom
Ok, this is all great. Instincts are synonymous with emotions, and since we can control our instincts, we can also control our emotional feelings. But, just like instincts, emotions are chemical responses to outside stimuli and can’t be avoided, only harnessed. So then, the ability to control our emotions isn’t the faculty to be emotionless, it’s the capability to feel your emotions and yet control your outward response to them.
So, how do we do that? Do what, you ask? Well, how do we work to increase our ability to control our response to stimuli?
This might seem like a left turn, but I promise it’s related: Wisdom is the ability to act correctly in specific situations. Let’s refer to Webster again. Wisdom is the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgement. Ok, now to connect the dots.
The only way to successfully control your emotions is to have enough experience with a specific situation that you understand how to act and react. Let’s use an example. Say you worked hard for a raise and then didn’t get it. You feel slighted and under-appreciated and it angers you. You fly off the handle and yell at your boss, thus burning your bridges and ruining the relationship with your superior.
Then, a year later, you find yourself in a similar situation. The same result happens: you don’t get a raise you expected, but instead of flying off the handle, you take a moment to catch your breath. After a few moments, the emotion you feel is resolve. You schedule a meeting with your boss where you outline the reasons why you believe you deserve the raise. Your boss is impressed and promises a 90-day plan where you earn a pay bump.
See, wisdom was gained through reacting negatively in the first situation and positively in the second iteration of the same situation. But what it really was, in this case, was the ability to control your emotions so your outward response was agreeable. And, the only way you knew how to change your emotional response was to learn from the failure of the first experience. As far as this situation is concerned, you are now wise.
So, the only way you can gain control over your instinctual reactions – your emotions – is to have multiple experiences where you learn and iterate on how to respond. Then, as you understand how to operate in specific environments, you become wise in those situations. Your wisdom, in effect, becomes a framework that teaches you how to act and react so that you receive the best result, given the situation.
And all of this came about through an understanding that your emotions are instincts, and that the more times you feel an emotion, the greater ability you have to control your response to the feeling.
Well, do we even need a conclusion? Your emotions are physiological responses to outside stimuli. And while you’ll always feel your emotions, you can still control your outward response to the stimulus. And if you can do that consistently, you become wise.
Now, the only call to action needed is: Get out there and start having some emotions!
Evan Tarver is an author, nonfiction writer and editor, screenwriter, and small business owner with a background in finance and technology. Overall, the content he creates is meant to shift the way people think and encourage them to act. Some ideas explore the social environment on the macro level, some ideas explore the transformative power of personal growth on the micro-level, while most fall somewhere in between.