I have a new way of understanding emotions that has been working itself out in my head for a while…
Emotions are a way for our body to communicate with itself, specifically about the allocation of energy, I now think.
This would make sense from a design perspective – the usage of energy is vital to any creature and each of us would need the ability to interpret our environment and condition well, quickly, and intuitively.
Ok, I know that there is a lot more to emotions than that; we are more than animal and body… but that role is something I think we often overlook. I think if we miss this basic role, then we are missing something very important.
In fact, maybe what I mean is that our emotions are something like a way for our bodies to communicate with our souls…
But that may be too poetic.
Anyone, here is what I mean about the communication.
Anxiety as an emotion
When we are happy, it is our body’s way of telling us that our immediate future seems so positive that we don’t need to be concerned about how we spend energy. There is no preparation for impending problems, so our instincts tell us that we can spend the energy however we want to.
Excitement would be telling us that our immediate future appears to be so bright, that we can actually waste energy on frivolity.
Now, examine anxiety.
Anxiety is the emotion that says: “There is something wrong here. Figure out what it is and fix it.”
It is the emotion that triggers when there is a threat. Your mind needs to discover the threat, see it as a threat, examine it, determine a response, and engage with the best response… in parts of a second.
Anxiety, is and must be, thus, a very quick and super intuitive emotion!
In a time of threat, there just isn’t time to be intentional and thoughtful – danger can come on fast.
So, one of our most deeply instinctual emotions is going to be powerful and deeply ingrained. We would probably not have survived as a species without it!
A disorder could be understood as a time in which the emotions you are experiencing are not indicated by the actual circumstances. When you feel something that isn’t at all connected to what level of energy is needed.
Obviously, it isn’t a disorder to feel anxiety – so the disorder must come in when the feeling comes when it isn’t needed – or functional – or wanted.
I am sure there are people with happiness disorders, or dysfunctions. It seems possible that there are people who are way too happy way too often. However, I am not likely to meet them in a counseling office.
Maybe they get taken in by a con artist they believed in, or maybe they get hit by a bus they were sure would stop… but they are happy, so they are unlikely to seek help… so my understanding of them hasn’t had the chance to grow very much.
Anxious people, however, turn up in counseling a lot.
Discerning anxiety from danger
So, anxiety says “something is wrong, find it and fix it.”
So the anxious person is working hard to either figure out what it making them feel anxious (presumably what is “wrong”) or they are working hard to fix it.
This is all fine when it works like it should.
If I sense something is wrong with a shady mortgage deal, I should sit back and analyze it to figure out what is wrong.
Most basic: If I am about to head down a dark alley in a scary city, I SHOULD feel anxious! I really need to take a careful look at the alley and search for threats… and be prepared to run or fight if there is one (see anxiety attacks).
Here is where it falls apart, though:
When we feel anxious when there isn’t a threat… and it won’t turn off.
More to come this week.