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Tracing your emotions

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First question: are the source of your emotions black and white to you?

Second: How do you go about tracing an emotion? For example...

* Do you consciously follow a path back to the ideas that are their source?

* Do you wait for that path to become obvious over time?

* Or some other method?

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First question: are the source of your emotions black and white to you?

Most of the time, yes. There are occasions where I don't know right off the bat, however.

Second: How do you go about tracing an emotion?

This is something I'm not very good at when I don't know right away. I'm very interested in seeing everyone's answers to this one. I'm the "King of Compartmentalizing," and I'd love to see how everyone else goes about this type of introspection so that I may practice some techniques myself.

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First question: are the source of your emotions black and white to you?

If by "black and white" you mean clear and unambiguous, then yes, almost always. In principle you should be able to trace any emotion to its source, but the more integrated your mind -- the less conflict between what is held consciously and sub-consciously -- the more you can rely on your emotions to give a clear and unambiguous assessment in-line with your intellect.

Do you consciously follow a path back to the ideas that are their source?

That is the fundamental and there is no shortcut to replace that process. There are various psychological techniques that can help overcome repression, but ultimately it is only by making the conscious connections that any conflict between your conscious convictions and your emotional repsonses can be resolved.

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There are various psychological techniques that can help overcome repression, but ultimately it is only by making the conscious connections that any conflict between your conscious convictions and your emotional repsonses can be resolved.

But how does one go about making those connections? Or is that not something easily defined as a step-by-step process?

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The first step for me is to label the emotion one is trying to trace. If one is unsure about this, a first step can be becoming conscious of one's physical response.

The various emotions tend to signify various needs your mind is trying to address.

Anger is usually brought about by a sense of injustice as well as a compulsion to do something about it (and generally not knowing what to do)

Depression might be brought about by a feeling of loss of control over something which we value.

Anxiety might be brought about by uncertainty about the future

etc etc. Once labeling the emotion, it becomes much easier to ask yourself which unmet need your body is trying to address.

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Depression might be brought about  by a feeling of loss of control over something which we value.

On this week's Sopranos, Tony's psychiatrist had an excellent quote about depression:

"Depression is rage turned inward."

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Old Geezer is precisely right. The most useful thing to do is to spend some time identifying the types of things that cause each emotion: anger is a reaction to injustice, joy is a reaction to gaining a value, etc. Once you've done this, you're in a much better position: rather than just asking "what is making me angry?", you can ask "what am I evaluating as unjust?" By making the question more specific, you'll be more likely to get a useful answer.

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First question: are the source of your emotions black and white to you?

After some introspection, yes.

Second: How do you go about tracing an emotion? For example...

* Do you consciously follow a path back to the ideas that are their source?

* Do you wait for that path to become obvious over time?

* Or some other method?

I start with where I am and what is happening right now.

1) I identify the emotion. I ask "What am I feeling?" Happy? Sad? Afraid? Confident? Confused? Angry? Distrustful? Guilty? Etc. The emotion indicates the type of value relationship involved.

2) I identify the object of the emotion. I ask "What did I just see, hear, think about etc. right now which triggered this emotion?" This is will either be the value at stake or the best clue to what the value is.

3) Then I ask, "What about this object caused this emotion?" I come up with the most likely causal explanation.

4) Then I reality-check the causal explanation to see if it is factual.

For example. I feel strong distrust (identifying the emotion) the minute I see John Kerry smiling(identifying the object) on television. Distrust is an emotion which causes you to doubt that what something appears to be is actually what it is. I ask, what is it about seeing Kerry smile that makes me feel he is not really happy? Just his mouth is smiling, but his eyes aren't crinkling up the way they do when people smile from the inside. His words don't match the smile. He has a past history of saying things he doesn't mean. Etc.

That 4-step process always works for me. Anybody can get good at it with practice and, if necessary, professional help if they get blocked or need guidance in dealing with difficult or extremely painful emotions.

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"Depression is rage turned inward."

I disagree.

Anxiety is the conflict between two premises: (1) I've got to and (2) I can't. Depression is what happens when a person gives up and tries to resolve the conflict by focusing on the "I can't."

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You don't think depression can stem from self-loathing?

I once was in a relationship with someone who was chronically depressed, and I have to say that most of it came from disliking herself. She didn't think, "I can't improve the things I'm unhappy about." Her attitude was more of, "I'm not worth improving."

Even medication didn't help (as a side note, I think anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications are horribly over-prescribed; in her case, there was no chemical imbalance, just a psychological one).

Ultimately, it was what caused me to end the relationship.

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But how does one go about making those connections? Or is that not something easily defined as a step-by-step process?

I think it is an art in the same sense that we can speak of the art of problem solving. Both are logical processes, but they can benefit from insight conditioned by knowledge and experience.

For emotions the most important factor is to first properly identify what it is that you feel. Some people are out-of-touch with their feelings and what they report is sometimes not in accord with observation of their behavior. To identify emotions correctly requires a well-honed ability to introspect, to take into account the fullest context which goes to what you feel. A deeper feeling can be masked by one closer to the surface, and it is only by scrupulous and honest use of introspection that you can peel away any emotional layers.

The process of identifying the source of the emotion goes both deeper and wider. If you identify an emotion which conflicts with your conscious convictions you can acquire a strong hint by deducing the sort of notions which make such an emotion possible. If the source was an implicit assessment made in your childhood you need to delve deeper and consciously connect the premise to your past experience. Likewise you need to expand your connections wider to see how that premise affected other assessments, a sort of causal chain which you follow outwards.

If the source of the emotion were something more current, a more conscious assessment made for reasons which give rise to the conflict, then the process is even more purely intellectual in the sense of resolving conscious ideas which conflict with each other. It is not always easy to see the full implications of ideas which we have, but that emotional assessment is an automatic way of alerting you to a feeling which does not correspond with other ideas or values you hold.

This is just a very broad sketch, but the process essentially requires a commitment to reason in ferreting out the conflicts, and a strong sense of honesty and integrity to allow yourself to see the facts and to have the motivation to make yourself whole in having no conflicts between what you think and what you feel.

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You don't think depression can stem from self-loathing?

I think it happens the other way around.

If a person gives up the pursuit of values, not only will he lack values, but he will know it is his own fault. His will not think very much of himself and he will be right to feel that way.

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Some excellent replies here. Thanks Old Geeser, Steven and Betsy.

A deeper feeling can be masked by one closer to the surface...

What signposts do you look for to check if this is the case?

I like your 4 steps Betsy. This process obviously takes time. What do you do in the heat of the moment when an action is required but you don't understand your emotions? I'm not suggesting that you should act on your emotions, rather that in this case you obviously haven't intergrated everything.

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What signposts do you look for to check if this is the case?

A sense of uneasiness about your identification. A realization that your actions are out of proportion to the emotion which you attribute. The more you seek out the deeper causes the easier it will become to identify them. It is a process of honing your skills at introspection coupled with expanding your knowledge of what is involved.

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I like your 4 steps Betsy. This process obviously takes time. What do you do in the heat of the moment when an action is required but you don't understand your emotions? I'm not suggesting that you should act on your emotions, rather that in this case you obviously haven't intergrated everything.

When it comes to dealing with my emotions, I proceed on the premise, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Emotions need to be analyzed only when there is a conflict between my thinking and my emotions and, at this stage of my life, that happens very, very rarely. Therefore, I can just feel, enjoy, and act on my emotions because I don't have any reason not to.

On the few occasions when there is a conflict, it usually takes just a few seconds to identify it. It is either an old problem or bad habit popping up ("Oh, THAT again!") or an out of context reaction that disappears as soon as I identify the emotion and the object ("That's just a ____ and it can't hurt me.")

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What do you do in the heat of the moment when an action is required but you don't understand your emotions?

It has been my experience that most of the time when people feel that they are in "the heat of the moment when an action is required" is THE MOST IMPORTANT TIME not to react immedietly. When I feel rushed to make a decision or react to something that is usually a red flag for me to slow down and re-think everything.

Take some instances;

a girlfriend offers an ultimatum "either you marry me within the month or I'm out"

a potential employer says "well we need to know right now if you will take this job"

certainly one has feelings in these situations and may not feel one has time to to reality check those feelings. But this is precisely the time to make such time a priority. If people are not able to be somewhat accomodating under such circumstances then I find myself hesitant to even interact with them, as they clearly do not recognize or value the importance to me of taking time to think about things..

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It has been my experience that most of the time when people feel that they are in "the heat of the moment when an action is required" is THE MOST IMPORTANT TIME not to react immedietly.
When the consequences of your actions are as serious as your examples Old Geeser, then sure, you must stop and re-evaluate eveything.

I guess there is always a heirachy of importance in each and every incident and you would choose accordingly in each. For eg., during a heated conversation with a friend you might feel some kind of unidentified stress but the outcome of any inappropriate action can most likely be corrected. So continuing the conversation while relying more on reason will probably suffice.

Betsy's reply brings me to my next question...

Therefore, I can just feel, enjoy, and act on my emotions because I don't have any reason not to.

Ayn Rand said that ideas that have been well intergrated will produce automatic emotions. How much do you rely on your emotions in this respect?

This will lead to the questions: How well intergrated are you? How can you tell?

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I can always trail my emotions to their source. Sometimes it takes 2 seconds, and sometimes it takes a few minutes - but eventually I get it.

But knowing where they are comming from and changing them is not the same thing. I've been suffering for years from vertigo, since I fell from a ladder and almost broke my nose when I was around 10...

Only recently I succeeded in conquering it. Still, when I'm somewhere very high I might feel it back for a split second.

MinorityOfOne wrote a very nice post on this in his blog. Matt - do you want to post it here, or link to it?

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This will lead to the questions: How well intergrated are you? How can you tell?

Lack of major emotional conflicts.

Emotional conflict is the sign of a value conflict that needs to be resolved. Whenever I have ambivalent feelings, feel confused and uncertain, or have emotions in conflict with my conscious decisions, it tells me there is something I need to think about and resolve.

I don't have conflicts over anything big or fundamental these days, because I've dealt with them in the past. I don't agonize over "Should I be honest?" or "Am I in love?" I will be and I am. Those are obvious and easy.

Nonetheless, I do have conflicts over little things all the time. I want to buy that book but it costs $49.95. Two values in conflict. Should I spend time with my husband or catch up on my e-mail? Two values in conflict. But this is just normal living.

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