Thursday, December 2, 2010

The sources of over-the-top feelings

Many years ago a friend commented to me, "Anger is of the present. Rage is of the past."

I'm still pondering that, because I don't think it's entirely true. Many over-strong reactions (rage, paralyzing fear, and despair included) do occur when an experience echoes feelings from another time. If we've been exposed to an irritant repeatedly -- an allergen, say, or a spouse's annoying habit -- we react to the current problem and to history, too. If you've just overreacted to your child's antics by screaming and inadvertently calling him your pesky little brother's name, this is the club for you.

But there are other times when the past isn't the problem. Sometimes too-strong feelings arise because we shape-shift our emotions, not realizing that we're equating a temporary state (how I feel right now) with a personal and permanent characteristic (what kind of person I am). This is what happens to Big Guy when he makes the mental shift from "I feel horrible about that" to "I'm a horrible person". He gets stuck.

And there are times when anxiety cranks up the emotional bass or pierces our heads with a shrill treble, inducing a fight-or-flight frenzy that precludes any rational view of proper proportion. Like what happened to Little Guy, yesterday. Anxiety = strong feelings = total irrationality.

All of which is by way of saying that when someone freaks out around you (or you're looking back on your own freak-out moment), it's sometimes useful to know which of these three mind-messers has taken hold. Because then you have some clue where to begin working on the problem. Maybe.

1 comment:

  1. I suspect I'm not the only one who is regularly amazed by your courage in blogging about this stuff, and helped immensely in my own parenting by your insights.

    I hope this doesn't sound totally treacly, but thank you for taking a really, really tough situation and turning it to some sort of good.