Human Emotions: Are They Good for Us?
“I blame my emotions for what has happened to me. My failures are a result of my emotional reactions to many things, including making bad decisions.”
This was my friend’s opening statement when I met him. How should I respond to such a desperate comment? I said, totally inappropriately: “Don’t blame your emotions, blame human evolution.”
He was shocked! “Is this your answer to my distress?”
“I’m sorry; I just wanted to help you from my point of view. But if you want to give me a chance to clarify myself, maybe you will find meaning in my comment.”
With great disbelief on his face, he said: “Go ahead. I am listening.”
As you know, we have an emotional and rational (logical) brain, and those parts work very differently. In the line of evolution, we had an emotional brain first. Many millions of years later, we developed a rational brain. What comes first in evolution, reacts first. Today, the emotional brain will still react first, with more power and quicker, than the logical brain. For our ancestors, this was useful: feel the emotions first; think logically after. When wild animals are running towards you, your emotional brain will tell you: RUN! Your logical brain will tell you: Let me logically analyze this situation. The difference was life or death.
When you are in a dangerous situation, you don’t need your logical brain to react first. You need to survive, and the emotional brain will do that. Evolution made the emotional brain to protect us from danger. On other hand, when you are very emotional, you need your logical brain to react first.
How is that done? Some possibilities are: Count to ten, take deep breaths, pause, listen and do not react instinctively! Give the logical brain time to react. It is always behind the emotional brain.
What does this explanation have to do with my friend? A lot!
First, try not to react emotionally when you need to make a big decision, when you are in verbal fight, upset, down or driving during rush hour. Make emotions work for you, not against you. If you allow the emotional brain to take control, you could be in big trouble.
Of course, your emotional brain will react first when a crazy driver is coming towards you. You don’t have time to “analyze” the traffic situation. You will react automatically — with your emotional brain.
Confused? Do not be!
If you understand how the emotional/rational brain works, you will understand your reaction in different situations. When you are in an “emotional storm”, your logical brain is not working properly! Your emotional brain will take care of you. It is there to protect you. If you believe that humans are logical, thinking people, think again. The emotional brain is where all power is, not the logical brain.
To my distressed friend: Do not feel guilty. Sometimes we react as our ancestors. It is our responsibility to calm our emotional brain, to teach ourselves how to think logically and when to act emotionally.