Inconvenient Emotions

I rarely use my blog as a diary, because it’s quite unprofessional and impolite to write personal emotions into a place that people read. People don’t want to read your personal feelings. I’m not too sure why, though, really. Why are feelings always placed at a lower hierarchy than thoughts? If you have thoughts, that’s wonderful, because they are well-reasoned, logical and interesting. If you have feelings, that’s just a lack of self-control, so please keep them to yourself and avoid doing anything reckless with them. I find that rather unjust suddenly.

And since this column happens to be about psychology and the mind, which relates also to emotions (even if the link may not seem obvious at first) I shall use this opportunity to argue for why emotions should be placed with equal respect as thoughts.

First of all, some context. I was very angry with someone yesterday, and ticked her off a bit too hard. I immediately felt guilty after that, because she showed an adverse reaction to it. This brings to mind a few pointers for today.

1. Why are we conditioned to feel guilt from anger? In school, as children, we’re taught that anger is wrong, except when the circumstances are right. But what is the threshold of behaviour to which anger will be acceptable? If someone hits you, you have a right to be angry. That is straightforward enough. But what if the person doesn’t hit you? Must you be directly provoked in order to be angry? Sometimes people say things like, “it’s none of your business, so there’s no need to be angry.”

2. What is the appropriate response after being angry? Of course, all these already assume that anger can be controlled. Everyone agrees that we cannot help feeling anger, but while crying is depicted positively on television shows, anger is less so. The only healthy way to express anger is usually to punch a wall, or if you’re justifiably angry, to hit the other party. And all my memories of such expressions come in Taiwanese soap operas, which hardly represent Singapore’s society.

I learnt in social psychology that showing acts of aggression actually make people feel angrier and more likely to commit further acts of aggression, which may explain why society discourages people from being aggressive (does society really know so much about psychology?). They have said many times that the person who strikes first is always wrong, that truly educated people will hold back their anger and smile in the face of their enemies.

The moral of the story then, is as you have expected. What to do in times of anger is to walk away, take deep breaths and count to 10. You should bottle up those feelings and avoid ruining the “atmosphere” with your temper tantrums. We all know it is not easy, but it is “necessary” to maintain some kind of peace. Why do we want to maintain peace when we are in turmoil inside? I guess it is a price for being considerate.

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