Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Fix Facts First, Feelings Follow

(Reclaimed from Bubblews, where this "Bubble" appeared on 2.20.14.)



Thanks to Sleepy-eye for prompting this post with this article:
www.bubblews.com/news/2388656-anger-managementhow-do-you-handle


When I was a child, teenager, even a young student, I felt bad about lots of things. I felt bad about how often I felt bad. I was always having some sort of emotional mood, usually not a pleasant one, and being scolded for having one, and being accused of having one when I actually felt relatively healthy and wanted to settle down and do something. 

Then I finally achieved adult status, and I no longer felt bad, because society finally allowed me to discover the secret of emotional well-being:

FIX FACTS FIRST: FEELINGS FOLLOW.

This does not mean that I feel "happy" all the time. Most of the time, like most people, I don't have any emotional feeling to any noticeable degree. What am I feeling right now? Well, I'm sitting on a cushioned chair, my feet feel like feet that walked seven miles this morning, the heat pump is humming in the computer center, now that I think about it I could use a good leg stretch...my emotional level is "baseline." If "happy" is going to mean anything, it has to mean "better than baseline." Therefore what I'm feeling right now is not "happy." Neither is it "unhappy." I'm most conscious of what I'm writing, which is the state of consciousness in which I seem to thrive on spending about eight or ten hours a day. Like most people, I could choose to focus on things in my life that are reliable sources of feelings of satisfaction, or pleasant nostalgia, or grief, or anxiety. Like most adults, I've learned that spending a lot of time thinking about those things is less useful, and in the long run less of a source of satisfaction, than thinking about doing something useful.

It does mean that as an adult, having located my emotional baseline of "normal, healthy, productive," I can identify sources of discontent in my life. We can't fix all the sources of discontent in our lives but most of us can fix enough of them to spend a fair amount of time in the normal-healthy-productive baseline mode of existence. We can stop eating food that disagrees with us, rid our homes of fungi and chemicals that make us ill, choose jobs that give us real satisfaction, spend more time with people who share our passions and less time with bores who interfere with them, and most of us can even get active about the social and political issues that affect us if we so choose. 

"Decluttering" in the sense of throwing away clothes and other objects for which you paid good money last year, and which you're going to replace next year, makes very little sense to me. (I see it as a marketing gimmick.) Decluttering our social lives makes sense to me. I don't want to spend much time talking to people who would rather flounder around in emotions than either change something in their lives or leave it as it is. I can empathize with this way of wasting time when the emotions involved are very pleasant to the person feeling them ("And then s/he smiled, not a 
huge smile but a real smile, as if s/he was really pleased to see me, and then s/he said 'Good morning'..."). Probably nobody else needs to hear this unless the object of infatuation and this person become a couple, but at least the person with the crush is enjoying his or her crush. 

What if the emotions are unpleasant? ("S/He is the most incredibly annoying person...do you know what s/he did today?") Sometimes it is useful to talk about exactly how someone or something makes us angry. If, after double-checking and making sure that he did in fact cheat you out of money, that's something other people need to know. If there's no room for reasonable doubt that she's trying to kill somebody, that's not something to sit around emoting about--get up and stop her! If he's just posting comments that sound to you like the words of an overbearing bore, or she's just shamelessly throwing herself at your mate, it might be useful to think about why you feel so threatened by these things. Some people lack personal charm even (or especially) on the Internet! Some people are desperate for attention! So what!

In one of her early novels Anne McCaffrey had an older character say to a teenager, "You want things badly at your age, girl. When you're my age you've learned how to plan." 
For some men (and a very few women) anger management can be part of managing a physical disease condition. For most people between about ages 15 and 30, I think anger management is more likely to be about learning how to plan. Don't agonize--strategize.