Emotions and Logic

Many of us tend to see emotions as an analytical phenomenon, as if they are an error of our reasoning process. This leads to futile use of logic and results in hard feelings all around when we try to handle them as such. A deeper understanding and a different model of looking at emotions can save much trouble.

A hypothetical example

This is easy to illustrate with an extreme example. Let us say Rakesh is a good friend of yours. He is pretty close to his grandfather who died a sudden death. Rakesh is depressed now and refuses to engage with the world for many months. And you being the good analytical friend that you are, try to handle it logically using arguments like:

  1. Come on, come out of it, everyone has to die one day.
  2. If there was no death, the world would be unsustainable.
  3. Will you waste your whole life potential because of your grandfather's death?
  4. etc. etc.

While all the above statements are logical, there is no hope in hell that you can help Rakesh in this way. In the best case, he will not respond to you. In the worst case, he will sever his relationship with you. This will convince you even more that he is being illogical!!

Are emotions logical?

While social norms prevent us from talking as I discussed above in the case of death, we do something very similar in most other situations and get frustrated when we don't have results.

Consider these common place scenarios where we usually end up wondering why our insightful observations are not having effect.

  1. We tell the person who is afraid of dogs that she should not be afraid of dogs "because this is a trained dog", "because this dog is chained", "because this  is a cute little puppy" etc. 

  2. We tell a well prepared student who is anxious about a coming exam that "he should prepare more to overcome his fear", that "he should be confident", that "being anxious will affect his performance and health"etc.

  3. We tell a high performing short tempered employee that losing his cool with slow people will hurt his growth, strain his relationships with his bosses and scare away the juniors.

In all the above cases we are seeing emotions as something that is amenable to logic and even though the target of our 'help' understands the logic, it generally makes no difference to their internal state or any future recurrence. 

Sometimes out of social pressure to not appear 'illogical' people force themselves to face the situation using one of the suggestions. Most often, it has no effect and sometimes leads to flared relationships and fights with  the person trying to "help".

Why do we do this?

I think this happens because we have never been taught how to think about emotions in a clear way. There is way too much taboo and judgement in this area to even explore this topic clearly.

The default socially conditioned response is to have a ready logical explanation for emotions experienced personally and have logical advice for others experiencing them. 

E.g. a person who is afraid of dogs may say things like "the dog might bite me", "it might lick me and I hate that" etc. 

The fact that the explanations given are not the whole story can be easily seen when the dog in question is trained or chained or just a puppy. They still draw out the same internal reactions.

A closer observation will show that our reactions come first and then some explanation for it is created later on :)! It is not as if we logically analyze reasons for being scared and then get scared.  

The assumption that emotions are something that respond well to facts and logic is wrong. This can be simply deduced from the fact that it does not work in practice.

An alternate model

It is extremely helpful to think of our emotions, not as a purely mental process, but as a autonomic full body response. 

Such a view point will naturally lead to a different line of enquiry in handling them.

As an example when we see a bleeding cut in someone we don't go and tell them, "Stop bleeding or you will become weak", "If this continues, you will end up in the hospital" etc. and expect the bleeding to stop.

We "know" that the body does not to react to logical arguments. Based on the situation, you need to put a bandage or tie a cloth or stitch up the cut to make a difference. The body has its own rules and logic and we work within its context to make a difference.

The same applies to emotions. Hopefully you can see how they are closer to a body response than to a mental reasoning process that can be fixed with logical argument. 

So what can we do about them?

A great service we can do to someone who is under the effect of a strong emotion is to remember the bleeding analogy and avoid quick and dirty logical advice :).

If you want to just "do something", a better approach would be to ask them them to do something to relax their body - breath, take a walk, stretch their body, have a bath etc. 

These are not a great solution, but they are better than doing nothing. But we can do much better than this.

Better Methods

The best results usually come from interventions which are designed around changing the body response. Methods like EFT and Emotrance are built around the model that emotions are disturbances in the energy body and provide a set of techniques to heal the same. 

Whether the energy body is 'real' or just a metaphor, it is a very useful abstraction to reason about the sensations that we feel in our body as we experience emotions and release them. 

And these methods work pretty well without the need to make the person feel stupid for experiencing whatever he is experiencing.

And the final interesting thing is that once the reaction is resolved, the person is able to consider things logically once again  (i.e.) the puppy becomes "just a cute puppy", the exam becomes "just another exam" etc. 

The articles below provide an overview of these methods.

Related articles

  1. Emotrance Technique 
  2. Energy EFT Techniques
  3. Understanding conditioned behavior - some ways of thinking about our everyday reactions.

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