Biologically Driven Emotionalism

Throughout my process of self discovery I’ve noticed several confounding factors; aspects of myself that impair or compete with my desire for clarity. One of these factors is the way in which our biology pulls at our emotional state, inciting responses in us that are rarely appropriate. I saw a saying floating around on the internet recently, a “meme”, and it’s both apt and relevant. It was credited to Jean Yang on Twitter.

“If you think everyone hates you, you probably need to sleep. – If you think you hate everyone, you probably need to eat.”

These are not the only biological functions that commonly alter our emotional state. Physical pain is another major driver of this kind of emotionalism and it warrants further discussion. The problem is that all of these factors are utterly real. They’re physical demands made by our bodies based on the chemistry of our physiology. We have no choice but to accept and to expend the effort to mitigate these factors in advance, all of the time, if we want to remain unclouded by “biologically driven emotionalism”.

Satisfying our biological needs necessitates a great deal of thought, planning, and work. Due to the inherent inequities of our “system” the amount of work necessary to support ourselves is often detrimental to our physical and mental health. Keep in mind, our biology still thinks we’re running around naked on the Savannah, like we were 70,000 years ago. We did not evolve to be packed into offices or factories or any other modern workplace. These changes to our society occurred largely due to the dishonest and false beliefs and expectations of past and present generations of people. This is what drove their choices. But that’s a different discussion.

What ends up happening when we try to survive in this inequitable system is we come up short on supporting our physical needs due to the amount of work needed, due to low wages, and then we concurrently suffer the hunger and lack of sleep that accompany the stresses of poverty. Many of us living in poverty still don’t accept that this is what has happened. We pretend so hard by buying or leasing overly expensive status symbols, as much to convince ourselves the endless grind is worth it as to convince our peers, yet we’re rarely happy for long with such purchases.

Back to the hunger and lack of sleep, these cause emotional pressures on us that impair our performance in the workplace, and so it becomes even more difficult to complete enough work to compensate for the ridiculously low wages offered by corporations in recent years.

The anxiety of thinking about these issues ad nauseum commonly keeps us up at night, thus worsening the overall problem even more. And then there’s the hopelessness stemming from the well founded belief that things will never get better on these scales – only worse – because our climate crisis is real and accelerating rapidly.

It was during the period when I explored self dialogue in a deliberate way for the first time that I realized one of my greatest character flaws was self neglect on some important, albeit intangible scales. I had to teach myself at 41 years old how to begin treating myself more like a person, and specifically how I would like to treat a person from whom I don’t fear exploitation. It was not an easy process for me after thirty years of emotional self abuse. I reached for the various denials and at times the process felt silly or trite, at times utterly pointless, but when that happened I’d take a break from it for a while and then when I felt ready I’d read over my notes to refresh myself.

I wouldn’t say I’m good at treating myself well, but I’m much better to myself than I used to be, and I’m a work in progress on this scale. There are many aspects of this philosophy I’ve found that I want to pursue but I have to prioritize and take them on as I feel able – which isn’t as often as I’d like due to situational pressures over the past couple of years. I make more of an effort to eat enough and frequently enough to avoid undue emotionalism due to hunger. I’ve always been an insomniac so sleep is hit or miss for me at the best of times, but I’ve bought myself a few creature comforts in this area that do help some, like a good mattress and some real feather pillows. It never would have entered my mind to buy things like that, or to budget for them, when I was depressed, yet I reaped additional benefits when I finally took care of these things.

I guess my point overall is that we must learn to take care of ourselves in defiance of the expectations foisted on us by anybody else, and even from some of the expectations we hold of ourselves, as we internalize other people’s expectations. This can require a degree of assertiveness with ourselves and others. It can lead to conflicts. Overall, it’s a beneficial process, but it strikes me that the only reason it’s so difficult to take care of ourselves individually is because of our inter-subjective false beliefs.

Some Thoughts on Pain.

Physical pain is something I still struggle with. In this context I mean that I struggle with the emotionalism I inflict upon myself in response to pain. I have noticed that while some emotional responses to pain are widely considered normal, natural, and even unavoidable, they’re not necessarily helpful. If I react to pain with frustration or anger, at this stage I accept that I’m doing this in an attempt at denial of the pain itself. I futilely don’t want to accept that it’s happening, or that it’s unchangeable, or some other real aspect of the experience. This does nothing to mitigate the pain; it doesn’t even distract from it. All it really accomplishes is an erosion of my judgment while making choices. Choosing differently could lead to better outcomes. Therefore I should try to be more selective about how I emotionally respond to pain as a matter of conscience.

I have found that with some types of pain I can use my emotionalism to enhance or as a poor substitute for therapeutic pain relief (of whatever type is appropriate, from massaging an area to taking analgesics). To do this I use audio, video, or sometimes written content that I value in such a way as to be able to induce strong emotional responses in myself while viewing it, in moderation. There are a couple of films that work, a handful of songs, and there are the memories I have attached to these things by association. It’s ultimately just a way of distracting myself from the pain temporarily, and it’s also an act of denial, but it works. I find the effectiveness of this tactic a little disconcerting, particularly when I remember the kinds of people I’ve been during earlier stages of my life. Looking outward, I see people using this same tactic in avoidance of ideas rather than physical pain, and I wonder, is what I’m doing really so much better? Could there be yet another, better way? And so I think there probably is.

With mild to moderate pain we can sometimes accept it and choose to do nothing. This idea is a lot more appealing when we know or have good reason to believe that the pain can be treated, is temporary, or won’t persist long. People known to have “high pain thresholds” exhibit a greater ability to accept pain and discomfort, but is this causes by minute physiological differences as expressed by our genetic individualism, or is it learned behaviour, or some combination of both? I’m no expert but I lean toward the last option. There is always more to learn and people have been struggling to accept their pain and suffering for as long as we have been capable of conceiving such ideas – a very long time. It’s another aspect of myself I will continue to pursue.