Do we understand our deeper emotional states?

Can you think of moments when you have felt out of control? As if you were possessed, you felt intense anger or sadness, maybe your impulsive actions even result in disastrous consequences. Looking back, you wonder why you reacted so powerfully to what may have been trivial. Our deeper emotional state can be triggered by external forces that we need to be aware of so that we can avoid falling into an emotional abyss.


Jack spends most of his time being cared for by a nanny while his mother has an exciting social life and maintains her high-pressure job. Jack is only an infant but he can feel his mother’s coldness. She doesn’t have the energy or interest to keep up with Jack’s demands. From a young age, Jack begins to internalise his mother’s coldness as abandonment.

When Jack is older he meets a woman called Celia. After a few dates they become intimate and they eventually move in together. A few months into this arrangement, Celia is starting to worry about Jack. He has been arriving late from work and she senses his tiredness and frustration. One evening, she decides to share her concerns with Jack in a civil and empathetic manner. Regardless of her approach, this will hit a trigger point with Jack – Celia is noticing his flaws and could be suggesting that she might leave him. In that moment he feels a powerful rush of emotion and he overreacts, accusing Celia of not being there for him, making her feel insecure and upset. Later on, he goes out with friends and leaves Celia at home. After a few repetitions of this scenario, Jack will eventually be abandoned, all because he is reacting to his past rather than to the present.

When we are children, we are at our most vulnerable. We depend on our parents for almost everything so we are especially perceptible to our parents’ emotions. We hold on to notable moments from our childhood and the emotions associated with those memories leak into how we behave in the present day. In the case of Jack, Celia’s remarks triggered a great fear of his, a fear of abandonment created from childhood, that ultimately determined the outcome of his relationship with her in the present.

To disentangle ourselves from childish emotions, we need to be aware of when a triggered state is ignited. When it’s happening, you will be overwhelmed by one emotion whether that is love, fear or mistrust. The mind begins to feel claustrophobic and your behaviour will seem out of character. You may even exhibit a different tone of voice and your body language will change mimicking your experience from childhood.

To break free you must start thinking about your childhood, in particular your relationship with your parents, close family and friends. Even watching video recordings and looking at photographs to assist your recall. Relive events from the past that are particularly vivid and apply your current knowledge and hindsight to be objective about them. By studying yourself, you can gain greater awareness of the child that’s still inside of you.

Sudden Success and Losses

Sudden success is likely the result of luck above anything else. But we struggle to accept this. We like to attribute any forms of success to ourselves, our skill, our talent but when we don’t repeat the same level of success, as we did on that one fortunate occasion, we fall into a depression, made even more painful from having tasted success then lost it. It is wise to be extra wary of sudden success and attention – they are not built on anything that lasts and they have an addictive pull. And the fall is always painful.

On the other hand, perhaps you have recently felt like you have been cursed with bad luck and nothing is going your way. Many days in your lifetime will not go your way. Even Muhammad Ali, ranked as the greatest athlete of the 20th century by Sports Illustrated and nicknamed ‘The Greatest’ lost 5 professional fights in his career. Losing will make you fearful and hesitant and this surprisingly will often lead you to make more mistakes. Approach every day, every match, every test, every project, as a new beginning. Take pride in being able to find yourself again. 

Whenever we experience unusual gains or losses, that is exactly the time to step back and counterbalance them was some necessary pessimism or optimism. If you are on a streak of losses, remember your purpose and list the reasons why you do what you do. If, however, you are on the back of a series of wins, remember where you came from and how many people have played a part in your success as well as luck’s often hidden assistance.

Rising Pressure

Stressful circumstances will bring out sides of your character that you probably would not like to reveal to others. Pressure melts off our mask of self-control and exposes us to a reality where we may have little or no control over the situations we find ourselves in.

It’s always fascinating to observe people when they are stressed. Think back to when examinations were close at school or university and how people you knew reacted to them. Some would fall into denial, and study little until total panic has set in two hours before the exam. Others would sharpen up and begin getting stuck into their chosen field. Some would take it too far and live in the library, attempting to study under a concoction of caffeine and modafinil until they pass out with exhaustion, then proceeding to repeat the cycle when they wake up. Even the environment changes: the outside of the library is suffocating from all of the students who have decided to take up smoking as a new hobby.

All of this is just letting out a deeper side of our character, under pressure our most primitive parts of the brain are fired up, overwhelming our reasoning power. We would be sensible to look at ourselves during times of high pressure, searching for any signs of unusual brittleness, sensitivity, sudden suspicions or fear disproportionate to the circumstances. Do not for a second think that stress or pressure does not affect you. That’s denial at its finest. Observing yourself with as much detachment as possible, through meditation and being alone, you can form a less hindering relationship with stress. A better relationship that allows you to accept stress rather than resist it and does not coerce you into making decisions that you will regret.

Primary Source: The Laws of Human Nature by Robert Greene
Featured Image Credit: Adam Black (@admblck)


  1. b

    Good post. I can derive a message from your previous post and this post: try to put everything into context. I think it is perfectly natural to view ourselves in a very positive light without any justification. We become driven by events which are effectively out of our control, thinking that we are this or that because of something that we had little control over. I am guilty of it myself – I have often felt undue pride over events which were probably heavily influenced by luck. And the opposite has occurred too – I have become upset from things that were out of my control.

    A simple way to address this is to put things into context. Putting things into context means trying to put everything into a broader perspective. For example, a narrow perspective on exam results could be that it is purely down to my own effort. However, a broader perspective would be that results are a combination of work, luck, intelligence and background. I find certain things help with this process: meditation, journalling and reading history. The last point might appear a bit strange, but I find that reading about the past just reinforces the fickle nature of things. You will find that individuals like yourself have probably existed in the past, and the problems that you have faced have been faced by others. You will find that sometimes, some outcomes are completely outside of anyone’s individual control. Ultimately, it helps me to maintain the thought that I shouldn’t be too excited or depressed about how things turn out: it is the way life is.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Alec Gehlot

      Thank you for sharing your wisdom! I really like your final point on how reading about the past will help you to find the solutions to the problems you face today. It is one of my most cherished beliefs that our problems are not as unique as we think they are. Always a pleasure hearing your thoughts.


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