A Quick Request
Emotions surge like waves.
One minute you’re riding high, cresting euphoric stomach-lifting happiness, while the next moment you’re down in the depths, surrounded by claustrophobic walls of depression and unable to escape.
Such sensations are merely two sides of the same coin and universally interdependent, a yin and yang of necessity.
It’s impossible to have the good without the bad, and often the ugly.
This might sound tiring and you may think that psychological control and being less emotional is the answer.
After all, on a sea of feeling, incessant emotional storms create a kind of sensory sickness and overload that leave us worn out and washed up.
Rather than enjoying peaceful, calm emotions, we respond like a weather vane, either randomly happy or sad.
There seem to be two main presiding factors…
Most emotional folk seem excessively reactive to circumstance, in that outside events have an outsized impact on their internal wellbeing.
They have a subject-object relationship with reality, with the randomness of life tweaking their emotional dials to make them stressed or relaxed.
Take someone cutting you up in the car, for example. How do you react?
By getting angry, if you’re like most people.
You silently (or vocally) seethe, convinced that the other driver intended harm.
Even if the incident doesn’t result in shouting, swearing and fisticuffs, that anger likely lingers for the rest of your journey, long after the episode has ended.
And that’s just road rage.
What about the effect or more pronounced life-altering events on your emotional wellbeing, like getting fired or left by a lover?
These situations, often completely beyond our control, can feel like personal attacks in a cruel world.
Secondly, even if we’re not overly impacted by extrinsic events, we must recognise that rather than arising magically, thoughts are the real engines of emotion, creating cascades of feeling.
And the problem?
Thoughts often don’t occur in isolation, but cluster in knots around particular themes.
Instead of one isolated instance, negative thoughts layer one on top of another in repetitive patterns.
Soon, the recursive storylines suck us down into a negativity whirlpool.
The energy generated by these thoughts soon transmutes into deep-seated negative emotion, consuming our whole being.
Despite the potential negative effects of thoughts and feelings, they are natural states.
Rather than presenting a problem in themselves, it’s how we deal with these sensations that to a large extent, determines the quality of our lives.
While you might think that being less emotional would provide a more serene and peaceful life, this often isn’t the case.
You see, blocking negative thought and dampening ensuing emotion simply isn’t possible.
Right now, if I told you not to think of a polar bear, you wouldn’t be able to get the animal out of your head.
In much the same way, artificially suppressing negative thoughts creates more of the same.
Like some sort of biometric warning system, banishing negative thought simply causes the alarm to sound louder.
So what’s the alternative?
Being less emotional isn’t the answer
Rather than eradicating undesirable thoughts and emotions, we must try to accept them with equanimity, however troubling they may be.
The first step is to understand that our identity isn’t determined by our state of mind.
Thought and feeling simply arise spontaneously and we have no say in their emergence.
By using meditation and mindful awareness to observe these objects of consciousness impartially as they manifest, we finally recognise the futility of basing our self-worth on the quality of transient mental perturbations.
Rather than allowing one negative thought to knock our confidence, and subsequently beating ourselves up in a vicious cycle of negative self-esteem, we can learn to accept both good and bad thoughts equally.
As Shakespeare so eloquently opined in Hamlet,
Nothing is either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.
How to be less sensitive
In summary, the next time you chastise yourself for your emotional reactions, reframe how you perceive these phenomena.
Being less emotional isn’t only impossible, but actually damaging to your spiritual wellbeing.
Rather than diminish these thoughts and feelings, explore them with curiosity and openness using techniques like meditation and mindfulness.
The sensitivity to these emotions can eventually be modulated through repeated, controlled and graded exposure.
After all, only through the process of acceptance does psychological freedom finally become possible.