A few years back my wife and I had some trouble in our marriage. I remember it being rather a shock to me that all of a sudden what seemed like a happy marriage seemed to be falling apart so quickly and was full of such heartache and pain.
But I am not here to talk about that. It is in the past, and we have rebuilt and things are wonderful with our first child on the way. What I would like to reflect on though is how feelings translate into actions. The shock I felt was because I had this incredible amount of love in my heart. But these feelings did not translate into a behavior that would have qualified me as a great husband.
I am sitting in on a wonderful class right now taught by a colleague in the Psychology Department on campus called Love, Lust and Attachment. We were discussing in class how we go about measuring relationships. Ultimately emotions cannot be measured, but behavior can and let me to thinking about why those two things are so often in a disconnect.
All of us have intense emotional experiences. They can be intense sadness at a story on the news or a documentary; intense feelings of joy as a baby is born; intense anger at a betrayal, intense love for a partner and/or friend, intense fear when frightened by something. It struck me that these intense emotional experiences have a real physical impact on us, and I began to wonder if this physical impact deludes into believing that it has more of an impact on our actions or behavior than it actually does. Many people are often moved to tears by a sad story, but few act on that feeling to do something about it. We may love someone deeply, but does that feeling of love translate into actions that make the other person feel loved? Does our outrage over a defunct government move all of us to write our representatives?
The motivational speaker finds success in not so much giving us new things to think about, but rather tries to get people to direct their emotions, ideas, and thoughts into actions. Few emotions in of themselves lead to immediate action without conscious thought. Things like fear or disgust may be good examples of ones that do, for these emotions from an evolutionary standpoint impact our very survival. But for the most part it seems that emotions are what motivate us, and yet only a small fraction of the emotions we feel actually lead us to a behavior that is the consequence of that emotion. Furthermore we may simply lack the understanding of how to effectively behave to show how that emotion is affecting us. I remember William H. Macy’s character in Magnolia’s words “I really do
have love to give, I just don’t know where to put it”. I think many of us can identify with this character. Acting on our emotions is often like wandering around in the dark, especially when we haven’t had positive examples in our lives.
Perhaps the only relevant answer in the end is that we live in a world with limits. While I might be able to feel love for many different women, I only have the time, energy, and resources for a finite amount. While I may feel deeply passionate about numerous social causes, once again those feelings cannot translate into an equal amount of actions. There are only so many hours in the day. We must rest and recharge to function adequately in our daily lives. Of the many emotions we feel throughout the day we must pick and choose the actions we take. And sometimes certain tasks are more important in the moment and we must let put intense emotions aside.
When I was young I felt like I was full all this emotion that was going to make me a great person, but I felt that none of it was coming out. Emotions can be overwhelming and sometimes even paralyzing. I felt like the real me was buried deep within myself. I am proud to say that each day I’ve felt like that person was getting closer to the surface. I am not sure if I’m the person I want to be yet, but I believe it is important to:
1) Let yourself feel what you feel. Embrace the ones that make you feel good, and forgive yourself for the ones that frighten you or make you feel weak. All emotions have value. They teach you about yourself and raise awareness in your conscious mind about things you deem important in your environment.
2) Reflect on those emotions and choose a course of action that is according to your morality. One that hopefully benefits you and the world around you.
3) Then reflect on the translation of emotion into action so that you can make adjustments if necessary.
Remember, no one is a natural, but we can all try to do more, and become better people. We are changeable. Accept it and don’t fight it, because then your emotions will never weigh you down and you will realize that you are learning and not making mistakes.