Choice and Emotion: a Short Essay With Some Musing

Monica Cassani
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When we are emotionally dysregulated or in an otherwise emotionally reactive state we act impulsively and without consciousness or interest about consequences because we want relief from that momentarily intolerable emotional state. We cannot imagine an alternative in that moment. Until consciousness comes to such behavior we effectively have no choice.

The process of becoming conscious may first involve an awareness that we act in a dysfunctional way that can lead to undesirable consequences and yet we see that we cannot stop in spite of this recognition.

If we hurt ourselves long enough in this way and start wanting to change, we must become curious about what is happening. The only way to learn about this phenomena is to start paying attention and observing our behavior even, perhaps, as we don’t want to be doing it, but find ourselves doing it anyway.

As we become aware through observance, preferable modes of behavior become apparent. We can reflect on what might have been a more skillful response after the fact. “Choice” is always the best behavior with the best outcome for which we have the capacity to both understand and carry out. No one “chooses” to do something less adaptive and possibly destructive unless they cannot consciously conceive in that moment of doing otherwise.

Sitting with reactive feelings without reacting is a skill. Moving towards this capacity allows one to stop reactive behaviors. The option to sit with reactive feelings is often a luxury. Not everyone finds themselves in environments where it’s something that can be easily achieved . . . again, by “choice.” Some of us are privileged enough to live in environments where a safe niche can be carved out so that we can begin this sort of enquiry.

Sitting with highly reactive feelings is often a highly somatic experience that most people have no framework for and therefore no means to understand what is happening. It can be a very frightening thing to sit with reactive feelings. Psychiatry routinely drugs and numbs such feelings calling them diseases. People who get labeled as addicts also use substances to numb such feelings.  The somatic intensity of emotion is simply overwhelming for a large number of folks and there is little guidance on learning how to cope with them. What we find when we actually stop and sit with such feelings, however, is that they cannot harm us and in getting to know them we can actually in time be liberated from acute suffering. Instead psychiatry and now popular culture in general has begun to label intense emotional and somatic experiences as disease and something to stop no matter what.

Stopping an impulsive action or reactive response necessitates being with the painful, previously intolerable sensations in the body. It is initially a difficult step to make, sometimes impossible, but as awareness comes it becomes more and more possible.

Compassion for one’s own capacity or lack of capacity to make good “choices” is key to this process that often leads to changing behavior.

As one learns to sit with the pain and the darkness that lies behind bad “choices” alternative behavior options start to present themselves. Is this the birth of choice? Not really, it’s simply the result of awareness. With awareness behavior starts to change. The natural result of awareness is improved behavior and more skillful means of living in general. With awareness behavior changes into a more adaptive flow with our environments…this is not choice per se… it is simply responding to the obvious, really. More adaptive behavior makes sense and because we are now conscious we do it because we can.

Acute emotional sensitivity is one of the many variations of hypersensitivity from the iatrogenic injury people often experience while on psych meds that gets especially significant when withdrawing from those medications. The autonomic nervous system injury is in fact a sort of brain injury and resembles complex post traumatic stress. In fact, psychiatric drugs, as Charles Whitlock, MD documents, are agents of trauma.

I didn’t have severely dysregulated emotions before psych drug use. Since healing from the iatrogenic injury incurred from psychiatric drugs, I’ve learned a whole lot about dysregulated emotions. I’ve been healing all the hypersensitivities with a largely holistic self-directed protocol. See: My healing protocol detailed… 

Here are some posts about good programs I found helpful to work with emotions and the somatic experience:

Body oriented practices are very helpful too. Anything that gets us into our bodies and paying attention is good.

There are many more possibilities among them walking, martial arts, tai chi and chi gong. Really any exercise practiced mindfully can be helpful. Gardening is good too.

9 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Monica
    I identify very much with this blog. This condition doesn’t necessarily get better, just that its possible to find ways to compensate – like you’ve described.

    “…I didn’t have severely dysregulated emotions before psych drug use… ” – I didn’t either, and I doubt the average doctor or psychiatrist would have much of an idea of their existence (as iatrogenic or discontinuation based).

    What you’ve written here is very helpful.

  2. Monica,

    Thank you for sharing your thoughtful perspective about human feelings, pain and our reactions to painful feelings…I completely agree with you and overcame my impulsive eating and dieting years ago using an approach similar to what you describe here. I will share your perspective with others…I think it is very encouraging, non-judgemental…and that it will truly help people move beyond some difficult reactions…

    Thanks again

  3. Monica, I notice that you already have blogged again, and just want to add my comment that all this language is right on target. The comments so far show how it strikes a natural chord and works right in stride with what others are continuing to learn in their terms and at their own pace. I see a connection that I appreciate to the Socratic paradox, that is, that no one does wrong except in ignorance, and find your formulation in regards to self-help particular cogent. Yes, let’s have the same standard for ourselves as for others, give ourselves the same breaks that we are willing to give others, and show the common conside ration that we also need. In this wise sense in which compassionate understanding applies as you have worked it out.

  4. Monica I am enjoying your posts and comments. I was put on antidepressants for chronic pain 6 years ago. It made a huge difference in my life. It changed my perception of the pain but I lost a lot of myself. My creativity diminished and i had a very flat emotional state. The anxieties I suffered all my life were gone. Still, this Spring past it seemed to now be working anymore and my doctor wanted to up the meds. I refused. I hated taking meds which is why I only relented to the psychs in my late 40’s because the pain and sadness seemed unbearable. I decided to come off them. It was horrors. I tapered but still had the usual withdrawal. I cried all the time which felt good actually, to feel again.
    My back pain is far worse now and I miss the bliss and energy I once felt on meds. I also have existential death anxiety and repetitive mortality and illness thoughts. I can’t stand long enough to finish a painting and doing chores is near impossible. I am sure those meds did something to the wiring in my brain. I am trying to take a proactive approach to my health but exercise makes it worse. I’ll be reading more of your work in hopes if discovering new methods. Cheers