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Marcus Huggins Instructor: Malcolm Campbell English 1102 October 31, 2013
Emotions: How much control do we actually have over them?
Splat. The boy watched as his strawberry ice cream—his favorite—slowly fell to the ground after being bumped by a passing stranger. A strong feeling of displeasure, also known as anger, builds within the boy. This feeling of anger is one of the many emotions that people can experience. However, what if another person was in the same situation but did not have a strong taste for strawberry ice cream? Would it have the same effect on them? With this in mind, The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language defines emotion as a mental state that arises spontaneously rather than through conscious effort—often accompanied by physiological changes (―Emotion‖). In other words, emotions are specific reactions to a particular event that are usually of fairly short duration. Looking at the two instances described above, emotions are dependent to the specific individual. With that being said, can we not choose how to react to that certain situation? What if, instead of moping around all day and feeling anger about the ice cream, the boy decides to go play his favorite sport and feel enjoyment? This leads me to ask myself ―Do we have control over our emotions? If so, how much control do we actually have over our emotions?‖ The human mind is one of the most complex phenomenon in existence. It never ceases to amaze me how unpredictable and unique the mind is. One aspect in particular that interests me is human emotion. How we experience emotion can be broken into two parts: what happens
physically and what happens psychologically within the brain. From a physical standpoint, between each of the ten billion neurons in the cortex of the brain, there are neurotransmitters— chemical messengers—that transmit thought from one cell to the next. This communication of brain cells is how people experience emotion and feelings. After any event, the brain processes this event and decides what emotion to generate in response to that event using neurotransmitters in the brain. How people feel and experience emotion is dictated by the amount of specific neurotransmitters that are in the brain at that moment (―The Neuro Link‖). From a psychological standpoint, Dr. James W. Kalat defines emotion as a combination of cognitions, feelings, and actions (344). Moreover, this asserts that emotions are not strictly based on our feelings, but also how we interpret and react to those feelings. Therefore, if our emotions are based also on how we interpret and react to those feelings, does that mean we have some sense of control over our emotions? In Dr. Jeremy Sherman’s article ―Total Control vs. No Control Theory of Emotions: Can You Control Your Emotions or Not,‖ he explores two major theories on controlling emotion: Total Control Theory and No Control Theory (Sherman). He starts his article with a story about a person being insulted and becoming angry, but instead of acting rashly, the person bites his tongue and acts level-minded. Sherman uses this scenario to point out that ―emotions aren’t fixed facts; they’re flexible.‖ He goes on to say that ―It's all in how you interpret your situation. Tell a different story and you'll automatically generate a different emotional response.‖ Does this mean that we can control our emotions? With this in mind, Sherman explores both theories of ―total control‖ versus ―no control‖ over our emotions. Total Control Theory of emotions is based on the position that people have the power to control their emotions, that they can ―stop feeling this way‖ and ―start feeling this way.‖ This basically implies that negative emotions can be replaced
with positive emotions. In comparison, No Control Theory is based on the position that ―You feel what you feel and there's nothing you or anyone can do about it.‖ Sherman compares this theory with a thermometer; that ―…emotions are like thermometer readings. There's one emotion per instant. You can read it out loud or not, but it is what it is.‖ Well, which theory is the right? Can we or can’t we control our emotions? Sherman concludes his article with the point that we are neither emotionally omnipotent nor impotent, and that there must be an alternative theory that satisfies all aspects of emotion. He states that we have some power over our emotions and that ―In any situation, some emotions are harder to access no matter how much you change your story or behavior.‖ One increasingly popular topic in the control of emotion is Emotional Intelligence (EI). ―When it comes to happiness and success in life, emotional intelligence (EQ) matters just as much as intellectual ability (IQ),‖ states Dr. Jeanne Segal and Dr. Melinda Smith in their article ―Emotional Intelligence.‖ They define emotional intelligence as ―the ability to identify, use, understand, and manage emotions in positive ways to relieve stress, communicate effectively, empathize with others, overcome challenges, and defuse conflict.‖ Author, Psychologist, and science journalist Daniel Goleman states that there are five components of maintaining emotional intelligence (Goleman). These five components are: self-awareness, self-regulation, social skill, empathy, and motivation. Self-awareness is the ability to know ones emotions and recognize their impacts on others. Self-regulation involves controlling one’s disruptive emotions and impulses. With these five aspects, being aware of your own emotions and how they make you feel, emotional intelligence allows one to control or regulate how the feel or react to a certain situation.
Furthermore, there are some other factors that can influence a person’s emotions. From the physical standpoint of how emotions are generated mentioned earlier, the types of transmitters change regularly between cells in your brain to meet the needs of your current circumstance; however, factors such as stress and certain genetic disorders can cause neurotransmitter depletion. This depletion can lead to negative emotions such as depression, irritability, anxiety, etc. In all actuality, counteracting emotions is actually possible. To counteract your emotions, or ―gain control,‖ a person must first understand how they typically would respond to a certain situation. Understanding your emotions will allow you to understand what actions or ―events‖ that could be conducted in order to nullify or control the certain emotion. Furthermore, by changing your emotions at a certain instance can ultimately change your mood, or long-term emotions. After a certain event, begin by ask yourself why you are feeling that certain way and accept that you’re feeling this way. Then, with an understanding of your emotions, create an ―event‖ or do something that would counteract this emotion. For example, say that I failed a test and was extremely angry afterwards. To begin counteracting this emotion, I first begin by realizing that I’m mad and asking myself ―Why do I feel so angry?‖ After understanding it is because I did not study for the test I can then counteract this emotion of anger by doing something that would create an emotion of happiness or enjoyment. So, I tell myself that I will study hard for the next test, and go play basketball outside because that is one of my favorite sports. This ultimately changes my initial emotion of anger into enjoyment. Understanding what caused my emotion and coming up with a counter-event lead to altering, or in some sense, controlling how I was feeling.
Other factors that have an effect on emotions, which cause neurotransmitter depletion, include genetics, stress, and an insufficient diet. Genetics can have an effect on the amount of neurotransmitters in the brain if a person’s genetic makeup is responsible for low, high, or balanced levels of transmitters from birth. Stress also plays a big part in neurotransmitter depletion by depleting positive emotion neurotransmitters. Diet is also an important aspect of depletion in which neurotransmitters are created by certain amino acids. If these certain amino acids aren’t sufficient, it becomes difficult, or nearly impossible for the brain to restore neurotransmitter amounts to the proper level. So does this mean we have control, in some aspects, of our emotions? Although people may not be able to fully control their emotions, peoples emotions can be controlled, or altered, using certain methods and by maintaining a substantial diet. By understanding one’s emotions and creating counter-events to counteract that emotion, people can change their initial emotion.
Works Cited "Emotion." The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2009. TheFreeDictionary.com. Web. 17 Oct. 2013. ―The Neuro Link – Neurotransmitters.‖ NeuroGenesis Inc. Advanced Marketing, 2013. Web. 17 Oct. 2013. Daniel, Goleman. "What Makes A Leader." Harvard Business Review. 01 2004: n. page. Web. 18 Oct. 2013. Kalat, James W. Biological Psychology. 10th ed. Stamford: Cengage Learning, 2008. 344-346. Web. 24 Oct. 2013. Segal , Jeanne, and Melinada Smith. "Emotional Intelligence (EQ)." HelpGuide.org. 03 2013 n. page. Web. 31 Oct. 2013.
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