Your Emotions Don't Care About You

Why your emotions can betray you and don't have your best interests in mind.

Posted Feb 06, 2019

Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock
Source: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

Most of us have heard it said that people are emotional beings. With few exceptions, we experience a range of emotions on a daily basis. We wake up with them, and we go to sleep with them at night. Sometimes we experience strong emotions that scream out to us to give them our attention and spur us to action. Your emotions tell you that if you take action at their bidding, your pain will go away. You will feel less angry, no longer jealous, and no longer anxious or feeling abandoned. Or that, if you heed their call, you will realize pleasure and passion like you have never known.

But how many times have you heard of someone destroying themselves and their families and children in the interest of quenching an insatiable longing. And how many of you have expressed your anger only to have your anger and conflict intensified; or demanded reassurances or made accusations or tried to hold on to someone only to have your worst fears of abandonment realized? “Why?” you ask yourself.

The reason is: Your emotions don't care about you.

Many of us feel our emotions so strongly that they seem undeniable, and we accept them as truth. Yet, emotions are only our body’s way of providing us with data about the world around us. If we were acting as scientists, we would take the time to evaluate that data and make logical conclusions based on our analysis. And yet, many of us act on our emotions with little question. We seem to assume that our emotions care about us and want us to be happy. Yet that is far from the truth. Your emotions just want to keep you alive and reproducing. That is their purpose.

Your anxiety, for example, wants to keep you alert for threats and ready to take quick action. And if you take that action, you may very well make the situation worse and end up sad, depressed, and grief stricken. But for anxiety, the trade is worth it. You are alive. Its mantra is, “Better safe than sorry.”

Similarly, your anger tells you that there is an obstacle in your way or a threat that needs to be eliminated. And if you heed its call and hurt someone you love, or ruin a friendship, or otherwise suffer the consequences as a result of the damage you reap, your anger will say it was worth it. You are alive. Better safe than sorry.

And your romantic jealousy . . . it wants you to hold on to your heart’s desire, if only for one more night. As long as you have a chance of reproducing, for jealousy that is enough. It doesn’t care about the long-term health of your relationship, or if you are alone and heartbroken tomorrow. For the one night, it's worth it.

Now, many of you reading this article will tell yourselves that there is no way you can, or should, ignore your emotions. Don’t fear; that is not what I am recommending. I am, however, suggesting that you:

Use your emotions for their intended purpose — to provide you with data about the environment, pieces of information to help you make good decisions.

Now, if it was any other measuring device, and you needed to be sure you were making quality decisions, you would test the reliability and accuracy of your instruments. If your scale was overly sensitive, you would dial it back to get an accurate measurement. If your thermometer gave a false reading and said it was hotter than it was, you would make an adjustment and read it as several degrees lower.

Check the reliability of your emotional systems, and assess if they are giving you accurate readings.

If your anxiety is stronger than a situation calls for, remember this for the next time and read it as indicating a lesser degree of threat. If your anger runs hot, then assume that the interpersonal weather is actually more fair. If your desire is so strong that you would do anything to satiate it, remember that there is more than one place or one time to get a meal.

If your emotions are not well calibrated, then you will want to take more than one measurement.

Except in life and death situations, there is rarely a time in modern society where you have to take immediate action.

Delay action, and take another measurement on a different occasion.

If you are so angry that you sit and write a long email letting someone know how they wronged you and what you think, delay action and don’t send it. Ask yourself, If I don’t take action now, at this very moment, will anything change? The answer will usually be no. And if you wait and take a measurement of your anger the next day, and it is lower, then you know that it was mis-calibrated. You may even wait another day and measure it again. And then, once you have an accurate gauge of your true level of anger and the situation, you may just choose not to send that email after all.

Remember, loving yourself and holding yourself in high regard can sometimes mean tolerating your own negative emotions, not giving them more weight than they deserve, and then making good decisions for the longer-term health and happiness of your life and the lives of others.