POP! You just had an accident. The negative emotions that have been silently building up exploded and this communicates a message you would otherwise ignore.
I just fell from the skateboard. I started walking back home crying from pain. Half-way through, I discovered that falling on my butt made an actual huge cut in my favorite jeans. As I was figuring out how to cover up, I couldn’t stop crying from the pain that didn’t seem to be just physical. So when I finally limped home, I posed the question: “Why did I fall?” and “Why did I use the chance to cry in an uncontrolled way?”
Pressing the brake too fast produces the fall. Other variables are irrelevant, as it was a perfectly normal day, perfectly empty road that I ride multiple times every day. However, there are psychological reasons for making me push the button too fast. I am thinking of Robert Sapolsky's framework of decisions, which breaks down the evolutionary history behind any decision.
“What occurred in the prior second that triggered the behavior? This is the province of the nervous system. What occurred in the prior seconds to minutes that triggered the nervous system to produce that behavior? This is the world of sensory stimuli, much of it sensed unconsciously. What occurred in the prior hours to days to change the sensitivity of the nervous system to such stimuli? Acute actions of hormones. And so on, all the way back to the evolutionary pressures played out over the prior millions of years that started the ball rolling.”
The prior seconds before the fall are almost uncontrollable. The hours and days are where I can make a difference in my decisions. Looking back, I realize there was a build-up of negative emotions, big and small in the previous days. They deranged me emotionally and put me in a less controlling state.
The skateboard fall is a clear example of the level of emotional control directly affecting the falling rate. Falling produces strong physical cues communicating emotional needs that would otherwise be easy to ignore. The potentially deathly stakes of a skateboard accident, make the problem of preventatively addressing negative emotions acute:
Learn to read your cues before your inner system makes it so obvious to you that you have to attend to.
I take it as a rule that negative emotions never just go away: they might be overridden but not erased until resolved. So feeling bad about X a couple of days ago doesn’t get removed by having fun yesterday. Feeling bad is a sign of inconsistency in what happens with what you want. Although I feel better after “fun”, it is likely that a similar situation that caused bad feeling will arise again and again, until resolved. So when a bunch of those bad feelings accumulate and are unresolved, they need to find some kind of outlet to let me know that I need to resolve them.
So when I was crying and walking back, I had to figure out what was going on. It made me think of the larger trends within this semester and the more immediate negative experiences of the past days that built me up to this. Ideally, I would catch my cues when they happen, attend to the situation, and thus avoid the painful POP accident.
They can be minuscule and unimportant, huge, or irrelevant but the pesky “feeling bads” always find their way out. The more intentional you are with resolving them, the better and safer you will be.
My butt continues to hurt throughout this past week, reminding me of the importance of this concept. However, there was more to my tears... In the next post, I will share how I found out what it actually was.