Emotions! Bubbling, prodding and disrupting as they sometimes are, often fail to penetrate consciousness. Feeling affects push us to act in confusing ways. Emotionally confused we get off track. Unrecognized emotions influence behavior. Under the cover of darkness, feeling affects twist and turn, moving the body, responding to calls for action. Emotions, chemical changes in biological systems, motivate behavior. Whether we clearly know what we are feeling or not. Many feeling affects are small, failing to push us from our homeostatic balance enough to consciously register. The emotions lurking in the unseen world influence behavior by creating inclinations towards one action or another.
Notable limitations of the brain interfere with human flourishing. Our Bodies function—breathing, pumping blood, and metabolizing—without the aid of conscious direction. Evidently, our ancestors functioned and survived before the evolutionary arrival of consciousness. Consciousness possesses limited resources, focusing on the most salient experiences, emotional blasts of fear, anger, happiness or sorrow.
Even well practiced mindfulness misses much; mindfulness is being aware of more. Unseen bodily changes continue to direct behaviors; we often act first and only then cognitively justify the action in words that our slower conscious mind can grasp.
When life is painful (lost love, shame, survival struggles), we soothingly use words to proclaim victimhood, dodging responsibility. We feel some vindication for the disappointments, escaping the regret of acknowledging that our ill-conceived choice contributed to the failure. Yet, often the driving force moving the disappointing action is unseen and confusing emotions. As Spinoza puts it, “men believe themselves free because they are conscious of their own actions and ignorant of the causes by which they are determined…”
We Have Power to Direct Our Lives
We’re not puppets to rivers of emotions motivating action without the moderation of thought—at least we don’t have to be. Biology endowed us with resources that aids us in creating change. We are empowered to change the circumstances of our lives. Our powerful cortex soaks up memories, creates a web of associations, and establishes new wisdom from each new exposure.
We invite healthier futures by magnifying areas of control. Our destinies are not determined by unmanageable forces. The process proceeding action has complex causes; but reasoned thought exists and participates within the complexity.
Hidden motivations dilute the purity of choices; cloaked biases lurk beneath conscious recognition influencing behaviors. We must accept these as givens of the human mind and account for their presence. Accordingly, we should stand with glorious complexity, embracing it’s magnificent with awe or get lost in the dizzying chaos of emotional confusion.
“We are endowed with powers of will that can invoke changes.”~ T. Franklin Murphy
Some Confusion Always Exists
Life never is completely clear. If it appears all the answers our obvious then something is being blocked. We are missing large swatches of the cloth. We may employ rational words to hide irrational actions. However, we may think we got it figured out but in reality we are confused. When life goes well, we have a secure base where we find safety, we may create coherent meaning out of the confusion. However, as Michael Eigen writes “I doubt that the psyche is ever free of mix-up, confusion, contamination, spill-over” (2019, location 2,238)
We may never expose emotionally driven behaviors. The present may not make sense. Remnants of trauma stuck in the crevasses of our mind emotionally confuse us. We see danger where no danger exists. . The forgotten past lives on, confusing our lives. However, Occasional glances into our souls enlighten our minds. We will never successfully unearth all the confusion. Some biological processes will always function independent of consciousness. Confusing unconscious functions continue to interact with the outside world, arousing our system, and motivating protective action.
Untangling the Confusion
Effective living requires acceptance of the reality of our biological systems—not every biological function is ideal. We live within biological trade-offs that bless and curse our existence. Our wonderful brains have a few hitches that emotionally confuse. Some hitches hinder conscious goal achievement.
Robert Elias Najemy suggests that confusion is the first step in growth. He explains, “over and over again, these three states flow through our being. First we are restless and confused, or in conflict. Then we make an effort toward growth or change. Finally, we experience the satisfaction of success in that effort.” He continues, “in order to achieve inner peace, we must accept all three states (restlessness, effort, satisfaction) as equally necessary in our evolutionary progress” ( 2001, p. 39).
When life fails to meet expectations, it’s not necessarily the fault of a cruel world—our own action may be the cause. The mispredicted events sparks confusion and emotional discomfort. How we respond is our opportunity for expansion. The troubles that repeatedly beset us may be just consequences to our own behaviors. Examining personal behaviors as possible causes, rather than complaining about triggering events and terrible others, often enlightens a path that will resolve the vexing pain.
“It’s through challenging your thoughts and beliefs about yourself that you can change your emotional reactions.”Susan Krauss Whitbourne Ph.D.
When Dreams Go Off Course
Even through great enlightenments, our bodies will continue to operate on auto-pilot, freeing resources for cognitive attention in other areas of survival. Biology, culture and experience prepare us for success—sometimes. But when dreams go off course—as they often will—we can blame the wayward winds, or adjust our vessels’ sails, realigning life with our desired intentions.
Practices in meditation and reflection bring deeper awareness. Examining past reactions unearths hidden beliefs and misguided biases that provoke misaligned emotions. These small practices of mindfulness and reflection identify unconscious processes holding us hostage. With consistency, patience, and skill, we learn better alternatives, identify goal destroying behaviors and adjust.
In the calmness of the mind, and patience of routine inspection, we learn much more than the obvious, seeing pieces previously hidden. It is here, in the light of knowledge, that rational thought can join forces and influence change.
Eigen, Michael (2019). Toxic Nourishment. Routledge; 1st edition.
Najemy, Robert Elias (2001). The Psychology of Happiness: Understanding Our Selves and Others. Holistic Harmony Publishers; 4th edition.