Your Mind and How to Use It

Chapter XI

The Emotions

As we have seen in the preceding lessons, an emotion is the more complex phase of feeling. As a rule an emotion arises from a number of feelings. Moreover, it is of a higher order of mental activity. As we have seen, a feeling may arise either from a physical sensation or from an idea. Emotion, however, as a rule, is dependent upon _an idea_ for its expression, and always upon an idea for its direction and its continuance. Feeling, of course, is the elemental spirit of all emotional states, and, as an authority has said, is the thread upon which the emotional states are strung.

Halleck says: “When representative ideas appear, the feeling in combination with them produces emotion. After the waters of the Missouri combine with another stream, they receive a different name, although they flow toward the gulf in as great volume as before. Suppose we liken the feeling due to sensation to the Missouri River; the train of representative ideas to the Mississippi before its junction with the Missouri. Emotion may then be likened to the Mississippi _after_ its junction–after feeling has combined with representative ideas. The emotional stream will not be broader and deeper than before. This analogy is employed only to make the distinction clearer. The student must remember that mental powers are never actually as distinct as two rivers before their union. * * * The student must beware of thinking that we have done with feeling when we consider emotion. Just as the waters of the Missouri flow on until they reach the gulf, so does feeling run through every emotional state.” In the above analogy the term “representative ideas,” of course, means the ideas of memory and imagination as explained in previous chapters.

There is a close relation between emotion and the physical expression thereof–a peculiar mutual action and reaction between the mental state and the physical action accompanying it. Psychologists are divided regarding this relation. One school holds that the physical expression follows and results from the mental state. For instance, we hear or see something, and thereupon experience the feeling or emotion of anger. This emotional feeling reacts upon the body and causes an increased heart beat, a tight closing of the lips, a frown and lowered eyebrows, and clinched fists. Or we may perceive something which causes the feeling or emotion of fear, which reacts upon the body and produces pallor, raising of the hair, dropping of the jaw, opening of the eyelids, trembling of the legs, etc. According to this school, and the popular idea, the mental state precedes and causes the physical expression.

But another school of psychology, of which the late Prof. William James is a leading authority, holds that the physical expression precedes and causes the mental state. For instance, in the cases above cited, the perception of the anger-causing or fear-causing sight first causes a reflex action upon the muscles, according to inherited race habits of expression. This muscular expression and activity, in turn, is held to react upon the mind and to cause the feeling or emotion of anger or fear, as the case may be. Professor James, in some of his works, makes a forcible argument in support of this theory, and his opinions have influenced the scientific thought of the day upon this subject. Others, however, have sought to combat his theory by equally forcible argument, and the subject is still under lively and spirited discussion in psychological circles.

Without taking sides in the above controversy, many psychologists proceed upon the hypothesis that there is a mutual action and reaction between emotional mental states and the appropriate physical expression thereof, each in a measure being the cause of the other, and each likewise being the effect of the other. For instance, in the cases above cited, the perception of the anger-producing or fear-producing sight causes, almost or quite simultaneously, the emotional mental state of anger or fear, as the case may be, and the physical expression thereof. Then rapidly ensues a series of mental and physical reactions. The mental state acts upon the physical expression and intensifies it. The physical expression in turn reacts upon the mental state and induces a more intense degree of the emotional feeling. And so on, until the mental state and physical expression reach their highest point and then begin to subside from exhaustion of energy. This middle-ground conception meets all the requirements of the facts, and is probably more nearly correct than either extreme theory.

Darwin in his classic work, “The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals,” has thrown a great light on the subject of the expression of emotion in physical motions. The Florentine scientist, Paolo Mantegazza, added to Darwin’s work with ideas of his own and countless examples drawn from his own experience and observation. The work of Fran├žois Delsarte, the founder of the school of expression which bears his name, is also a most valuable addition to the thought on this subject. The subject of the relation and reaction between emotional feeling and physical expression is a most fascinating one, and one in which we may expect interesting and valuable discoveries during the next twenty years.

The relation and reaction above mentioned are interesting not only from the viewpoint of theory but also because of their practicable application in emotional development and training. It is an established truth of psychology that each physical expression of an emotional state serves to intensify the latter; it is pouring oil on the fire. Likewise, it is equally true that the repression of the physical expression of an emotion tends to restrain and inhibit the emotion itself.

Halleck says: “If we watch a person growing angry, we shall see the emotion increase as he talks loud, frowns deeply, clinches his fist, and gesticulates wildly. Each expression of his passion is reflected back upon the original anger and adds fuel to the fire. If he resolutely inhibits the muscular expressions of his anger, it will not attain great intensity, and it will soon die a quiet death. * * * Not without reason are those persons called cold blooded who habitually restrain as far as possible the expression of their emotion; who never frown or throw any feeling into their tones, even when a wrong inflicted upon some one demands aggressive measures. There is here no wave of bodily expression to flow back and augment the emotional state.”

In this connection we call your attention to the familiar and oft-quoted passage from the works of Prof. William James: “Refuse to express a passion and it dies. Count ten before venting your anger and its occasion seems ridiculous. Whistling to keep up courage is no mere figure of speech. On the other hand, sit all day in a moping posture, sigh and reply to everything with a dismal voice, and your melancholy lingers. There is no more valuable precept in moral education than this, as all who have experience know: If we wish to conquer undesirable emotional tendencies in ourselves, we must assiduously, and in the first instance cold-bloodedly, go through the outward movements of those contrary dispositions which we prefer to cultivate. Smooth the brow, brighten the eye, contract the dorsal rather than the ventral aspect of the frame, and speak in a major key, and your heart must be frigid indeed if it does not gradually thaw.”

Along the same lines Halleck says: “Actors have frequently testified to the fact that emotion will arise if they go through the appropriate muscular movements. In talking to a character on the stage, if they clinch the fists and frown, they often find themselves becoming really angry; if they start with counterfeit laughter, they find themselves growing cheerful. A German professor says that he cannot walk with a schoolgirl’s mincing step and air without feeling frivolous.”

The wise student will acquire a great control over his emotional nature if he will re-read and study the above statements and quotations until he has grasped their spirit and essence. In those few lines he is given a philosophy of self-control and self-mastery that will be worth much to him if he will but apply it in practice. Patience, perseverance, practice, and will are required, but the reward is great. Even to those who have not the persistency to apply this truth fully, there will be a partial reward if they will use it to the extent of restraining so far as possible any undue physical expression of undesirable emotional excitement.

Some writers seem to regard capacity for great emotional excitement and expression as a mark of a rich and full character or noble soul. This is far from being true. While it is a fact that the cultivation of certain emotions tends to create a noble character and a full life, it is equally true that the tendency to “gush” and indulge in hysterical or sentimental excesses is a mark of an ill-controlled nature and a weak, rather than strong, character. Moreover, it is a fact that excess in emotional excitement and expression tends toward the dissipation of the finer and nobler feelings which otherwise would seek an outlet in actual doing and practical action. In the language of the old Scotch engineer in the story, they are like the old locomotive which “spends sae much steam at the whustle that she hae nane left to gae by.”

Emotional excitement and expression are largely dependent upon habit and indulgence, although there is a great difference, of course, in the emotional nature and tendencies of various persons. Emotions, like physical actions or intellectual processes, become habitual by repetition. And habit renders all physical or mental actions easy of repetition. Each time one manifests anger, the deeper the mental path is made, and the easier it is to travel that path the next time. In the same way each time that anger is conquered and inhibited, the easier will it be to restrain it the next time. In the same way desirable habits of emotion and expression may be formed.

Another point in the cultivation, training, and restraint of the emotions is that which has to do with the control of the ideas which we allow to come into the mind. Ideative habits may be formed–_are_ formed, in fact, by the majority of persons. We may cultivate the habit of looking on the bright side of things; of looking for the best in those we meet; of expecting the best things instead of the worst. By resolutely refusing to give welcome to ideas calculated to arouse certain emotions, feelings, passions, desires, sentiments, or similar mental states, we may do much to prevent the arousing of the emotion itself. Emotions usually are called forth by some idea, and if we shut out the idea we may prevent the emotional feeling from appearing. In this connection the universal rule of psychology may be applied: _A mental state may be inhibited or restrained by turning the attention to the opposite mental state_.

The control of the attention is really the control of every mental state.

We may use the will in the direction of the control of the attention–the development and direction of voluntary attention–and thus actually control every phase of mental activity. The will is nearest to the ego, or central being of man, and the attention is the chief tool and instrument of the will. This fact cannot be repeated too often. If it is impressed upon the mind it will prove to be useful and valuable in many emergencies of mental life. He who controls his attention controls his mind, and in controlling his mind controls himself.

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