Repost: On Dealing with Emotional Extremes

I’m getting older.  We all are.  Of course, as we age, we lose things.  For example, because I’m older and injured my knee playing competitive sports when I was a young guy, I can no longer jog without having significant pain afterwards.  That sucks, but I’m fine with that limitation and loss.

It’s not all bad news though.  I’m gaining things too.  For example, I think I’ve got a few things figured out about life that used to befuddle me.

For one, I’ve learned the value of keeping an even keel as often as possible.  I try not to allow myself to slip into extreme emotional states, or when I do, to keep them in proper perspective.  Of course, as I’ve written in many other places, I’m very much influenced by the Stoics who teach that wisdom and happiness can come to those who realize that impermanence is the natural order of things.  Nothing—including life itself—lasts forever. 

When I do get extremely angry or frustrated, I remind myself that this state won’t last forever.  It’s hard to remember that “this too shall pass” in the heat of the moment.  Anger and frustration are like fire.  They inflame us and can become conflagrations.  It’s hard to remain coolly rational and clear-headed when you are on fire.  Anger feels like an emotional emergency.  It’s hard to be calm in such situations, but most think that calmness is a valuable trait to have. 

It is extremely dangerous to use your voice when you’re burning with anger.  The words spoken during such situations are likely to be the sort that send heat outwards, towards others.  By the way, it is a misnomer to say that some person or something has made us mad.  In fact, anger is merely a type of reaction.  If you can remain cool and calm when someone or something has “done you wrong,” everyone benefits.  Keeping your head allows you to see that you have choices.  You can walk away from an angry situation or keep your mouth closed.  You may want to lash out, but in the long run, you’re likely to regret allowing such an extreme emotional state to take full control of you.  You should try to control your anger rather than letting it control you.  The moment you allow the latter to happen is the instant you become an object rather than a subject.

I love to experience extreme happiness and such.  But I’ve found that I can appreciate these positive feelings more if I remember that they won’t last forever.  Such a realization focuses my attention and allows me to be fully in the moment.  One needs to be prepared for a giddy kind of happiness to wane.  Knowing the end is coming gives you the opportunity to savor the experience more profoundly.

Extreme anger, giddiness, frustration, sadness—all of these can affect judgment.  When you are feeling overly emotional, it’s best to wait until the sensation passes before making a firm decision about an important matter or taking action, especially if it’s likely to have significant repercussions.  Decisions made or actions taken during such states are likely to be flawed and can come with regrets.  I’m not suggesting that you should live like an unfeeling robot or that you should ignore your “gut.”  On the contrary, being able to keep things in perspective helps you experience the emotion fully while realizing that all things end.  Once they’ve passed, try to establish a kind of emotional equilibrium.

The sea you travel on can occasionally become quite wild and choppy, but that doesn’t mean you have to let it capsize you.

Thank you for reading, and I look forward to seeing your reactions.

17 thoughts on “Repost: On Dealing with Emotional Extremes

  1. A wonderful post, which I must bear in mind the next time anger has me frothing at the mouth. 😉 I love this – “The sea you travel on can occasionally become quite wild and choppy, but that doesn’t mean you have to let it capsize you.”

    1. Hi. I need to continually remind myself of this too. I find that giving things a little time works wonders. I hope that I’m getting a little better at keeping things in perspective as I get older. Thanks, friend, for the nice comment.

  2. I’ve always needed to work hard at remaining calm in enraging situations, so I can relate to what you’re saying. I also understand the frustration that a serious knee injury early in life brings. A long run was my favourite way of calming myself down, and it was difficult to adapt to life without that option.

    1. Did you have a knee injury as a young person? After tearing my ACL, I didn’t realize the injury was so severe so I didn’t have it repaired or even looked at by a doctor. That oversight ended up having negative repercussions going forward. Years ago I was told that I would eventually need an artificial knee. I’m likely approaching the time for that ultimate surgery now. I wish you all the best with your knee woes. Thanks for sharing your story.

  3. I struggle with feelings of anger and temper, and I can go from calm to hot in a snap. For me, it’s mostly due to c-PTSD.

    I also like the Stoics, and the philosophies have been helpful. “The Good Life Handbook” is cheap and brilliant. Everyone should have one.

    I struggle to accept the ball of anger that lives inside. It seems to me I should be able to force its absence. Ironic, I suppose.

    I think I’ll be less quick tempered when I can finally empty it, but that’s a process that’s taking years. To be fair, it also took years to fill the anger well.

    1. Hi, Michelle. I wish you well as you continue to work on that anger. I have a tendency to flare up as well. It’s the lucky person who has gone through life without facing a warping sort of trauma. In my case, ageing helps a lot. Now that I’ve gotten older, it’s just too emotionally and physically taxing to hold on to anger when it comes. So I just wait for it to pass, and it always does pass. Thanks for sharing your story.

  4. I like how you point out that even the good times won’t last forever- and that makes it even more important for us to treasure and appreciate them. Nice article Troy!

    1. Thanks, Todd. Nothing lasts forever. That’s one of the most important lessons the Stoics give us. The high highs and the low lows come and go. I always try to keep things right in the middle. The operative word is “try.” We’re all just trying our best when it comes right down to it.

  5. I’m a fan of this post. I can relate to moments of anger, and when I have acted on that anger through my words, and how those words can affect relationships that we cherish in the long run. It was nice to hear that it is natural. I feel as if social media tends to take away from the aspects that make people real, and I forget that we are all humans with real emotions.

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