Y’Think? — Hulking Out!
By Alex Alexander
You know about the Incredible Hulk, don’t you? He’s the gigantic, green man from the comic books and movies. His defining characteristic is intense, red-hot, violent anger. Emotion rules him. Violence is his first instinct; yet, in the middle of his insane violence, there is always a hint of compassion. He doesn’t attack the innocent or helpless. Somehow, even while awash in all-consuming anger, there’s a spark of sanity within him that recognizes when to destroy and when not to destroy.
The Incredible Hulk is a caricature of you and me. Every now and then, we all get overwhelmed by our emotions. We lose control and act erratically. We “Hulk out.”
Malcolm Gladwell, in his blockbuster book “Blink,” says this about emotions: “Have you ever tried to have a discussion with an angry or frightened human being? You can’t do it. You might as well try to argue with your dog. Arousal leaves us mind-blind.”
It’s not just anger and fear that blind us. Grief, resentment, frustration, anxiety, envy, jealousy and a host of other subtle and not-so-subtle emotions can disrupt our thinking and self-control. Even feelings we might not normally think of as emotions can distort our thinking.
For instance, apathy and hopelessness are low-energy emotions, but they can have a powerful impact. And, of course, positive emotions such as love, joy, exuberance, infatuation and anticipation can make us feel like we’re not ourselves (because we’re not).
You’ve seen others behave oddly when they’re in the grip of these emotions and, if you’re honest, you’ll have to admit that you’ve been there yourself … more than once, I’ll bet. I know I have. The Incredible Hulk is known for his anger, but Hulking out can be caused by any strong emotion.
The mind scientists tell us that emotions well up from our unconscious minds in response to the situations in which we find ourselves. They arise instantly, or build up gradually, but they catch us before we consciously think about what we’re doing.
It was useful in primitive times to feel sudden fear of a saber-toothed tiger and flee from it, or feel anger and fight it, rather than becoming curious and investigating it. Even in modern times there are occasions when fighting or fleeing, or even hiding, make a lot of sense. But, normally, for us modern homo sapiens, when we feel strong emotions, it’s better if we can learn to think before we act when our emotions take over.
That’s the secret: think before acting, even when your unconscious mind wants you to attack, run away or hide out in withdrawal. The trick is to learn to engage your conscious mind, even when emotions overwhelm you, so that, like the Incredible Hulk, you can do the right thing rather than the impulsive thing, the dumb thing. To do that, you need to create a new habit of mind.
If you read my previous column, you already know about this habit of mind. I called it the “2Q” habit because you simply ask yourself two questions: (1) What’s real (what are the facts)? and (2) What are the possibilities (what are the ways I could deal with this situation)?
If you have the presence of mind to ask yourself these two questions while awash in your emotions, you’ll interrupt your automatic, unconscious emotion-driven responses and overlay them with conscious thinking. It’s hard to do. You have to be alert to your own mind-blindness.
Fortunately, like the Hulk, we all retain that little “spark of sanity” even when we’re in emotional overwhelm. It’s that little spark that alerts you so that you can interrupt your emotions and ask yourself the two questions. Answering the questions puts your attention on the reality of the situation and engages your conscious thinking. You’ll find that your emotions will ease and rational thinking will put you in a better place. Like the Hulk, you’ll shift from destruction to something less hurtful.
You need to learn to pay attention to your emotions as if you were an uninvolved observer. Notice them while they’re happening and learn how to see and hear what needs to be seen and heard in spite of the emotion.
The experts say you shouldn’t try to suppress your emotions because you’re not really getting rid of them, you’re just pretending they’re not affecting you, and behaving outwardly as if there were no emotion. Psychiatrists tell us that suppressing emotions leads to longer term consequences, such as poor health, prolonged stress and other unpleasant effects.
Nor should you try to ignore your emotions, because the very fact that you have them indicates that something important (to you) is happening and the fact that others are emotional indicates that something important (to them) is happening. You need to find out about that “something important” and deal with that, not the emotion. You need to deal with the reality of the situation.
I still Hulk out occasionally but I’m learning to de-Hulk myself. I don’t expect my emotions to let go of me, and I don’t think I want them to. They’re too valuable. But sometimes they need to be managed in a way that won’t bring harm or hard feelings to myself or others. I’m getting better at that.
Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.