Developing a Tolerance to Negativity
Image credit: Casual Photophile
The writers and readers who participate in the discussions found on beBee provide such a great source of energy to think, learn, grow and succeed. And it’s all for free! How can not everyone be taking advantage of this great resource?
This buzz is a direct result of a buzz produced by @Ali Anani and a comment from @Harvey Lloyd.
Please look at the direction in which their ideas have propelled me and respond with your thoughts, insights and perspectives.
Discussion: Do negatives, in this case negative emotions, have any benefit or role in enabling us to function to our optimum?
In his buzz, The Positive Side of Negative Emotions, @Ali Anani states: “…separation thinking goes against nature because opposites co-exist.”
Dr. Ali provides a cornerstone in understanding how important it is to see the whole picture. If opposites co-exist, then engaging in only one side of things is preventing us from being completely functional; something is missing.
In one of my comments to Dr. Ali’s buzz I say, "Emotion is a label for feelings which are universally agreed upon but subjectively experienced."
@Harvey Lloyd responded to this comment by saying, “…the implications to self-awareness are meaningful…I can see the cognitive dissonance within the statement… Our universal understanding of "emotions" appears to be congruent. In reality or our own actions the understanding is different, the "duality".”
The three ideas that I am now carrying over from the buzz and comment are the following:
1. Separation goes against nature.
2. The concept of cognitive dissonance.
3. The duality: The communal sense of an emotion and the meaning that the individual gives to that emotion are not always congruent.
1. Opposites Do Not Exist; Opposites Are Created
In both our personal and professional lives, it is more
manageable to work with ideas, strategies, plans, goals, relationships,
feelings and so on, if we place them in an opposite:
Life/Death; Good/Evil; Right/Wrong; Pleasure/Pain; Love/Hate; Beautiful/Ugly; Rich/Poor; Success/Failure; to name just a few.
These states, however useful they are in organizing ourselves, do not exist; they have been created by us to help us make sense of who we are, in relation to others, and our environment.
Opposites, as adjectives, describe, “a position on the other or further side of something; diametrically different; of a contrary kind.” This adjective can be applied as a means to clarify a part of a whole but is not accurate if it is to define a place that is separate or distinct from another.
Embedded in this distinction and separation are formed judgments of good and bad, positive and negative. So one may determine that being in a state of anger is wrong and we should strive to be in a state of calm by giving meaning to anger as something bad, negative, or destructive and to calm as the better state, right and positive.
Image credit: Quantified Self
It is necessary to see this drive to compartmentalize, to create opposites, as a defense strategy gone wrong.
We have an innate drive towards homeostasis and balance. Somehow along the way, we associated this place of homeostasis as one in which we are comfortable. Therefore, anything that causes a sense of discomfort must be avoided or negated. This is man-made, not found in nature. The process of homeostasis is a dynamic one; only by experiencing a state of disequilibrium can we then make choices of where to go or what action to take in order to help us move towards equilibrium. In a way, we can say that we can’t achieve equilibrium without knowing how to tolerate and work with the disequilibrium. Because the two states coexist, we need to learn how to be in that tension of coexistence. Maybe if we would re-frame how we see emotions, we would feel comfortable in the tension and uncomfortable being in one state of emotion without its “other side”.
2. This is where cognitive dissonance takes place.
I have taken the following key aspects of cognitive dissonance from the discussion found on Wikipedia:
“In psychology, cognitive dissonance is the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time; performs an action that is contradictory to their beliefs, ideas, or values; or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas or values.
Leon Festinger's theory of cognitive dissonance focuses on how humans strive for internal consistency. An individual who experiences inconsistency tends to become psychologically uncomfortable, and is motivated to try to reduce this dissonance, as well as actively avoid situations and information likely to increase it.
The amount of dissonance produced by two conflicting cognitions or actions (as well as the subsequent psychological distress) depends on two factors:
1. The importance of cognitions: The more the elements are personally valued, the greater the magnitude of the dissonant relationship.
2. Ratio of cognitions: The proportion of dissonant to consonant elements.”
A classic example of cognitive dissonance is the following:
An individual holds the belief that lying is wrong and finds her/himself in a situation where s/he is being forced to lie.
First, what is important to highlight is that the individual finds her/himself in a situation in which s/he feels out of control, this will determine the outcome. The emotions and feelings attached to being out of control will determine the level of discomfort and the degree of dissonance taking place and based on that, the individual will choose how to respond. If s/he feels that it is necessary to lie, rather than not lying, the individual will change her or his attitude by claiming that s/he believes in the lie.
3. How do we experience emotion?
Antonio D’Amasio describes the relationship between emotions and feelings in the following way:
“Feelings are mental experiences of body states, which arise as the brain interprets emotions, themselves physical states arising from the body’s responses to external stimuli. (The order of such events is: I am threatened, experience fear, and feel horror.)”
Whereas emotions communicate through the body information that we need to know in order to protect ourselves, feelings are mental associations and reactions to emotions. We give feelings subjective meanings based on our experiences. This process of assigning meanings involves cognitive input. More often than not, this input is experienced on a subconscious level.
The duality between communal meaning and individual meaning of emotions occurs when the meaning assigned to the emotion is different. The community can agree to the basic meanings of emotions; what makes the community safe. But as individuals, the meaning of what makes us safe involves many more variables based on individual experiences and these variables are all sensory based. So if we experience an emotion in our body as a result of a smell identified with a threatening situation, we will feel threatened in a way that has no connection with the communal meaning of threat. As a community responds positively to a ritual involving that smell, the individual experiences a negative reaction. How the individual will respond and behave to that ritual is based on the process of cognitive dissonance related to our level of comfort in being in that tense state.
Awareness of this dynamic process which goes on all the time and in every environment is crucial in determining how we relate to ourselves, others and our environment.
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A clinical example:
In my work as a therapist, I consider the therapy room, the materials I use and my engagement with the individual or group as the structuring of a container. When I use music listening, the instrumental music is the container within which the work will take place next. The structure of the music; a clear beginning, middle and end, determines the boundaries of the container. The size of the container is determined by the complexity of the musical elements found in the piece; how many melodic “voices” (all instrumental) are used, how many instruments, how many changes in harmony, tempo and rhythm, all influence the size and space of the music container within which the therapy work will take place. All elements factor into the tension held within the container and experienced by the individual or the group. Within the music structure there are built-in resolutions to these tensions, resolutions which are anticipated by the listeners. It is the ability to anticipate the resolution that enables the listener to tolerate the tension.
A business example:
As a team leader, it is my responsibility to present as much information and lay down as clear a structure as possible. If I want to challenge by team members to creatively find resolutions to company problems, the message has to be that my expectation is in the effort of the process, not in a final product. The members have to feel that they have room to maneuver but that there is support at the ready. The team members need to feel that the work is not focused on success or failure but in coming up with as many options as possible. In other words, to enable each team member to hold the tension related to the project rather to any inferred messages of risk taking.
Image credit: Keyword Suggestions
No man has the right to dictate what other men should perceive, create or produce, but all should be encouraged to reveal themselves, their perceptions and emotions, and to build confidence in the creative spirit.
All emotions have a role in our ability to function, grow and develop to our potential. Some have negative qualities, while other have positive. Together they create a whole experience.
Being aware of our emotions and being able to tolerate and hold tension is hard work. Please remember to provide yourself with spaces of rest. Remember to breathe.
Flowers are restful to look at. They have neither emotions nor conflicts.Image credit: Longwood Gardens