Dealing With Extreme Emotions, Part-I, Free Will to Act

Saturday, 26 February 2022 15:19
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Do you find it difficult to deal with emotionally distraught people?  Do your reactions calm or intensify the emotional reactions of others?  Do you think that you can muster up the “free will” to help others deal with their emotional reactions?  If so, maybe this pearl can help you to help the emotionally distraught.
Welcome to this five-part series on how to deal with emotionally distraught people.  Part-I examines how our free will allows us to help or not the emotionally distraught by providing a useful technique.  Parts two through five show you how to use that technique to calm down people who are expressing anger/rage, fear/terror, sorrow/despair or joy/mania—which are basic/rational emotions.  The anger/rage and fear/terror emotions cause the most interpersonal damage, but sorrow/despair is personally destructive and joy/mania can get out of hand.  In this series we will discuss emotional outbursts in order from the most destructive to the least.
The Free Will to Take Control:
It may seem odd that the concept of “free will” should enter into this conversation, but it is at the center of it.  To help distraught people we need to have a clear mind without undue influence from our own emotions, genetic motivations or nurtured opinions—i.e., we need to be able to use our free will.  We can use our free will to help distraught people to use their free will to calm themselves down.  But in order to use our free will we need to understand how our senses, emotional brain and rational brain affect it.
Our 200M-year-old emotional brain (especially the amygdala) evolved to help us survive.  Sensory information triggers the amygdala’s four primary emotional reactions (anger, fear, sorrow and joy) to help us physically survive.  Our 1M-year-old Homo sapien brain evolved to react to sensory information to help us socially survive—i.e., to work together to survive in a world with larger, fiercer, tooth and claw creatures that make us the dinner instead of the diner.
Our rational brain consists of left and right frontal and temporal cortices, which store rational memories, plus a multi-layered pre-frontal cortex (PFC).  The PFC uses rational memories to understand the reason for our emotional reactions and how to deal with them.  The PFC also uses rational memories to appropriately react to non-emotional situations in day-to-day living such as body maintenance, work, fun, etc. 
Fun Fact—free will only exists in the PFC (our conscious mind), since it provides us with the will (decisiveness) to appropriately react.  The rest of the rational brain constitutes the unconscious mind, since it never makes decisions—it just provides the knowledge that those decisions are based on.  Likewise our emotional brain (our subconscious mind) never makes decisions (it just triggers reactions), it just take control of the PFC and demand that it deal with the emotional outburst, totally negating our free will to appropriately react. 
Bottom line: to help distraught people we need to use our PFC (our free will) to help them to use their PFC (their free will) to deal with their emotional situation.  For a fuller understanding of Free Will, see the attached PDF "What is Free Will?"
Calming a Distraught Person:
To help others calm down you have to be unemotional and in control of your PFC.  But it is difficult to be unemotional and calm them down when you are involved in or are the cause of the distressing situation.  You need to calm down first and take control of your PFC, which is accomplished by “stepping outside yourself” to positively guide instead of aggravate the situation.  This is easier said than done, but by only focusing on the needs and opinions of others and by not getting emotionally involved, you can do it.
When a distraught person’s sensorially triggered amygdala is firing too quickly it will continuously wipe out any rational use of their PFC and their free will.  Also, when that emotion is rationally re-triggered by rational memories about that situation it will elevate it—for example, elevate basic anger to rational rage.  It is your job to help the distraught person to get rational control of their PFC by sequentially: distracting them while “stepping outside yourself” to stifle your needs and opinions to make it all about them—not you.  To calm someone do the following:
1) While looking them straight in the eye at their eye level, ask them to “Please take a deep breath” as you also take a deep breath.  This distraction should calm them and you down a little since that 1,000+ ms breath is longer than the 50 ms it takes the amygdala to re-trigger that emotion or the 500 ms it takes for negative rational memories to escalate that distress.  A deep breath will also reduce the physical distress (lack of air) from the shallow breathing that accompanies emotional outbursts.
2) Clear your mind of any opinions or rational emotions about that situation.  Look into their eyes and carefully ask them why they are so angry, fearful, etc.  This allows their PFC to find the reason for that outburst and quell it.
3) Only focus on what the other person is saying to discover the reason for their outburst.  Fully hear that person out (saying nothing) no matter how long it takes, to allow them to gain more control.
4) Important!  Wait at least five seconds after they are done speaking to support the aspects of their rational that you agree with—don’t be judgmental (stay outside of yourself).  This will calm them a little more.
5) Then, stop talking and while looking them in the eyes allow them to say anything else—without prompting or commenting on it—simply wait for them to calm down.
6) Compassionately look them in the eyes and say nothing until they calm themselves if they become more extreme and won’t calm down—this may take a while so be patient.
  1) Take a deep breath.
  2) Ask them why they are upset.
  3) Let them vent.
  4) Support what they say.
  5) Allow them to get past it.
  6) If they are extremely emotional, silently wait for them to calm themselves down.
I know that there are a lot of steps to remember and that most of the time you can calm then using steps 1), 2), 3), and maybe 4).
In the next four parts of this series we will use this sequence to help calm people controlled by anger/rage, fear/terror, joy/mania or sorrow/despair.
I hope that this discussion was helpful and that you are looking forward to discussions about the kinds of emotional outbursts that you experience in yourself and in others and how to deal with them.


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