“Affect influences virtually ever aspect of human functioning: perception, attention, inference, learning, memory, goal choice, physiology, reflexes, self-concept…” George Loewenstein.
We want different things when we are in the grips of a strong emotion than when we are calm. It seems, in fact, that things are different. And the difference isn’t just between being in “hot” (emotional) states and “cold” (calm) states, but between different hot states.
The world looks different, and we are different, when we feel angry than when we feel infatuated. And there is the same degree of difference between being sad and being angry. It makes sense really that borderlines–who are almost always in a hot state of one kind or another–have “identity disturbances.”
One of my earliest life lessons was, “Keep calm.”
Calm gives you the best chance of making decisions that you might actually like later. And one of the first things I really remember working at in a way that I was somewhat conscious was the fine art of delay. If you’re upset, sometimes the best course of action is to do nothing. Act only when you are calm. So, as long as you are in deep distress, find ways to do nothing. Walk away from conflicts, distract yourself from the craziness in your head, keep your mouth shut, hit “save” instead of “send.” Delay, because no matter what has happened, it’s almost impossible not to calm down eventually, and I like the results of what I do in a calm state better that might I might choose to do in a hot state. At least, I like it better the next time I’m calm.
Everything is different now. It has been different for a long time, but sometimes change is hard to really take in.
Getting out of an abusive situation is like returning to civilian life. The stakes are suddenly so much lower. A bad decision is unlikely to end up with me dead. I don’t need to stay calm.
I’ve been thinking about that lately. because part of working with the trauma has meant finding even more ways to keep calm, so that I can approach the trauma without becoming overwhelmed–and there was so much I needed to approach, and so much I still do.
But I don’t need to keep calm.