Controlling Emotions

A character in a novel says, “Rich people always control their emotions.” The character lives in multigenerational poverty, and finds rich-people behavior mystifying.

And I’m thinking, maybe these rich people are rich in part because they know how to control their emotions. Also, maybe we are being so actively encouraged never to exercise any control over our emotions because that’s a great way to keep us poor. It’s an axiom these days that feelings can’t be questioned or controlled. Those who invented that axiom are laughing all the way to the bank.

9 thoughts on “Controlling Emotions

  1. Edward Banfield, your fellow Land ‘o Lincoln professor, made this point brilliantly in 1970, in “The Unheavenly City”. He followed up with: “The Unheavenly City Revisited”. You must read him!

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  2. Based on what my friends who specialize in early childhood education tell me, a kid’s ability to control one’s emotions, especially in terms of outward expression, is something that is closely related to how chaotic the kid’s home life is. Many kids who come from poverty and violence end up with their brains literally wired differently than those from stable environments, and this happens early, before kindergarten. Kids from chaotic environments develop a heightened threat response and an inability to self-soothe, and this is at the source of lifelong behavioral problems, poor school performance, outbursts and violence in adolescence and early adulthood, and, for many, eventual incarceration. So when I think about that quote you put up above, to me it’s not so much about people being too dramatic on social media or whatever, but really about the inability to self-soothe and modulate behavior in real life, which is real and sinister, something that can get destroyed in toddlerhood and never recover.

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    1. Absolutely! This is the crucial task of parents to help children self-contain. I wish we heard more about that because it’s so important. I recently observed a 6-year-old go through my pantry when she was visiting and fill a large sack with food to take home. These are well-to-do people. But nobody explained about controlling your wants and behaving appropriately. It was sad.

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      1. \ This is the crucial task of parents to help children self-contain.

        Will you write one day about it?
        Hope to have kids in the future, yet have no idea what you mean here.
        Explaining how to behave appropriately to 4-5 year old and not giving them what they want all the time is one thing.

        How do you teach 0-1 year old to self-contain? Pre-verbal kids?

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        1. In the early stages you do the containments for them. You change their diapers until they learn to control that process themselves. You remove the mucus from the nose, which, let me tell you, is one of the least enjoyable things you’ll ever do. The basic physiological functioning at this stage is your responsibility. Gradually, you will hand it over to the child.

          Emotionally, at the early stage you process emotions for them and return the emotions to them in a safe form. Gradually, they learn to process their own emotions. Or at least ask help with processing them when they recognize the need. For instance, yesterday at the airport Klara said, “Mommy, I feel I’m about to throw a tantrum. Can you help me?” I did and the tantrum was avoided. But this took a long process of training. First I taught her to identify the emotions of others. We had books with pictures of kids experiencing different emotions and I’d ask, “which kid is feeling sad?” And she’d point to the picture. This was pre-verbal.

          Then I taught her to identify her own emotions. She knew when she was frustrated as opposed to angry as opposed to sad, etc quite early. Now I’m teaching her to ask for help when an emotion becomes overwhelming. It’s a process which at this point is only successful about 20% of time. The goal is that gradually she’ll identify an emotion and know how to experience it in a non-destructive way on her own. But that’s in the future.

          I had to conduct this training for my husband when we met. He had absolutely no idea what he felt and why, let alone how to deal with it. And after psychoanalysis, not only does he do it for himself, he helps me process unbearable affects sometimes. But this is something that one should learn in childhood, through a parent, and not in a doctor’s office.

          I remember he’d say, “I’m sad but I don’t know why.” And I’d see it was true, he honestly didn’t know. I had to show him how to unravel the feeling to its origin. He was 31! Is it surprising that he had problems with violence and arson as a child? Clearly, not.

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          1. Are there good books about parenting you heard about?
            Thanks for answering, yet those are not self-evident matters and a book would be of help.

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