Feelings—Introduction to the Nature of Emotions
This is not a treatise on the subject of the emotions, only an introduction and explanation of some essential principles by which the nature of emotions can be understood.
There is probably no field of inquiry that has caused more damage to understanding of the nature of man than psychology. There is almost nothing taught as psychology that is true. While part of the blame for this is the unscrupulous, "psychologists," who have discovered how lucrative their mystic views are, the larger blame belongs to philosophy. Philosophy has failed to properly examine the nature of consciousness and discover the principles by which it may be understood. While Ayn Rand understood the importance of this, and made more progress in the field than any other philosopher in history, she held some mistaken views about the nature of perception and consciousness itself that precluded her from a fully developed philosophical theory of consciousness in all its aspects.
These notes address some of the confusion about the nature of the emotions. Almost none of these are particularly original ideas or new insights, but observations of facts that are frequently neglected or ignored when the subject of emotions is being explored or discussed.
What are Feelings?
By feelings I mean all of those things we usually mean by emotions, affections, sentiments, desires, and passions. I call them feelings, because it is these things as we experience them I want to deal with, not the ideas or concepts we sometimes associate with these same words.
All feelings are percepts. We are directly conscious of our feelings in the same way we are directly conscious of the things we see, hear, smell, taste, and feel, externally. What we are perceiving are states of our physiological being, our body's internal conditions and behavior. The idea of, "five senses," which are really percepts, not senses, ought to be expanded to six to include that "internal" perception by which we are always conscious of our physiological state, such as feeling well, sick, hungry, tired, or excited, for example.
[Note: Please see the article Perception if you are unfamiliar with the difference between sensation, perception and conception. That essay provides an accurate description of the nature of perception, but also includes material describing the errors of the usual Obectivist explanation.]
Two Kinds of Feelings
There are probably as many ways of classifying feelings as there are different feelings. The two kinds of feelings I refer two make it possible to identify those feelings which we refer to as emotions and to distinguish them from other kinds of feelings. Not all feelings are emotions.
The two kinds of feelings are:
Notes On the Distinctions
- Biological/physiological—Feelings such as vertigo, nausea, fatigue, excitement, restlessness, feverishness, malaise, euphoria, including the physical, "desires," or what used to be called the, "animal appetites," such as hunger, and the "sex drive." All of these feelings are caused by the biological functions of the human organism, are shared by most of the higher animals, and are independent of consciousness (except that we must conscious of them to have them, of course).
- Emotions—Feelings such as happiness, joy, ecstasy, fear, (and variations such as panic and terror) nostalgia, anxiety, sadness, grief, frustration, apathy, affection, antipathy, content, discontent, anger, hate, rage, confidence, enthusiasm, and pride. All of these feelings are caused by whatever we are conscious of at the time we have those feelings. Some are shared with the higher animals, but those associated with abstract concepts, like the past, (nostalgia) the future (anxiety), and values (humor, pathos, pride), for example, are experienced only by man.
The distinction between the two kinds of feelings is extremely important. The confusion between them has led to all sorts of philosophical mistakes.
When I say the A. (biological/physiological) feelings are, "independent of consciousness," I mean, no matter what we are conscious of, we will have those feelings. If we are sick and have a fever, we will feel hot, no matter what we see, hear, or think about, because the feeling is caused by our biology, the behavior of our physical bodies. Of course, the feelings themselves are conscious experiences, but our consciousness has no part in producing those feelings, only in experiencing them.
When I say the B. (emotional) feelings are, "caused by whatever we are conscious of," I mean those feelings that result from the way our bodies react to what we consciously perceive, either directly (what we see, hear, and feel, for example) or indirectly, (what we are thinking about or remembering, for example).
The distinction is easily and usually confused. One reason we confuse them is because we often use the same word to identify both kinds of feelings, and some of the same feelings can be either biological/physical or emotional. We call both the physiological feeling associated with the need for food, and that emotional reaction to thinking about something we enjoy eating hunger. The feeling of nausea can be caused by a physical condition or as a physiological reaction to some thing we eat, but it can also be caused by thinking about something particularly disgusting or offensive. The feeling is the same, but in the first case it is a physiological feeling, in the second it is an emotional feeling, even though we do not usually thing of nausea as an emotion.
Further confusion results from those things which have aspects of both [A] and [B]. The alcoholic and drug addict both feel cravings for their respective vices which are physiological in nature, but both also feel very strong desires simply from the thought of their chosen method of abuse. The "psychological" (emotional) aspects of addiction have to do with habituation, which I discuss more fully in the "Desires" article.
The remainder of this article pertains only to emotions, our consciousness of the physiological reactions to the content of consciousness.
Emotions are Percepts
Perception is our only mode of consciousness, and all that we can perceive is physical existence. (See "Perception." The physical thing our emotions are the consciousness of is our body. Obviously emotion is not perception of our body as we perceive it in a mirror; the emotions are our consciousness of the internal states of our bodies, especially those states which are the result of whatever we are conscious of externally and whatever we are thinking about or are conscious of in any other way.
Like all percepts, in themselves they provide no knowledge beyond the fact that we have them. All our knowledge is about what we perceive. The emotions exist only at the perceptual level of our consciousness, knowledge is conceptual. Our knowledge of and about our emotions is exactly like all our other knowledge; we must learn to identify our emotions, discover what their cause is, what they are related to, and how we ought to react to them. Our emotions no more tell us how we ought to react to them than seeing a tree tells us how we ought to react to it.
Uniqueness of Emotional Perceptions
For most perceptions, when we consider them, it is the thing being perceived we are interested in. When we talk about seeing a dog, it is not the perception itself we are interested in, but the dog that is being perceived. When we talk about the emotions, however, it is not what is being perceived, the physiological events of the body, we are interested in, but the perception itself, which we call "the feeling." When we feel anxious, for example, that, "feeling," is our perception of the bodies reaction to whatever future concern we have, which may be a certain feeling in the stomach, "nervousness," or even something more general, but it is not those things we are interested in, but how they feel to us, what we are conscious of.
That, "something more general," is another aspect of the emotions which is different from other percepts. Unlike the external percepts which are always explicit (even when they are blurred or not perfectly clear), the internal, emotional percepts are usually non-specific (not percepts of any particular thing) and general (consciousness of the entire general physiological state). It is this non-specific generalness that gives the emotions that almost "disconnected" or "ethereal" quality.
It is that quality of emotions that gives the impression they are aspects of the mind, rather than perceptions of the physical. As percepts, they are mental, just as "the seeing" of the family cat and "the hearing" of a Puccini opera are mental events, but in all cases, what is seen, heard, or felt is physical. This is very important to understand, because both philosophy and psychology frequent and mistakenly regard and treat the emotions as though they were some direct creation of the mind, as though the emotions were, "just feelings," without connection or cause.
The fact that the emotions are percepts of the physical reactions of the body is the reason they are affected physiologically by certain drugs or physical conditions like fatigue.
Emotions Automatic and Involuntary
All percepts are automatic and involuntary. We have no choice about what we will see when we look at something. We can choose not to look or to shut our eyes, but so long as our eyes are open and we are looking around, what we will see is determined by whatever is there to see and how we will see it is determined by the nature of perception itself and the nature of the things we are seeing. What we hear is determined by whatever sounds are there for us to hear, and how we hear them is determined by the nature of hearing.
The emotions, as percepts, are automatic and involuntary in the same way all other percepts are. The feelings we have are determined by whatever our physiological state is, and how we feel it is determined by the nature of our perception of our internal states. But the emotions are complicated by the fact that the physiological states, themselves, felt as emotions are caused by the content of consciousness. The states themselves which we perceive as emotions are also automatic and involuntary, they are the automatic reactions to the content of consciousness which are, "built in," as part of our biological animal nature. We have no choice about how our bodies will react to what we see, hear, or think.
Animal vs. Human Emotions
While we cannot know directly what an animal experiences consciously, since all conscious experience is subjective in nature, we infer that animal consciousness is essentially the same as human consciousness, only lacking the rational/volitional aspect, the role of which in the animals is fulfilled by instinct.
We infer animal emotions from their behavior. When we see a dog lower its head, the hackle hairs on its back rise, and hear it growl, we attribute that behavior to the dog's feeling of anger or fear; when we see a cat lying in the sun and hear it purr we attribute that behavior to the cat's feeling of contentment. When we see a dog frolicking around its owner, barking, its head bobbing up and down, and its tail wagging, we attribute that behavior to the dog's feeling happy or joyous, or even love, on seeing its master.
All of an animals emotional reactions are to the immediate perceptual awareness, what it is seeing, hearing, and smelling at that moment. More importantly, the behavior of an animal, in response to its emotional experience is automatic. The dog excited at seeing its master cannot choose to suppress its exuberance, and will only do so, if it perceives something else it automatically reacts to, like it's master's strong command to "sit!" or "lay down!" What an animal will fear, desire, feel comfortable or uncomfortable about when perceiving it is determined by instinct. While instinct can be conditioned within the limits of a particular animal's nature (e.g. a dog can "learn" to fear particular people), what and how much an animal's instinctive reactions can be modified by experience is also determined by instinct, and animal, "learning," is always and only modification of instinct. The essential instinctive behavior is predetermined.
Human emotions are different from the animal emotions in two important respects. While human emotional reactions are also automatic and involuntary, human consciousness does not make emotions possible automatically. An animal's instinct determines what kinds of things it ought to fear, what kinds it ought to be curious about, what kinds of things it ought to seek. Human consciousness does not automatically tell human beings what to fear, what to avoid, or what to seek. These things must all be learned.
Most small children have no fear of animals. They are interested in anything that moves, and if the thing also happens to be warm, soft and fuzzy, they will like it. A child will not automatically be afraid of a big animal, such as a lion or bear. They must learn about the danger of such animals before they will be afraid of them. Nothing will cause us to have the emotion of fear until we have learned which things we ought to be afraid of, and which we shouldn't. (Most people do not learn this very well and therefore fear things which are harmless and do not fear some things which are really harmful.)
Human emotions are not possible until we have learned to identify the objects of perception and their relationship to us, whether those things are desirable (for food or our comfort, for example) or undesirable (like poisonous or vicious animals, for example). We cannot fear what we have not learned is dangerous, we cannot be revolted by that we have not learned is evil or disgusting, and we cannot desire that which we have no learned is enjoyable or good for us.
Even after we have learned a great deal, our emotions do not tell us which things are good or bad, in themselves, because the emotions are only the reactions to whatever we believe is good or bad, what we have learned or failed to learn about the objects of perception. If our ideas are wrong, our feelings, reflecting our evaluation of things based on those ideas will also be wrong.
The other difference between human and animal emotion is humans have no automatic behavioral reaction to emotions. Again, human beings must learn what feelings are and what they relate to; they must learn to identify the emotions and their significance and relationship to those things they are feelings about. We cannot just avoid everything that makes us feel afraid, and we cannot just indulge in everything we desire. How we evaluate our emotions and choose which to respond to and how to respond to them must all be learned. This is especially true of those particular emotions we call our desires or passions. These are so important I have dedicated another article to just those emotions, Desires.
The Role of Emotions in Human Experience
—What are Emotions For?
[The following is adapted from The Autonomist's Notebook commentary on Humor.]
Control of Emotions Indirect
The emotions provide a direct perceptual experience of the content of consciousness. While we are conscious of our thoughts intellectually, at the conceptual level of consciousness, the emotions provide a direct "visceral" experience corresponding to conceptual consciousness. Making plans for something good is accompanied by feelings of enthusiasm and anticipation; thinking or contemplating doing, or having done, something we think is wrong will be accompanied by feelings of guilt or regret; thinking about someone we admire, desire, and value very highly is accompanied by feelings of love and affection; considering something evil and ugly is accompanied by feelings of anger or revulsion.|
In our actual experience, we do not usually distinguish between our thoughts and their accompanying feelings and experience them as units. The feelings and the thoughts are integrated into objects of consciousness which turn abstract thoughts into concretes which are directly perceived.
Our emotions, as automatic reactions to our immediate consciousness, are also like a running gage or evaluation of that which one is explicitly conscious. It is the way our human consciousness enables us to directly enjoy or "physically" experience both direct perception and our conceptual identification and evaluation of the things we perceive simultaneously.
The emotions are our nature's way of converting the abstract elements of conceptual consciousness, our concepts, values, and thoughts, into "physical" experiences. The emotions make our minds, as well as our bodies, sensuous.
Since it is the enjoyment of our lives that is their purpose, the purpose of the emotions is to enable us to enjoy our lives, particularly that most human aspect of them, our minds. When the emotions are not a source of joy, but of suffering, it is an indication of something wrong. The thing that is wrong can be physiological, but more frequently the thing that is wrong is an individual's view of life, one's values, one's thoughts, and one's choices, and the thing that is wrong with them is they are contrary to reality and dominated by unrealistic views and desires.
Turning the Conceivable Into the Perceivable
The emotions, by giving us an immediate visceral experience of our abstract conceptual consciousness, provide an immediate recognition of that which, without the emotions, we would not generally be aware. Many of the relationships we identify conceptually cannot be known at all by direct perception. We can directly perceive most spatial relationships between entities, as well as size relationships. We can perceive the relative difference in the weight of most smaller objects, differences in texture, temperature, and hardness, as well. But many relationships cannot be perceived at all, and without concepts, could not be known. Familial relationships, such as uncle and second cousin, cannot be perceived. Relationships that can only be known by science or history, cannot be perceived: the relationship of the chemical elements to each other, their relative components, the relationship of one component of atoms, electrons, to electricity, the relationships between heavenly bodies, and the relationship between biological functions all require concepts to be known.
When we respond emotionally to our concepts of relationships, we are directly conscious of them, just as though we could perceive them directly. We cringe when seeing a "close call," such as when two vehicles seem about to collide, but manage to "just miss," almost as though we "feel" the event that never actually happens. But that same feeling can be produced merely by thinking about such an event.
Shock, incredulity, or even anger might arise when someone tells us something particularly outrageous, such as the exorbitant price of an object one intends to buy. The relationship between the object and its price could never be perceived, but when a price is exaggerated, it is that exaggerated relationship we recognize conceptually that our emotional reaction enables us to experience directly.
The emotions cannot be controlled, trained, or manipulated directly, because they are automatic and involuntary. Since the reactions we experience as emotions are determined by the content of consciousness, and we do have control over our thoughts, we can control our emotions indirectly, by controlling what we think and the content of our consciousness.
Our overall view of life and existence, that is, our philosophy, whether implicit or explicit, will determine the general tenor of our emotional experience, the kind of emotions our consciousness will be dominated by. Ayn Rand called this, "sense of life."
Here is Ayn Rand's description of how one develops their sense of life, from The Romantic Manifesto, Chapter 2, "Philosophy and Sense of Life."
Every choice and value-judgment implies some estimate of himself and of the world around him, —most particularly, of his capacity to deal with the world. He may draw conscious conclusions, which may be true or false; or he may remain mentally passive and merely react to events ....
Ayn Rand did not really understand the nature of the emotions. In another place I will discuss the nature of her wrong ideas about the emotions and where they came from. The following, from the same source, is an example of her mistaken view.
Whatever the case may be, his subconscious mechanism sums up his psychological activities, integrating his conclusions, reactions or evasions into an emotional sum that establishes a habitual pattern and becomes his automatic response to the world around him. What began as a series of single, discrete conclusions (or evasions) about his own particular problems, becomes a generalized feeling about existence, an implicit metaphysics with the compelling motivational power of a constant, basic emotion—an emotion which is part of all his other emotions and underlies all his experiences. This is a sense of life.
A person's sense of life is a kind of "sum" or "accumulation" of all they learn and experience, psychologically, over time. But this is not the result of some mysterious "subconscious mechanism," which integrates that learning and experience into an "emotional sum." The emotions are not produced by some mysterious subconscious cause, they are reactions to whatever one is conscious of.
Since the emotions are physiological in nature, they are incapable of doing any kind of "summing up." The "sum" is not an emotional one, it is an intellectual one. If one's concept of himself and the world are cogent and clear, the emotional reaction to that clearness will be confidence and certainty. If one's concept of himself and the world are confused and contradictory, the emotional reaction to that confusion will be fear and uncertainty.
The habitual patterns are not emotional, they are habitual patterns of thought. The feelings might seem habitual, but that is only because the same thoughts will produce the same feelings. Notice this statement: "What began as a series of single , discrete conclusions (or evasions) about his own particular problems, becomes a generalized feeling ...." There is nothing in the world that can transform thoughts (conclusion, evasions) into feelings. A constant overriding feeling is the result of a constant overriding point of view or intellectual evaluation, implicit or explicit; it is implicit if implied by all of ones other thoughts but never explicitly identified, it is explicit if identified and all other ideas are judged according to that view.
[NOTE: Habituated emotional reaction. There is a kind of habituated emotional reaction, resulting either from having the same reaction many times, or some very strong reaction one or two times. A person who believes all snakes are dangerous and slimy, will feel fear when they see a snake. The emotional "fear" reaction will occur even without the conscious evaluation. Someone might develop the same reaction from having a single very frightening experience with a snake, especially if that experience occurs when they are young. In these cases, the conceptual evaluation is implied, though it may never be made explicit, a very bad mental state.]
The more knowledge we have, the more our values conform to the requirements of our nature and the nature of the world we live in, the more we understand those natures, the more accurately we will evaluate and understand the things of the world, and the more consistently our emotions will be reflections of correct thinking, and the source of joy and inspiration.
Our emotional experience will be dominated by the kinds of things we fill our consciousness with, in all our pursuits whether serious business or simple pleasure. Since all of these are under our control, we can control those emotional experiences that these determine. This is discussed more fully under "Emotions and Content of Consciousness."
Subjectivity of Emotions
All percepts are subjective in nature. When you and I both look at a red tomato, we may agree that it is red, but what I actually see, when seeing red, and what you actually see, when seeing red, could be, as we actually experience the seeing, very different, even the opposite. Objectively, how we experience, "seeing red," is irrelevant, so long as it is red we are seeing and we can both identify it. When we talk about the "red" of a tomato, it is not the subjective experience of seeing red we are referring to, but that aspect of the nature of the tomato that "seeing red" is our means of perceiving.
When talking about the emotions, however, it is the subjective experience of perceiving our physiological states we usually mean, not the physiological states those subjective experiences are our means of perceiving. When someone says they feel "anxious," they do not mean the general physiological state the feeling of anxious is the awareness of, they mean the feeling itself, they mean, "feeling anxious," whatever it is a feeling of.
Dealing With Emotions Objectively
When examining the things we perceive directly, we examine the things perceived, not the perception of them. If we want to know why the red tomato we are perceiving is red, we examine the tomato to discover what there is about its nature that we perceive as red.
When examining the things we feel emotionally, we do not examine the thing being perceived, because what is being perceived are physiological reactions. We might examine these things if we are involved with clinical research and want to know what particular physiological events are particular feelings, but that is not examining the feelings themselves, because the physiological events do not cause themselves. It is whatever content of consciousness the particular emotions are reactions to that are their cause, and it is that content that must be examined to objectively evaluate the emotion.
It is the nature of the thoughts, values, and perceptions that cause the emotion that must be examined, because it is their nature that is being perceived emotionally by means of our automatic physiological reactions to them.
Objectivism's Exaggerated View of Emotions
Ayn Rand gave the emotions more significance than they deserve. They are not, for example, "lightening calculators," providing instant evaluation of anything. They are constant reflections of "what is on our mind," but not always very accurate. Since the emotions are physiological reactions, some tend to persist when the consciousness that caused them has ceased, because it takes time for the chemicals and physiological reactions to subside. Because they are perceptions of physiological states, anything else that effects those states (fatigue, infection, excitement, drugs, or activity, for example) will effect those emotions. One does not feel the same sense of enjoyment or desire when very ill, for example, as when one is very well.
There are a limited number of physiological reactions the body is capable of, and being conscious of different things frequently produce identical or very similar physiological reactions and therefore similar emotions. Some are very difficult to distinguish.
Often we are conscious of more than one thing, which separately produce different, even conflicting, physiological reactions (emotions). When such conflicts exist, it is the more fundamental (less abstract things of consciousness) that will produce the physiological reaction. Being with a person one adores will produce feelings of "love." Being in a house that one discovers is on fire will produce feelings of fear, emergency, or panic. When someone is with their lover in a house they discover is on fire, it will be the feelings of fear and emergency that will be felt, because the physiology cannot react in two different conflicting ways, and will react to the more concrete or "important" one, as determined by one's own values. When such conflicts arise for those who have never prioritized their values, the resulting emotional reaction will be indecision and confusion, which is rapidly replaced by panic and terror.
Emotions and Content of Consciousness
Since our emotions are determined by the content of our consciousness, our emotional life is determined by what we have in our minds. This seems obvious, but most people do not realize how important it is, and spend most of their lives filling their minds with just anything, as though there were no consequence to what they put in their minds or what they spend their time thinking about. Those same people are bewildered by what seems to them an inexplicable emotional chaos.
"Man's consciousness is his least known and most abused vital organ. Most people believe that consciousness as such is some sort of indeterminate faculty which has no nature, no specific identity and, therefore, no requirements, no needs, no rules for being properly or improperly used. The simplest example of this belief is people's willingness to lie or cheat, to fake reality on the premise that "I'm the only one who'll know" or "It's only in my mind"—without any concern for what this does to one's mind, what complex, untraceable, disastrous impairments it produces, what crippling damage may result.|
"The loss of control over one's consciousness is the most terrifying of human experiences: a consciousness that doubts its own efficacy is in a monstrously intolerable state. Yet men abuse, subvert and starve their consciousness in a manner they would not dream of applying to their hair, toenails or stomachs. They know that these things have a specific identity and specific requirements, and, if one wishes to preserve them, one must comb one's hair, trim one's toenails and refrain from swallowing rat poison. But one's mind? Aw, it needs nothing and can swallow anything. Or so most people believe. And they go on believing it while they toss in agony on a psychologist's couch, screaming that their mind keeps them in a state of chronic terror for no reason whatever." [Ayn Rand, "Our Cultural Value-Deprivation," The Objectivist, April 1966.]
What we have in our minds is terribly important, and mostly determined by our own choices. We cannot remember what we never choose to learn or experience. We cannot develop habits of thinking about what we never or seldom choose to think about. Our minds and our thoughts will be filled with what we choose to learn and think about, and what we learn and think about is determined by almost every other choice we make.
What we see, what we hear, and what we do, all effect what we learn and think about. Is what we see mostly shallow television programs and cheap entertainment? or is it mostly enriching things we learn from. Is what we hear mostly popular music and jokes or is it uplifting music and thoughtful conversation. Does what we do consist mostly of pastimes and play, or are we busy doing things that enhance our life and minds.
Since we can only think about what we know, and only evaluate things in terms of our values and experience, those whose consciousness is dominated by seeing, hearing, and experiencing nothing but the squalid, the cheap, the tawdry and the tasteless cannot possibly think and feel in the same way as someone who has learned to appreciate virtue, accomplishment, integrity, and takes the time to pursue the highest possible values in all things, including their entertainment.
[NOTE: "Syndrome" here is not used in the medical sense of a cluster of symptons associated with a single diease. Syndrome refers to the nature of some emotions which reinforce themselves and are self-perpetuated and self-amplifying.]
The syndromic nature of emotions is seldom mentioned or understood. It is a frequent cause of, "emotional problems," but is not a problem in itself, and is very important to normal emotional functions.
A syndrome is a self-generating or self-enhancing mechanism or process. Those who are familiar with what are now old fashioned analogue electronic oscillators like those used in earlier radio transmitters know what a syndrome is. An analog oscillator is actually an amplifier with something called feedback and a "tuned circuit." An amplifier without specific input just amplifies whatever random "noise" might affect the input. Feeding that randomly amplified noise into a "tuned circuit" filters out of the amplified noise everything except the frequency the circuit is tuned to. If the output of the tuned circuit is used as the input to the amplifier by means of "feedback," instead of random noise, the amplifier will amplify the specific frequency supplied by the tuned circuit. The entire circuit now oscillates at the frequency of the tuned circuit, because the input to the amplifier is the output of the amplifier tuned to the desired frequency. What makes that a syndrome is that fact the output of the oscillator feeds or enhances itself. Some emotions work in exactly this way.
The emotions are our perception of physiological reactions to the content of consciousness, but those percepts themselves, as we feel them, are also content of consciousness. In some cases, there is a further physiological reaction to that content of consciousness which is the emotion, which causes the emotion itself to become stronger. Those kinds of emotions form a kind of, "feedback loop;" initial mild emotional reaction to some thought or percept, which is perceived, produces a stronger emotional reaction to the emotion itself, which is perceived, producing a still stronger emotional reaction. There is obviously a physical limit to how strong an emotional reaction can be, but syndromes do produce very strong emotional reactions.
Bad and Good Syndromes
Emotions which are syndromic in nature can be both good and bad.
An example of a bad syndrome is anxiety. Sometimes, something that worries or concerns us produces the emotion we call anxiety. If we dwell on some particular worry very much, the anxiety emotion can become quite strong. Anxiety is not a particular pleasant emotion. It is possible, and frequently happens, to begin worrying about the feeling itself. That worry increases the feeling of anxiety which of course is still more worrisome. It is very easy for the original cause, the original concerns that start an anxiety reaction, to be forgotten, or at least minimized, because one knows, that particular worry is not as bad as what they are feeling. Even that can cause the feeling to become stronger, because it says, "I have this terrible feeling of dread, and the only thing I could attribute it to could not possibly be responsible for this terrible feeling. There must be something wrong with me."
An example of a good syndrome is sexual excitement. The emotional response to thoughts of sex produce the emotions of sexual excitement, which both prepare the body for more physical sexual excitement, and is itself exciting. Under appropriate circumstances, sexual excitement causes both one's thoughts and one's behavior to seek more of that excitement, because it is pleasurable, resulting in more excitement. This particular emotional reaction is both desire and pleasure. The desire aspect of this emotional syndrome is described in more detail in the article "Desires."
Control of Emotional Syndromes
Controlling emotional syndromes is more properly a subject of psychology than philosophy, but has philosophical implications. Obviously something must stop or control emotional syndromes or we would all be in a constant state of anxiety and sexual excitement, (although, this does seem to describe the emotional state of some people.)
How does an emotional syndrome get, "stopped," once it gets, "started?"
In the case of emotional syndromes involving desire, the usual way is for the desire to be fulfilled or sated. Both the physiology (by shutting off the physical component of the desire, if there is any) and mind (beginning to thank about the satisfaction or other things) are instrumental in stopping the syndrome. In some cases involving desire, the syndromes simply, "wear out," because continuing them produces fatigue or even pain, the consciousness of which causes the emotional reaction to change.
Painful emotional syndromes are much more difficult to control or stop, because they are already discomforting and more discomfort simply reinforces them. It might be thought that since pain can stop a pleasure syndrome, perhaps pleasure might stop a painful one. In some cases that is possible, but usually the discomfort of a painful syndrome, like anxiety, precludes or limits the amount of pleasure that can be enjoyed, which is itself worrisome.
All emotional syndromes, including painful ones, like grief, fear, or anxiety, can be mitigated or stopped by something that causes a stronger overriding emotional reaction. People suffering from anxiety syndromes often discover their suffering disappears if their is a dramatic or traumatic event that completely gains their attention. The reason is obvious. The entire content of consciousness is consumed by something other than the emotional syndrome and becomes, at least for that moment, the sole source of one's emotions. Often the effect is only temporary and lasts only as long as the event.
Control of syndromes, like all emotions, is restricted to controlling the content of consciousness. Some methods are discovering something that causes a stronger, more fundamental emotional reaction than the syndrome; distraction is another method, such as intentionally concentrating on some subject or perceived event or object. Indirect control is sometimes possible by physical intervention which works by temporarily changing or preventing the physiological reaction itself, with drugs or various kinds of "physical" treatments.
The Emotion that says, "I Am Worthy"
Self-esteem is that general emotional state arising from the recognition of one's own moral integrity, virtue, and competence for living successfully in this world. The term, in popular usage, has been greatly corrupted. As used here, the term only means one understands they are competent and worthy of the life they enjoy, that they deserve it, because they have earned it. A person's self-esteem is, his inviolate certainty that his mind is competent to think and his person is worthy of happiness, which means, is worthy of living. Everything else is a fraud, a fraud one can perpetrate against everyone except oneself.
Man's emotional structure precludes his ability to enjoy what he has not earned and does not deserve. He can gain wealth without earning or producing it, but if he gets wealth that way, he knows his wealth is a lie, that the wealth that ought to be the concretization of his productive effort, is only loot, the evidence of his crookedness or his pandering to the weaknesses and vices of others; he can have pleasure he does not deserve, but can never enjoy the sense of human integrity that knows, "I am worthy of this pleasure and my enjoyment of it is both a reward and affirmation of my virtue." Instead of providing the kind of fulfillment and satisfaction a pleasure which is a reward for virtue produces, the stolen pleasure only produces a sense of being a cheat and thief of the lowest kind.
Self-esteem is the emotional reward of integrity. One cannot violate one's own integrity and have genuine self-esteem, or true human happiness.
Integrity requires that one's knowledge be fully integrated, not compartmentalized, not harboring contradictions or evading truth.
Integrity requires one's values to be based on reality, all of reality, one's own nature and the nature of the world he lives in.
Integrity requires one to act consistently in accordance with one's knowledge and values, never evading what one does know and never pretending to know what one does not.
Worthiness and self-esteem come from knowing one is competent to live one's life successfully in this world and that they are living it non-contradictorily, consistent with their knowledge, values, and nature, and that all they have and all they enjoy they deserve, because they have earned it and have achieved it by their own effort. All that is less than this is experienced as a sense of guilt, meaninglessness, or dipair, and ought to be.