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The rational logic of emotions

Emotions get a bad rap for being illogical, irrational and unpredictable. They get ignored, suppressed and rejected. And they will still drive you to do things – or get in the way when you try to do other things.
Emotions are what drive us, fuel us, and motivate us. When you reject them, you end up not doing the things you think you want to do, doing the things that you don’t want to do, procrastinating, falling into depression, or spiralling into mania.

What’s actually happening, is you’re in a fight with yourself. It’s a fight that you lose, no matter what. And it’s a fight that drains you, wears you down, and cripples your ability to do what you want to be doing in this world.

It’s not a fight that your rational, logical, predictability-liking mind can win.

This is especially true when you’re used to your head being firmly in charge: you want everything to be logical, rational, and predictable, and emotions fall outside of that realm – or so you think – so you don’t even try to understand them.

Some of the very intelligent people I know are completely lost with their emotions – and totally at the whims of their emotions – while being in total denial that they do in fact have emotions! Unfortunately, they’re going to remain that way until they take notice and embrace the emotional side of their personalities.

Even more unfortunately, they’re locked into a battle of head versus emotions, without knowing that there’s a battle going on, and unaware that they’re actually fighting themselves.

And the irony of it all is that, in reality, emotions actually follow a very clear logic of their own. Strange as it may sound, emotional responses are logical, rational, and predictable. Once you understand emotions, understand the dynamics at play, and understand yourself – and other people – more, you can apply logical and reason, and predict them.

So why do we think of emotions as illogical and irrational, if really they’re very logical and rational?

The gap between how we see emotions – as illogical, irrational, and unpredictable – and how they actually are, comes from how we define our system boundaries.

When something happens, and an emotional response is triggered, the natural tendency is to focus on the situation at hand. The facts of the event, its timeline, the roles of the people involved. Our focus is neatly defined: the situation and its immediate components.

This approach is clear, rational, logical, and sticks to what is relevant (relevant as far as a limited view of the situation would see it).

Unfortunately, this excludes the people themselves: how they are at that moment, their histories, and their stored patterns of response. All of which come into play to generate an emotional response that you might not be expecting.

So when someone reacts in a highly emotional way, you perceive it as a seemingly illogical, irrational, and irrelevant emotional response.

But this misses the point entirely. The response is logical, rational and relevant – given that person’s prior experiences, understandings of the world, and whatever they have stored away in their emotional closet – consciously or unconsciously.

When you broaden your focus to properly include the people and their backstories, you can predict the emotional responses. You may not get it perfectly right: you probably don’t have complete knowledge of the people. You’ll still get a better idea than if you treat the people as 2D cardboard cut-outs in a 3D situation.

How people respond is completely predictable. Completely logical. Completely rational.

So why don’t we get it? Why don’t we see it as predictable, logical, and rational?

What’s missing is an understanding of emotions: what they are, how they work, how we experience them. How they arise, cause action, and resolve. What they mean, how to work with them, and how to transform them into helpful action, rather than fight the losing battle against them.

And more crucial than that: we’re missing an appreciation of the logic of emotions. We deny that they could be logical, so we don’t look for the logic, we don’t even start trying to understand, and that’s the real pity.

I’m always walking my clients along this path to understanding their emotions. When they do this work, they finally accept what they’ve pushed away for so long: themselves.

And when you stop pushing yourself away, your energy comes back, your creativity comes back, you feel more engaged and alive – even though the process to get there was temporarily painful.

Imagine what you could be experiencing when you master your emotions.

Freedom from fighting a decades-long losing battle.

Permission to be who you really are.

Energy to do all the things you really want to do.

What emotions are you pushing away? Are you ready to let them back in?


The information contained above is provided for information purposes only. The contents of this webpage are not intended to amount to advice and you should not rely on any of the contents of this webpage. Professional advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from taking any action as a result of the contents of this webpage. Sue Mahony PhD disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on any of the contents of this webpage.

Sue Mahony PhD is gifted, autistic, and ADHD. She provides 1:1 specialist support for brains similar to her own, neurodiversity training, mentoring & coaching for organisations, and a wealth of articles on this website.

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