Should I choose Mount Vesuvius or a baking soda volcano?
January 21, 2010 12:42 PM   Subscribe

How can you tell if your reactions and emotions are rational and logical, and if you're expressing them in a rational and logical manner?

I've been going through some pretty heavy personal stuff lately, and I find myself uncertain about whether or not I'm responding to certain things in a rational matter.
Oftentimes I have very strong emotions, but I'm not sure if certain situations warrant the reactions I feel inclined to give.

I know this is kind of vague, but I'm curious about how other people decide to what extent to respond to situations (arguments, etc.) without flying off the handle when the actual situation may not actually be that big of a deal.
posted by elder18 to Human Relations (28 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 
Some examples or context might be useful.
posted by Jaltcoh at 12:43 PM on January 21, 2010


If I'm flying off the handle, I'm not being rational or logical, no matter how big a deal the situation is.
posted by IanMorr at 12:52 PM on January 21, 2010


You can't. Emotions are not rational and logical. They are emotional. That being said, if you are flying off the handle your response to your emotions may be a problem. There isn't much point in trying to rationally examine your emotions. There is a lot of point in examining your behavior in response to your emotions. This is what therapy is all about. If you are worried about your behavior see someone about it.
posted by Babblesort at 12:53 PM on January 21, 2010 [4 favorites]


Well, without getting into specific examples, my wife and I have been fighting lately, and I'm not sure if my reactions to what we're fighting about are always proportionate to what we're fighting about. As a result, I'm never sure how to react.
posted by elder18 at 12:54 PM on January 21, 2010


Considering your last several questions, I'm going to repeat an answer you've seen several times: Go see a therapist. One thing a therapist does is to help you sort out your emotions and how to assess the choices you make.
posted by runningwithscissors at 12:55 PM on January 21, 2010 [6 favorites]


For me personally, the best answer is to explain or imagine myself explaining it to a stranger, or alternately to actually explain it to someone totally unfamiliar with the situation.

If I have to explain the situation in minute, exasperating detail for ten minutes just to set up the PROBLEM, which I then feel I have to justify/explain, it is irrational/emotional/too small to worry about.

If it is easy to explain and I don't feel it needs a million justifications/loads of backstory, then it is probably a rational response.

This is just a general rule-of-thumb. It doesn't work in all cases, but it works more often than not. You may find, as I did, that you can use this in other domains. For example, I write music. If, when I play this music for other people, I find myself compelled to say "just hold on... the good part is coming up... wait... uhhh..." (and then I go for the seek/ff button), that is a sure sign that this part of the music should be edited out.

Don't forget that not all things are well served by rational processing. Sometimes, in the face of disaster or serious personal problems, you may need to just allow yourself to feel something irrational, probe the depths of it, and then let it go.
posted by fake at 12:58 PM on January 21, 2010 [6 favorites]


I've asked myself this exact question. The only answer I've been able to come up with is that any reaction or emotion may be logical for the perceived situation - it's the perception of the situation that is the tricky part. A strong emotional reaction should always be examined. I've found that there are very few occurrences in our day-to-day lives that merit a strong emotional response. Often those feelings are coming from somewhere else (an unresolved emotional issue, for example) and are being transferred to the everyday annoyance as a VERY BIG DEAL.

With time and practice, you may learn to do these calculations quickly - but for now the first thing to do is never react out of anger. If you become angry - remove yourself from the situation and return to it when you've had time to think. This doesn't mean that you need to become a push-over, but your arguments will have better outcomes if you can accurately express what the real issue is, and if you are furious, that becomes impossible.

Try and feel the emotion without letting it control you - cool down and re-examine. Good luck with this, it really will make your life better.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 12:59 PM on January 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Therapy sounds like a good idea.

Ask Metafilter is not therapy.
posted by dfriedman at 1:02 PM on January 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


I think you're going to want to talk to someone outside the situation about the specifics. Whether that's a therapist or a close friend is up to you. If you go the friend route, you need to really ask for and be ready to receive unbiased input even if it's "you're being an idiot."

As far as general advice. Can you remove yourself from the situation for a while to get some distance and then come back to it? I often find that if I can go away and watch a movie/read a book/distract myself from myself, I get a somewhat more objective look at whatever was freaking me out.
posted by grapesaresour at 1:05 PM on January 21, 2010


Just taking cues from your title, I'd say that given a choice, you should always be choosing baking soda volcano. I am having a hard time fathoming an argument where going Vesuvius on anyone is going to get you the best results the fastest. Because your goal isn't to scare or silence or hurt or anger anyone, right? That's all Vesuvius will help you achieve.

If you don't feel like you have a choice and you are Vesuvius-ing all the time, then you are probably not responding in a constructive way, regardless of whether or not you are angry for reasonable or rational reasons. The person you are arguing with can't see reason or rationality when there's raging hot lava coming at them.
posted by juliplease at 1:05 PM on January 21, 2010


Emotions are outside the realm of logic or illogic. They are things you feel, and they are either present or absent.

The rationale that I say I have for my emotion can be a logical or illogical rationale. But the emotion just is. And the tricky thing about emotions is they make it hard to evaluate our own rationales.

My approach is that the emotion is always OK. Whatever, it is a biochemical feeling, not a claim in a discourse or a punch in the face (even if it sometimes feels like one or the other). The emotion is OK, but emotion alone does not justify actions - it may be an extenuating circumstance, but not a justification. I count speech as an action here, by the way.

The problem is never the emotion, it is what you do under the influence of the emotion. Let the emotion be, it is fine, and it will never go away for good. Be conscientious about acting ethically, whether emotional or not.
posted by idiopath at 1:05 PM on January 21, 2010 [6 favorites]


Again, I'll recommend taking a course called PREP. It is designed to give you exactly the very skills you are asking about. Focusing on honoring emotional reactions while separating them from problem solving which is necessarily more objective. It also is great about teaching a productive way to express emotions and what types of communication behaviors (danger signs) are toxic to relationships. It's based on 30 years of laboratory reserch, wiring up couples and having them argue on camera. Then following them to see which couples stayed togetehr and which didn't. As close to a scientific answer to your question as you're going to get.

Reading the Book is good, but the class, including practice with a trained mentor, is essential. I wish I could entice every married couple to learn these skills!
posted by cross_impact at 1:05 PM on January 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Emotions" are a really tricky thing. I'm convinced that most of the time, my emotions are just the reaction of my forebrain to whatever is going on hormonally. So my forebrain sees a bunch of testosterone or adrenaline flowing around, it sees my hands heart rate increase and the sweat start flowing, I start getting the "red" behind my eyes, etc. and my brain goes "WTF RED ALERT YOU'RE ANGRY! LET'S FIND SOMETHING TO BE ANGRY ABOUT! YOUR SPOUSE IS A JERK BECAUSE HE DIDN'T PUT THE DISHES AWAY!"

Sometimes, starting a fight is enough to get the ol' adrenaline flowing, which positively reinforces itself - I start to get angry, so I think of things to get angry about, which makes me more angry.

Seconding the suggestion that therapists are pretty much trained to help sort out these sorts of questions.
posted by muddgirl at 1:06 PM on January 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


I agree with runningwithscissors and fake. Go see a therapist or talk to someone that will have an unbiased opinion about the situation. (e.g. not your mom or best friend, unless your best friend is awesome.)

Also, fake has it right: As a lady, I have moments approximately once a month in which I know I'm being irrational. I spilled the milk, so I cry. As long as you know you are overreacting and you aren't letting it affect your life/partner/friends etc other than "Oh, I'm sorry, I'm just a little emotional right now, forgive me), I think it's totally fine. But considering your previous questions and the fact that you are arguing with your wife, I'd definitely seek outside and/or professional help.

Good luck!
posted by Lizsterr at 1:13 PM on January 21, 2010


How can you tell if your reactions and emotions are rational and logical, and if you're expressing them in a rational and logical manner?

Emotions are neither rational nor logical. That does not mean that they shouldn't be listened to. Especially when they involve gigantic key decisions in our lives, continuing emotions that don't let up are trying to tell us something. Ones that pass and are never or rarely seen again are usually to be ignored.

Good luck.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:16 PM on January 21, 2010


To build on idiopath...

Pretty much every time I totally LOSE MY SHIT - there is something valid there - but what I did with it? Not so much.

Also, I think people "act out" when they are not being true to themselves. You know, like when what is going on outside doesn't jibe with what your "gut" is telling you.

(FWIW - I think attempting to control and contort your emotions and perceptions isn't helping you. In fact, it is causing you a lot of pain. If you do seek clarity, try to just let what is, IS. Good Luck - J.)
posted by jbenben at 1:18 PM on January 21, 2010


Emotions are emotions. I don't think it's useful to try to control them, because they're going to come whether you want them to or not. Behavior is what you can control. With regards to my behavior, there are two questions I try to ask.

The first is "will it make this situation better or worse?" If it's going to make it worse, then yes, I'm overreacting by definition. In a committed relationship, "better" and "worse" are defined over the long term. It may not be worth it to say something to the guy who cut in front of me in line at the bank. If my partner is rude to me, I'm not going to swallow it and say nothing because in the long term that just breeds resentment. So there may be some upset in the short term. But there is no reason it has to involve yelling or slamming doors or sarcasm or what have you. Those things never, ever make things better. If you watch yourself closely, they don't even make you feel good for a second, even if you're completely "justified" in our anger.

The second question is, "do I want to be right or do I want to be kind?" Dr. Wayne W. Dyer said, "if you have a choice between being right or being kind, be kind." In a committed relationship, kindness always trumps rightness. Sometimes being kind means letting the other person know they're being a jerk and hurting your feelings. In extreme cases, it means getting out of the relationship when there is abuse or other breaches of trust, because you must also be kind to yourself.

Does your reaction make things better or worse in your relationship? (I'm voting for worse, since you have to ask.) Is it more important to be right about [issue x] or is it more important to be kind to your wife? Only you can answer that. None of us can tell you what reaction you "should" have.
posted by desjardins at 1:19 PM on January 21, 2010 [3 favorites]


Echoing others that emotions don't need justifying or rationalizing, and there really shouldn't be a scaled, baking soda <> Vesuvius response that's somehow proportional to the emotions you're feeling. Vesuvius-type responses are understandable in some circumstances, but they're almost never helpful, and if you want the situation to improve then you should be thinking about what would be helpful as much of the time as you can possibly manage. Whether your reaction is rational or justified -- in the long run, it doesn't matter. Whether your reaction is constructive or destructive -- now that sticks.
posted by jon1270 at 1:20 PM on January 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


OK, I just read your question from last week. The rightness or wrongness of your feelings doesn't matter; you're suffering. Be kind to yourself and seek therapy.
posted by desjardins at 1:21 PM on January 21, 2010


Emotions are not rational and logical.
Emotions are outside the realm of logic or illogic.
Emotions are neither rational nor logical.


I don't agree. Some emotions are irrational, but I don't believe all of them are. Is the fear of falling when walking near a cliff edge an irrational emotion? I'd say that's a quite rational fear. I think some people have been watching too many TV shows and movies with Straw Vulcans.

To bring that back to the question at hand, understanding which emotions are rational and which are not can help us decide whether to act on those emotions. In my example, the rational fear might lead one to walk several feet away from the cliff edge rather than right along the very edge. Denying that all emotions are rational is not helpful in deciding which emotions should be acted upon.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:33 PM on January 21, 2010


A lot of times it just helps to ask myself, "What am I REALLY angry about here? Is it the dishes, or an overall lack of respect I've been feeling lately, or what?" Helping to pinpoint why something is upsetting me beyond just the trigger, usually helps me understand if my reaction is somewhat logical, or whether it's out of bounds.
posted by np312 at 1:36 PM on January 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


DevilsAdvocate: "Is the fear of falling when walking near a cliff edge an irrational emotion?"

Like I said, it is neither rational nor irrational, it is an emotion. If the fear of getting closer to the edge of the cliff means you get hit by a truck that you could have safely stepped out of the way of, the emotion was dysfunctional, if it makes sure you do not get close enough to fall off, it served its purpose. In neither case is it rational or irrational, actions are rational or irrational, emotions just plain are.
posted by idiopath at 1:47 PM on January 21, 2010


DA, I think the point is that emotions are arational (if that were a word) rather than irrational. Note that none of the examples you cited used the word 'irrational.' Posts that did use the word used it to say 'out of proportion with the situation' rather than 'nonsensical.'

An emotion may prompt a helpful, rational behavior (move away from the cliff), but the emotion itself isn't inherently rational. But it does get confusing when we conflate the feeling with the elicited behavior.
posted by jon1270 at 1:54 PM on January 21, 2010


Therapy is in the works. I was just curious about what other people thought so I can keep that in the back of my mind when I talk to my therapist (hopefully soon).

Thanks for the input so far.
posted by elder18 at 2:12 PM on January 21, 2010


Emotions are not rational and logical.
Emotions are outside the realm of logic or illogic.
Emotions are neither rational nor logical.

I don't agree. Some emotions are irrational, but I don't believe all of them are. Is the fear of falling when walking near a cliff edge an irrational emotion? I'd say that's a quite rational fear. I think some people have been watching too many TV shows and movies with Straw Vulcans.

To bring that back to the question at hand, understanding which emotions are rational and which are not can help us decide whether to act on those emotions. In my example, the rational fear might lead one to walk several feet away from the cliff edge rather than right along the very edge. Denying that all emotions are rational is not helpful in deciding which emotions should be acted upon.


Let me clarify. An emotion is a chemical/neurological state. It is neither rational not not rational. It is a state of mind. A state of mind cannot be "rational."

What you are talking about is whether or not it the feared situation is likely or not likely to be occuring. That is a different question. The emotion itself is not rational nor irrational--it just is.

I think that emotions in a situation like this can be a guide to one's actions. However, they are not "rational." They represent information for the OP which comes from data not processed by the higher brain centers. Who knows where it comes from pheremones, whatever. However, they can provide information that is invaluable. However, emotions, because they are non-rational, cannot be tested on an emotional level--that is their danger. The information they tell us can be verified by rational means, but there is no self-testing that can be done as can be done with rational means.

For you, OP, the question is two fold; (1) do I trust what my emotions are telling me? and (2) how do I respond to what they are tellling you.

When it comes to the situation you are in, our animal centers have millions of years of evolution to detect this very situation. You may be literally smelling something your nose is designed to detect. I would listen very closely to your animal senses in a situation like this.

The other question is how should you respond. You talk about vesuvius v. baking soda volcano. Neither are appropriate for your situation. When you actually talk with your wife about these issues, the answer is you should supress your emotions and be cold as ice. Do not give her an emotion to react to. You can say "what is happening is making me angry," but raising your voice and the like will activate her defenses. You don't want that. You want her to look at the situation logically and to act accordingly.

I'd also start doing things for yourself. She'll pick up on that.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:17 PM on January 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Listen to your body, not your mind, because if you are reacting as a zero impedance input-output device, driven by emotions, your mind isn't going to operate properly. Every body has its signature suite of physical signals and you need to pay attention to identify yours. Rapid breathing or pulse, sudden sweating, hot blushing, butterflies, sudden chill, sudden urge to urinate or defecate, tightness in the chest, increase in voice pitch, shudders, getting turned on, feeling that your head is about to explode, skin crawling, a rush of tears, aching larynx and other sensations of arousal in a situation probably mean that you are not operating from your prefrontal cortex and may be in touch with the amygdala, your inner Mongo.

Take a deep breath (one that moves your diaphragm down) and count slowly to ten. If you don't feel yourself climbing down from your tree, chances are that your responses will not align with a coherent argument proceeding from the rules of formal logic from premises to conclusion. (If that is your goal.)
posted by technocrat at 2:25 PM on January 21, 2010


I'm going to guess that over-reacting is not the problem here.

if certain situations warrant the reactions I feel inclined to give

There is a big range of area in between 'macho idiot' and 'doormat. ' Explore that area a bit and you may find your emotions are entirely rational, and your reaction should follow suit.
posted by sageleaf at 2:30 PM on January 21, 2010


Are you just angry because you are
- hungry
- cold
- tired
- under the weather?

Are you angry because of something else (your boss, the weather, you got out of bed on the wrong side), and this is increasing your reaction to things that would ordinarily just annoy you?

Can you identify a common pattern that leads up to arguments? If you can spot the seeds of an argument before you start "flying off the handle" it might be possible to study your reactions more calmly.

Also, you might try looking for some more different emotions hiding under the loud and obvious ones. When you're in a stew, you probably know what you are angry about; what are you worried about? What are you frightened of? Maybe you would have more confidence that your feelings are "rational" if you were more aware of where they are coming from and what influences them.
posted by emilyw at 2:38 PM on January 21, 2010


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