Polishing Tools for Your Fuse Box of Emotions – The New York Times


Photo by Katherine copyright

Sang-froid has its place, especially during a crisis; but so does Sigmund Freud, who described the potential downside of suppressed passions. Those exhortations being directed at the president could be just as easily be turned on countless co-workers, spouses, friends (or oneself):

Lose it. Just once. See what happens.

“One reason we’re so attuned to others’ emotions is that, when it’s a real emotion, it tells us something important about what matters to that person,” said James J. Gross, a psychologist at Stanford University. When it’s suppressed or toned down, he added, “people think, damn it, you’re not like us, you don’t care about the same things we do.”

Rigorous study of what psychologists call emotion regulation is fairly new, and for obvious reasons has focused far more on untamed passions than on the domesticated variety. Runaway emotion defines many mental disorders, after all; restraint is typically associated with good mental health, from childhood through later life.

Yet social functioning is a different matter. Research in the past few years has found that people develop a variety of psychological tools to manage what they express in social situations, and those techniques often become subconscious, affecting interactions in unintended ways. The better that people understand their own patterns, the more likely they are to see why some emotionally charged interactions go awry — whether from too little control or, in the president’s case, perhaps too much.

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