Listening and Guiding our Self Protecting Emotions

We looked at how the anger, anxiety and disgust act as self-protecting devices that evolution has designed to protect us. They have served many species for millions of years. But these emotions come with limited instructions and tell us very little about what to do in certain situations in our modern times.

Recently I went to return a flashlight to a home hardware store. It wasn’t working and I didn’t have a receipt. I was given one excuse after another why it couldn’t be returned; even the manager was unhelpful. They was ‘sticking to policy so rigidly that it just made my angry.

I could feel my jaws tighten, eyes narrow, the tone of voice changed to more assertive and the urge to speak/ scream/ lash out / hit something or someone can increase if we don’t listen and guide our emotions.  Luckily I walked away long before that happened. As our anger gains momentum it exerts increasing control over our mind. This control is even easier if we are tired. Our anger is designed to threaten others who are threatening or blocking us. We can shift to hyper – protective mode and slightest thing can throw us into fury, tears or anxiety; and sometimes resulting in consequences we did not intend.

This hyper protective mode served us well in the past to overcome the life threatening dangers, but in modern time it is quite often not clear what the measured response should be, over reacting can be embarrassing and no reaction at all can send a massage to others that we are push over and with time we will be just ignored.  So what are we to do?  First we have to learn not to act them out without standing back and deciding what to do.

Similarly when we are anxious we can’t always run away in today’s world. If we did that we may never learn the skills to cope with anxiety.

Other times when we need to listen and guide our emotions are when our leaders summons these emotions within us. We have to be cautious that we are not led blindly by our emotions when an inspiring leader summons them within us. Hitler was able to generate passion and pride in his audiences, and his audiences allowed these emotions to work in and through them with horrible consequences.

The threat/self- protection system was designed to protect us. These primitive little devices have served us well in the past, but in modern world they need our guidance and our modern mind to contain them.


The compassionate mind by Paul Gilbert

Leave a comment


  1. Joan Ivany

     /  July 2, 2012

    I just cannot envision you in a mad state – but i agree that you can control it. I had to fight
    jealousy which would stay with me, but now I seem to have got rid of this emotion, but I’m not sure how. Joan

    • Thank for you feed back.
      I guess we all have our moments.
      It would be nice if we can control it before too much is done.
      Have a great day.


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