Your Emotional Filter – or “How You Fool Yourself”
Your emotional state affects how you remember and understand things.
Your emotions filter information and activate one set of memories or impressions over another.
It is therefore important to understand what is going on and to take charge of your emotions, rather than letting them rule you and fool you.
In simple terms our feelings tend to sit in one of three positions. Most people are most often emotionally neutral, just getting on with life as it comes along. On some occasions, though, we can feel very happy and upbeat about life. These feelings might be prompted by being successful at something, or experiencing some emotionally uplifting experience.
On other occasions, though, we can feel quite down and even depressed. These feelings might be prompted by an experience of failure or some emotionally challenging experience.
Psychologists use the term Mania for our positive emotional state and Depression for our negative emotional state. Some people fluctuate between their highs and lows so disruptively they are diagnosed as Manic-Depressive, or Bi-polar as it is commonly labelled today.
In our normal frame of mind, not manic and not depressive, we take things as they come. We do not have any particular emotional magnet messing with our interpretation of the information coming to us.
If in that state we were to think back on our life we would have access to all kinds of memories, good and bad, happy and sad.
If we are in a manic, upbeat or positive frame of mind our emotional filter tends to focus on and remember times when we felt this way before. The positive feelings build on the positive feelings and we can have quite a strong sense of wellbeing, security and happiness and even a sense of invincibility, feeling confident that everything is going to go our way.
Conversely, if we are in a depressive frame of mind our emotional filter will tend to focus on and remember times when we felt depressed before. The downcast feelings build on similar feelings and we can have quite a strong sense of depression, failure and fear of the future and even a feeling of hopelessness, as if whatever we do is going to turn out badly.
Our emotional filter is not actually a bad thing. It’s just something we need to understand and manage appropriately. If you are not aware of it you may end up letting it fool you into wrong thinking.
Jesus Christ talked about the ability of our emotions to completely change our memories, when he spoke of a woman giving birth.
“A woman has sorrow when giving birth, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she forgets the anguish for joy that a child is born into the world.” John 16:21
During the difficult times of a pregnancy a woman may have an emotional low and swear that she will never put herself through all of this ever again. But after the baby is born a different set of emotions kick in and she might feel much more positive about having more children. Her feelings of despair and discomfort are replaced by feelings of joy and delight.
Such a shift in perspective doesn’t mean she is mad, it is typical of how all of us function under the influence of our emotional filter.
Long before Jesus Christ wise King Solomon recorded the instruction of his mother about giving strong drink to those who need to forget their troubles.
“Give strong drink to him that is ready to perish, and wine to those with heavy hearts. Let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more.” Proverbs 31:6,7
We all know that certain foods, drinks and experiences modify our emotional state. We use these various things to ‘self-medicate’ – to make ourselves feel good. We can self-medicate with the first cup of coffee in the morning, a home-cooked meal, talking to a friend, listening to our favourite music, indulging in a sweet or retail-therapy. These are all ways we help ourselves feel better if we are not at our best.
I once read that cults had learned to use junk food to modify the moods of their victims. One group would recruit young people and use them as slave labour doing such things as begging for money in car parks. Frantic parents would track down their child and get court orders to allow them to meet their child. Shortly before the meeting the young person would be fed up on junk food which filled their half-starved body with enough sugar and stuff to give them a high.
Under that chemical inducement the young person would feel elated and could only remember all the good things about their time with the so called “friends”.
So, we each have an emotional filter and we are each affected by it in various ways. We also have the ability to affect it, but it too can dominate the way we think and feel about things.
The operation of our emotional filter can be seen in those situations where people say completely contradictory things from day or day, or even from moment to moment.
If a person does not have control over their emotions they can display quite alarming swings in their moods, and with the mood swing comes a complete rewriting of their history and perceptions.
When someone feels happy with a loved one, such as spouse, sibling, parent or child, that emotional state triggers memories of all the times they have enjoyed that relationship. Induced by such memories and feelings they might say something like, “You are wonderful! You make me SO happy!”
However if they then feel offended by that same person their emotions can switch to the opposite setting and suddenly they not only feel negative about that person, but somehow they can now remember many times when they have felt the same negative way. This time they might say something like, “You have always been SO hurtful! I’ve never really liked you. I wish I never knew you!”
On both occasions the person can speak quite sincerely. For that moment all the thoughts, memories and feelings they have access to match what they are saying.
Quite often in such an upset the emotions settle down and the person feels apologetic for their excessive outburst. They may then say something like, “I didn’t really mean what I said when I was attacking you.”
Once again the person is speaking sincerely. They now review what they said and they don’t have access to all the dominating emotions and memories that fed their negative feelings. They now have a more reasonable view of things and they try to patch up the relationship.
Clearly it is dangerous to be so out of control emotionally. Not only will we be pushed like a boat in the wind, but others around us will be hurt and confused by our changeableness.
Rule Your Own Spirit
We each need to have rule over our own spirit, controlling our emotions, managing our emotional filter so it doesn’t fool us and make a mess our perceptions.
Step One – Realise you have an emotional filter that can fool you into believing things that are not true, because they are skewed, either positively or negatively.
Step Two – Recognise your predisposition, toward unrealistic upbeat feelings, or unrealistic negative feelings, or even to switching from one to the other erratically.
Step Three – Ask God to help you get “rule over your own spirit” so you don’t get pushed around by your emotions or the skewed sense of reality from your emotional filter.
Step Four – Get your friends and loved ones to function as a reality filter for you. Find people who are balanced (not overly optimistic or overly negative or critical) and get them to check your ideas with you.
Step Five – Wise up about life and reality. A good way to do that is to read the Bible and learn Christ’s principles for living. They will be an anchor for your life and give you a reference point to test whether you are out of balance or not.