2 min read

Crisis, Emotion, and Intention

Depending on where you live, we're about a week or so into our period of isolation and social distancing. Maybe a bit more. I hope not much less. It’s been interesting to me to see the different ways people are responding to this crisis. I don’t mean official responses by government or opinions from media, mind you. I just mean how individual people are feeling, and what they’re saying. It’s interesting to note who is responding by turning toward togetherness and who is responding by lashing out.

I don’t mean any judgment here. It’s a stressful time, and stress brings out a lot of emotions that we’re not always equipped to deal with. I just think it’s interesting. A lot of people are reacting in ways that are unsurprising—people I think of as kind being kind, people I think of as angry being angry, and so on. But it’s not all what I expected.

I don’t know that it’s exactly that crisis shows you who you are. There’s some truth to that, of course—for example, times of deprivation can help you see what’s important to you by showing what you miss and what you don’t. But I don’t know that it’s exactly correct that the “real” you comes out when you’re stressed. Stress can make certain emotions feel more urgent, and can lower certain inhibitions we have about expressing those emotions. But I don’t think that’s more real, necessarily. In part, I think that who you want to be is part of who you authentically are. I think your aspirations are an expression of what you value, and that’s real.

Still, I do think we sometimes find out things about ourselves when we’re in crisis, things that may surprise us in ways we find gratifying or unsettling, or perhaps confusing. Sometimes we might find ourselves behaving in ways that we don’t like, and that can make us feel bad about ourselves. That’s natural, too, but what I hope is that we can take the opportunity to reflect on our emotional processes, instead of just flagellating ourselves.

In crisis, we tend to seek a feeling of safety or control, and this can manifest in a lot of different ways. Sometimes it means turning inward, sometimes turning outward, and either way it can help or hurt others. I think that recognizing our behaviors as safety-seeking can be illuminating. Identifying the emotion without judgment and seeing the underlying need can help us get out of the moment where the emotion is controlling, and instead it becomes clarifying. That is, it can clarify what your desire is and what your need is, and how those aren’t always the same thing. Seeing our emotions and desires and needs with clarity gives us the opportunity to understand what our values are. Once we understand what our values are, we can then make intentional choices to act in ways that align with those values.

Remember, though, that it’s hard to act with intention when we are still inside that emotion. Emotions aren’t a bad thing. Emotions are the way your body tells you that you need something. So it’s important to pay attention to what your emotions are telling you about your needs. But your emotional mind isn’t as good at things like making informed choices, planning, analyzing, weighing options. You need your intellectual mind for that. Neither “side” here is better or worse. Both are performing important functions.

All this is just to say, I hope that you can take some time today—or at least soon—to slow down, to feel your feelings, and to be kind to yourself. I think that’s the way you can end up being able to be kind to others.

Take care,