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Translator: Phil Marshall Reviewer: Yang Xinzhe
What if I said to you
that the violent criminals and sex offenders inside Taipei Prison
are much better at controlling their emotions
than our university students?
Would you believe me?
Since I do psychological research,
I often have the opportunity to go to different places
and get to know different kinds of people.
Over the past few years,
in addition to working with university students,
I've also visited Taipei Prison often.
What I just mentioned is the result of our latest study.
When we started,
we were a little surprised too.
Emotion. What is it exactly?
Is it good or bad?
Do you want to have them?
I started working part time when I was in high school.
I was told very early on,
"When you come to work, leave your emotions at the door."
Then I learned what people meant by the word "professional."
A very important part of it is to not have emotions.
Not to get angry when you encounter someone unreasonable.
Not to cry when you feel sad.
That's in the workplace.
At home, if you have a disagreement with your family,
they might say to you, "Don't be so emotional."
Emotions: when you have them, it's like you've become a second-class citizen.
What you say is reasonable but useless.
Now you might say,
"That's just your generation. Kids today are different.
They have a well-rounded training from a young age."
Is that so?
Early this year, we started a research project
to get elementary students to identify their emotions and develop their EQ.
In class we asked the children,
"What is anger?
Do you remember the last time you were angry?"
The children replied,
"I don't know.
I don't. Mom and Dad say I shouldn't get angry.
Our teacher says it's bad to get angry."
As we can see, nobody seems to like having emotions.
Why hasn't evolution just gotten rid of them?
How have they managed to survive until today?
There are many reasons.
An important one is that they can save lives.
Maybe not as many lives as the previous speakers have,
but they can still save lives.
I once had a patient
who was a successful career woman on Wall Street.
She first came to me hoping to get to know herself better
so she could develop her leadership skills and become a better leader.
She shared with me that when working in a male-dominated environment,
you can't reveal your weaknesses and frailties.
After a long time working like this, you learn to suppress your emotions.
During the time I counseled her, she started having marital problems.
Her relationship with her husband became unstable.
One time during a fight,
he picked up a glass from the table and flung it at her.
She quickly got out of the way.
The glass hit the wall,
and there were shards of glass everywhere.
Afterwards, I asked her a question
that all psychologists eventually ask their patients:
"How did you feel?"
"How did you feel?"
She said, "I felt angry. How can he treat me like this?"
I said, "What else?"
She said "I felt hopeless.
When I first married him, he wasn't like this."
Are there any emotions
that you think you'd have in this situation,
that she hadn't mentioned?
What happens when we're scared?
We flee.
What happens when we are angry?
We attack the other person.
If we can't correctly identify our emotions,
instead of running away in fear,
we might think we're angry and attack someone;
this can lead to very serious consequences.
This woman had stifled
and ran away from her emotions and insecurities for so long
that she had forgotten what it is to feel fear.
Her situation was urgent,
and I couldn't teach her in such a short time
how to experience fear again.
So I don't have the chance to reestablish this kind of "circuit" in her brain.
This is a diagram of the brain, the one you've just seen.
When we experience fear,
the information from the body's five senses -
what we see, what we hear and so on -
is passed from the thalamus
to the sensory cortex for processing.
The hippocampus, which is in charge of memory,
will download the relevant information from the situation
and send it to the amygdala for comparison.
The amygdala stores our previous experiences of fear.
It evaluates the level of danger compared to past experiences
and then orders the hypothalamus to make an appropriate response.
You can see that in this circuit,
past experiences and memories play a very important role.
But we didn't have enough time to reestablish it.
So we could only work on awareness and recognition.
I told this woman, "The next time this happens,
no matter how you feel, you have to call 911 immediately."
We went over it repeatedly,
and in the end, there was a time when they fought again.
This time, her husband grabbed a knife.
Afterwards, she told me she was angry at the time,
she looked at him and hesitated for a few seconds,
but because of what we practiced, she eventually called 911.
Fortunately, the police arrived within 7 minutes
and tragedy was avoided.
Emotions can direct our actions and decide their consequences.
Correctly identifying emotions can save your life.
Of course, this is a more extreme example.
On the less extreme side,
our research keeps telling us that our physical and mental health,
our academic achievements and job performance,
our leadership skills and creativity
are all intimately related to our emotions.
But what exactly are emotions?
In fact, they're a kind of feeling,
our own subjective experience.
They can be influenced by many things.
Like our thoughts and opinions.
They can also lead to different actions, like attacking someone.
"I'm so angry because I think you tricked me!
So I'm going to hit you."
My thinking could be wrong because I misunderstood you.
My behavior could also be wrong,
because I shouldn't hit people when I'm angry.
But feelings themselves aren't right or wrong,
correct or incorrect, good or bad.
In the United States, you'll often hear people say,
"You shouldn't feel that way."
I hate it when people say that.
It's like if I said to you, "I'm so cold!"
And you replied, "Then stop feeling cold!"
This is your own subjective experience.
Nobody has the right to tell you
that what you're experiencing is right or wrong, good or bad.
At this point you might ask,
"Are you saying that the criminals in prison
got there just because of emotional problems?"
I remember when I was in Taipei Prison evaluating them,
I asked them the same kind of question:
"How did you feel when you did this?"
They immediately responded, "I know. Pissed off!"
Then I asked, "So what could you do to feel a little better?"
They said, "I know!" right away.
"I felt much better after beating them up."
On the other hand, when I ask college students, "How do you feel?"
They say, "I don't know."
"Then, what could you do to feel better?"
"I don't know ..."
So it would appear
that the prison inmates are much better at identifying and regulating emotions
than college students.
The problem is how you express your emotions.
All feelings are okay.
But even though it's okay to get angry, I shouldn't hit people.
We taught elementary students about EQ, emotional quotient.
How to correctly identify your emotions,
and the correct way of expressing them.
All feelings are okay.
That doesn't mean all perceptions are true or that all behaviors are acceptable,
but all feelings are okay.
Even though all feelings are subjective experiences,
there are a few fundamental emotions
that every person will frequently have.
This goes across cultures.
Today, if you met someone
with a completely different background, culture, or language,
you'd still be able to correctly identify the six fundamental emotions
through their facial expressions.
Other emotions can be hard to distinguish because of cultural differences,
but everyone will frequently have these fundamental emotions.
Every time I talk about this in Chinese,
I'll hear people whisper the phrase "Happiness, anger, sorrow, joy."
Happiness and joy are the same thing!
So since we speak Chinese, we can guess those three.
What about the other three?
Surprise. Fear. Disgust.
Everyone regularly experiences these emotions.
But the intensity and outward expression of these emotions
will vary from person to person, and also depending on the situation.
I once had a colleague who was a developmental psychologist.
He was also a very typical American.
He once asked me, "Hey, how often do you cry?"
I said, "One or two times a year.
Maybe three."
He said, "Ah! That's so unhealthy!"
Obviously you don't think so, right?
I said, "So how many times do you cry in a year?"
He said, "Three times I cry a little, and five times I cry a lot."
Is that healthier?
Everyone gets sad, but that's not to say that whenever someone feels sad,
they necessarily will cry.
The intensity and outward expression can differ.
I just said, everyone has these emotions regularly.
Looking at these six emotions,
can you tell me, or rather tell yourself,
when was the last time you had them?
If you say, "I don't remember,"
or you haven't felt them for a few months or a year,
that doesn't mean you haven't had them;
rather, it means you haven't noticed them.
You ignored them,
or perhaps you suppressed them or distracted yourself from them.
If we look once more at the six fundamental emotions,
only one of them is positive: happiness.
Surprise can be good or bad.
The other four are all negative.
Nobody likes negative emotions.
They feel bad.
But they still have a reason for existence.
They can warn you and let you know
that if you don't make some changes, there could be danger.
It's just like pain.
Nobody likes pain.
But if I accidentally put my hand on top of a hot stove
and I didn't feel pain, I wouldn't know to withdraw my hand.
Recently, there has been a worrying trend in developed countries:
people are trying very hard to avoid having negative emotions.
Recently when I was in the United States, I went into a drugstore.
Their drugstores are a bit like Watsons here in Taiwan.
They don't just sell medicine there, but also many daily necessities.
I couldn't help but take this picture when I was there.
There was an entire wall just selling pain killers, pain relief.
What we call OTC, over the counter drugs, which are very easy to obtain.
If you look at sales data for OTC drugs, you'll see that for the past few years,
pain killers are always number one.
The question is, Now what?
After you've taken pain killers, will the problem just go away?
Maybe, but there's also a chance that the problem will get worse.
It's the same as the feeling of pain.
I used to work as an EMT.
That is, working in an ambulance as an emergency medical technician.
When we got to the site of the emergency,
no matter how much pain someone was experiencing,
we couldn't give them any painkillers or anesthetics.
If we did that, then they wouldn't feel pain anymore,
and we might make an error.
We might delay giving first aid or make a misdiagnosis.
Negative emotions are the same way.
If you try to escape from them by ignoring or suppressing them,
the problem won't just go away.
It might fester until it becomes more serious.
Recently in the news,
you hear about people who explode without warning
and commit some unspeakable action.
One reason for this could be
that they've suppressed warnings from their emotions.
In fact, negative emotions are very important.
It's here to stay and isn't going to be phased out.
Since we don't have a choice,
can we try to look at them from a different perspective?
They're actually not that scary.
There are times when they can be very intense,
but they don't last forever.
I once had a patient tell me, "I'm trying really hard not to cry!"
I asked, "Why?"
He said, "I'm afraid if I cry, I won't be able to stop."
I said to him, "Don't worry.
That's impossible."
Have you ever known or heard of someone
who started crying and never stopped?
Emotions don't last forever.
That's the nature of emotions.
So while happiness won't last forever, neither will sadness.
Emotions make the finer things in life more clear and distinct.
For example, someone who has never experienced loss
will have a limited understanding of what it means to have something.
We innately have so many different kinds of emotions,
just like the colors on an artist's palette.
If we use a little more color
and attentively experience each emotion,
maybe, just maybe,
we can create a more colorful, elegant, and enriching life.
Thank you.
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Acknowledge and Embrace Your Negative Emotions | May Chen | TEDxTaipei

445 Folder Collection
陳英雄 published on May 6, 2020
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