By Deepak Chopra, MD
Recently, a close friend of mine made the remark that our emotions for the most part are basic, primal, immature, and unevolved. Ever since then, I have been ruminating on the validity of this statement. If our emotions are basically primitive, then how they be our allies, especially on the path to personal growth? Might emotions be so backward that they are enemies of growth instead? Like most generalities, this one about the primitive nature of emotions seems to be equally true and untrue — and therefore, possibly a half truth. In nature’s scheme, nothing is wasted. The universe is a big jigsaw puzzle where everything seems to fit.
According to the evolutionary model that goes back to Darwin, nature favors emotionality as a feature of natural selection. Natural selection has only one intention — survival. According to Darwin, fear readies the animal for flight in dangerous situations. Anger readies the animal for combat. Jealousy alerts the animal to the possibility of usurpation of reproductive chances, etc.
Anger by itself is not considered a toxic emotion. On the other hand, hostility is felt to be very toxic. Hostility occurs when there are resentments or grievances, and when there is an unconscious need for getting even, for vengeance, or for retribution. Hostility is considered to be the number one risk factor for premature death from cardiovascular illness by epidemiologists.
The best way to handle toxic emotions is to become aware that not all emotional turbulence is necessarily toxic. Fear, hostility, guilt and depression are considered to be the most toxic emotions. Depression undermines the immune system and makes one more susceptible to cancer and infections, according to some psycho-neuroimmunologists. Hostility and aggression predispose one to autoimmune illness and cardiovascular accidents.
Psychologists tell us the best way to deal with these toxic emotions is to go through the following processes:
1. Take responsibility for your own emotions. If you are waiting for somebody else to change so you can feel better, you might wait for a long time.
2. Witness the emotion. All emotions are sensations in the body. Feel the physical sensation associated with those emotions.
3. Define the emotions in an emotional vocabulary that does not represent victimization. Feeling sad, for example, is a genuine emotion. Feeling abandoned, on the other hand, represents victimization.
4. Express emotions by journaling, preferably in the first person, second person and third person.
5. Share your emotions with a close and trusted friend, or lover.
7. Release emotions, preferably through ritual practice.
8. Celebrate and move on.
If you feel that your emotions are basic, primal, immature and unevolved, remember what Charles Darwin said — natural selection favors them as part of the evolutionary scheme.
Deepak Chopra, MD is the author of more than 80 books with twenty-two New York Times bestsellers. He serves as the founder of The Chopra Foundation and co-founder of The Chopra Center for Wellbeing. His latest book is The Future of God