Friday, May 6, 2011


There are two parts to any mental state: the factual position we find ourselves in, and any connected emotional state. The two can become interwoven in an unmanageable way. We tend to say things like: 'That person/thing drives me up the wall'.

To help, we might borrow the idea of vectors. A vector is a kind of 'separating label' that contains two or more pieces of information. For example, velocity is treated as a 'composite state' and split by scientists into two pieces of information, one about magnitude, and one about direction.

An uncomfortable reactive psychological state could be split into two: rational situation and emotional reaction. For example, you might feel uncomfortable, and diagnose your rational situation as 'rejected', and your emotional state as 'angry'. Rejected is not an emotional state in itself - you can be happy and rejected if you want! Conversely, angry is not a rational situation, it is an emotional state. So you could describe your 'vector state' as rejected/angry. The advantage of this kind of analysis, is it helps the self-analyser to disentangle the situation from their response. Behaviourally, the act of analysis itself is at the very least likely to calm the emotion identified.

It's true that complete dissociation of emotional response from situation is one symptom of what we might consider madness. But analysing the pairing of situation and emotion doesn't remove the normative association, it just gives the chance of bringing the emotion, if uncomfortable, within the bounds of comfort and manageability.

So, next time you're uncomfortable, try the old good-friend trick on yourself, of asking yourself two questions: (1) What's happening, and then, SEPARATELY, (2) How do you feel? Don't say 'How do you feel about it' - '...about it' just asks for a reinforcing of the connection. Keep the questions separate. First, what's happening. Second, how do you feel?

The result of the separation of the 'vector state' into two separate components can be that your response becomes more manageable. Just as scientists get more control over matter, so we can get more control over mind, by defining separable components.

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