Do we really choose emotions?

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Recent neuroscience says that emotions such as fear run on a separate track from conscious cognitions. The brain appraises events below or prior to conscious processing. For example, if you come upon a bear in the woods, your brain will automatically appraise the event as threatening and throw your physiology into the "fight or flight" syndrome. There is no conscious processing of the event between the sighting of the bear and the body going into physiological arousal. Neuroscientists have tracked the fear response in the brain and say it bypasses the areas that conduct conscious processing. This being the case, how can such an automatic fear response be considered a "choice"? I value reality therapy quite highly, but can only view its insistence that ALL behavior is chosen as extreme. How do the rest of you feel about this?

-- Tom Cheney (tcheney@pacbell.net), April 08, 2003

Answers

THOSE THINGS IN CHOICE THEORY THAT ARE SEEMINGLY AT ODDS WITH TRUE REALTY, ARE NOT THE HARD AND FAST RULES THAT WE SOMETIMES ASSUME THEY ARE- FOR INSTANCE,I FIND IT HARD TO BELIEVE THAT IN ANY REAL CT/RT PUBLICATION THAT THE WORD "ALL" IS EVER CAPITALIZED, AS YOU CAPITALIZE IT IN YOUR QUESTION-AS CHOICE THEORY SEEMS TO BE INTERESTED IN WHAT WORKS-MORE THAN BEING"RIGHT"-I.E.- IF YOU CUT YOURSELF AND ARE BLEEDING TO DEATH - I DOUBT THAT ANY R.T.C. WOULD TELL YOU THAT"IT IS YOUR CHOICE TO BLEED" SO WE MUST TAKE THE SMALL FLEXABLE PARTS OF-CT LESS AS ABSOLUTES-BUT AS A FLEXIBLE TOOL, THAT MORE OFTEN THAN NOT FITS THE JOB PERFECTLY-BUT -IF, LIKE IN MY EXAMPLE, RT/CT IS THE INCORRECT TOOL- WE CAN AT THIS POINT CHOOSE A DIFFERENT TOOL -OR MODIFY OUR THERAPY AS NEEDED-SO AFTER ALL, AS WE CAN SEE; CT SHOULD ALLWAYS BE SEEN AS AN OPEN-ENDED, FLEXIBLE SYSTEM AND IS CONCERNED MORE WITH HEALING PEOPLE AND LESS WITH STRICT ADHERENCE TO ITS RULES. -INDEED I HAVE BEEN TOLD BY MY R.T.C. TO IGNORE ANY PART OF CHOICE THEORY I DIDNT CHOOSE TO ACCEPT!---CHEERS--- ---ZINAROO

-- julian porter (zinarooz@yahoo.com), April 08, 2003.

That is a very interesting--and unexpected--response. As I understand you, you are saying that the important thing about the notion of all behavior being chosen is that it empowers people and gives them hope. The important thing is that it tells people they have more power over their well-being than they commonly suppose. I further interpret you to be saying that Dr. Glasser and RTCs in general consider this therapeutic effect to be much more important than someone's willingness or ability to believe that ALL emotional behavior is chosen. I have raised the issue because it seems to me that there are instances where things happen in the body/mind that simply bypass or precede the mechanisms of conscious choice. The assertion that all behavior is chosen can lead to the mistaken impression that all feeling states can be controlled. I know that CT talks about total behavior and says that action and to a lesser degree thought lead affect and physiology, but as in the case of the "bear sighting" I mentioned earlier, unconscious, automatic processing occurs prior to conscious processing and sounds the alarm before the centers of conscious reasoning have a chance to weigh in. Should I simply content myself with a slightly unorthodox take on CT, namely that we choose MOST--in fact a surprisingly large amount of our behavior--as opposed to ALL of it? I greatly appreciate your consideration. Tom

-- Tom Cheney (tcheney@pacbell.net), April 08, 2003.

I think the reactions you speak of could be classed under, or along with, the "Brief involuntary behaviours" that Glasser speaks of on his choice theory chart. These would include such emotions as the sudden savage jolt that someone might experience on hearing of the death of a loved one. He argues that such feelings are necessarily brief and and says that your feelings thoughts physiology and actions will very quickly become part of a total behaviour over which you have control and which you are responsibe for. Your behaviours are your attempts to reach homeostasis and you choose them. It is interesting to reflect on some time when you were siezed by an involuntary behaviour and see if you can remember how long it took before you once again became aware of your total behaviours. In evolutionary terms it makes perfect sense that we developed an instant automatic flight or fight response and even more sense that we further developed total behaviours with an essential cognitive component..

-- ken lyons (kenlyon@gofree.indigio.ie), April 08, 2003.

I appreciate the opportunity to qualify the statement of the individual being able to be in control of his/her behavior, consequences, and resulting feelings. You brought up the situation of having an unplanned interaction with a bear. As soon as I read this, I thought of Glacier National Park, reports of bear maulings, and nature programs telling of how a 800 pound grizzly can run as fast as horse for short distances. (I do not run as fast as a horse and I am short! Bummer!) I see a grizzly, I am scared whether I want to be or not. However, if I am in grizzly country, I would choose behaviors to lessen the consequence of a grizzly encounter, resulting in a feeling of safety. To say the least, I would be the loudest sucker in Glacier National Forest--singing, with bells ringing from all appendages--carrying the largest cannister of pepper spray on the industrial market. The use of this statement should not be construed to be all inclusive. I choose to think of the statement as being useful for the individual who wants to take a proactive stance in his/her life, regarding consequences and interactions with others , as well as resulting feelings.

-- Ted Donato (tdonato@toppenish.wednet.edu), April 17, 2003.

I appreciate your taking the time to respond. I am a psych grad student who has recently become reacquainted with reality therapy through course readings. I am very taken with reality therapy. I believe it offers a clear and powerful means of understanding and helping people. However, as you can no doubt tell from my postings, I am troubled by the notion of emotions being chosen. Years ago I had a nasty case of social anxiety and tried all of the prevailing pop psych, cognitive, and behavioral remedies. They only made me worse. The more I focused on my internal states and attempted to change them, the more anxiety I felt. I didn't get better until I came across the notion of simply accepting one's internal states and going about one's business. The idea was to stop fighting your feelings and instead focus on what needed doing in the moment. I think reality therapy can be interpreted to be saying focus on behavior and let your feelings follow. You can influence feeling states indirectly via your behavior. But I fear that reality therapy can also be intrepreted to be saying that you can feel good all the time--all you have to do is make good behavioral choices. There is a world of difference between these two positions. The first leads to more responsible behavior and more effective intercourse with the world. The second leads to an innefective and narcisisstic feeling- centered existence. At least that's been my experience. But again, I am grateful for the chance to air my misgivings via this forum and am appreciative of your response.

-- Tom Cheney (tcheney@pacbell.net), April 17, 2003.


I have served 20 years in law enforcement and for the last 10 as "processing coach" for an residential elementary school of of "at risk children." Glasser also says that behavior is learned and I agee, even to the extreeme circumstances such as happened to me. I came upon two officers taken at gunpoint in the woods one night, my body became tense, I know I lost all track of time and I am sure "fight to flight" kicked in for me too. the two officers did not unholster but were the first to see he was reaching for a gun but froze. The point is I just finished 2 weeks of Instructer combat training that month and felt that you can train or if you will the response of the "fight to flight."

-- ziggy ostrowski (zostrowski@hotmail.com), February 02, 2005.

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