Voluntary living

I am going to use some direct quotes from Semmelroth’s book that actually are in one of the last chapters, but it makes a point from which we can build a foundation for dealing with hyper and hypo arousal. It talks about anger specifically, but I will try to expand the discussion to to other emotions eventually.

You cannot wade in the river of anger without being sucked in by the undertow of the loss of freedom.  It is an outright logical impossibility to try to force yourself  or someone else to do something and have the resulting behavior occur voluntarily. Participation in the exercise of force and threats of force can have only one of two results: either involuntary compliance or involuntary resistance.

Remember- ‘force’ can be the smallest thing, like a vanishing smile. It is pretty tempting to think you don’t use force that much on yourself or others. Semmelroth clarifies that.

Unfortunately, you cannot always avoid people who threaten you in an attempt to control you. A mugger can only be dealt with by resistance, if possible, or by compliance if necessary. But most attempts to control you can be avoided if you don’t feel you need or want something from the person attempting them. Other people most often employ threats (not always explicit)  that amount to withholding things (including ‘things’ like courtesy and kindness) they think you have some need or claim of.

So how do you develop the ability not to ‘feel you want or need something’ from someone who is making an attempt to control you?

You can’t control what you feel directly. Semmelroth writes, “Emotional responses need not be managed. They do need to be starved of fuel when they interfere with your life.  If you feed your dread ( or whatever emotion) by making your dread the problem to be solved before you act, you have changed the task from getting something done to how you feel about it.  “

Hmmm. Getting something done. Like what? What do you want? That is not so easy to know as it may seem. Access to the knowledge  of what we want  can easily be drowned out by hyper and hypoarousal. The reason for this is that often we decided what we want at some point in the past.  The feeling of desire that preceded that decision is much more subtle in the present moment – post decision. The more subtle  feeling of desire is not strong enough by itself to push away our anger or fear or sadness.   At our best, we know the  experience of desiring something, having made a decision to get it, and being able to keep our focus on the achievement of that thing despite distractions such as emotions. 

Consider a bball player who has an important shot to make under these circumstances:  the  fans are screaming, the ref just made a questionable call, you’ve missed your last 5 shots, and your ankle hurts. Where does your focus need to be? The shot – the ball, your hands, your feet, your fingers, the basket.  You decided a long time ago that when you take a shot your desire is for it to go in. That decision was made and has never changed. The felt sense that you want to make the shot is ‘obvious’ and  extraneous to succeeding.   You are actually more likely to miss if you get caught up in a desperate desire to make it.  In addition, all the other wants in that moment must be ‘starved’ – the desire for the fans to shut up, the ref to be fair and reliable, your past self to have done better, and your ankle not to hurt. Those are problems of thwarted desire that you may choose to address later.

So decisions are important to not feeling that you want or need something from someone who is attempting to control you. You need to find a way to keep those decisions fresh in your mind. You can’t rely on the desire that preceded those decisions and may linger with greatly diminished intensity afterwards to prompt you to remember. So how do we find a way to have easy access to those decisions that reflect our highest standards and deepest desires? How? How? I don’t know off that bat, but I’ll get to it in another post.



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