Today, my roommate said something to me along the lines of:
“ I’ve been feeling quite grumpy and irritable for the past several hours, though, besides sleep deprivation, nothing really bad has actually happened to me. Noticing the fact that I’m irrationally angry at nothing makes me angry that I’m angry.”
To this, I said:
“You know, if it makes you feel better, I think that being able to comment about your emotions meta-cognitively like that is a pretty good sign of emotional intelligence. It’s not a common thing that people can hold their emotions at an arms length and talk about them so analytically.”
To which she argued:
“But how does that do me any good? Noticing that I’m upset about something doesn’t actually solve anything, nor does it make me feel less upset. Knowing about my emotions doesn’t let me control them.”
In response to this, I came up with a spontaneous but pretty nice analogy, which I’d like to remember for future reference. I’m pretty proud of myself, actually. Haha.
Controlling your emotions is like controlling your breathing.
Most of the time, your breathing runs on autopilot when you’re not paying attention. Sometimes, it can overwhelm you if you’re not careful, like if you’re hyperventilating because of stress. But consciously acknowledging your emotions is like being conscious of your breathing, in that self-awareness will afford you some limited (yet very valuable) control. You’ll never have total conscious control of how you feel at any given moment — you wouldn’t want that, anyway — but being able to say to yourself on a bad day something as simple as “ The way I’m feeling right now sucks but I know it’ll pass,” can be huge. Self-awareness can give you the footing you need make your situation better, even if only slightly. So I think metacognition is pretty important.