No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.
– Elanor Rosevelt
I have always had a problem with this quote and ones that are similar to it in nature: the idea that emotions are a choice; that we can consciously choose when to feel emotions such as pain, anger, love, happiness, and all number of things. I was reminded of this by a Tumblr post that I saw tonight, though, wherein the user states:
After my teacher introduced us to this theory, she asked us, “is love a feeling? Or is it a choice?” We were all a bunch of teenagers. Naturally we said it was a feeling. She said that if we clung to that belief, we’d never have a lasting relationship of any sort.
I do not genuinely hate many things in this world. One thing I do hate, however, is this assertion and ones like it.
I feel like the assertion that you choose to feel emotions is closely related to theories like Positive Attraction (which I’ve spoken about concerning Spiritwork and Mental Health)… Or, at the very least, I feel that the emotional and other damage they can do is very similar. This is especially true since these assertions are often used in very “blamey” ways.- and by that, I mean that this rhetoric usually aims to make people feel lesser or broken for experiencing emotions, especially when those emotions are considered “bad” or “negative”.
But that sort of rhetoric is very easy to flip around in other manners… And ultimately we see that happen quite often in the context of Love.
If love is a choice that we can consciously make, then suddenly loving multiple people, people of the same gender, an abusive partner, and so on comes down to “making a choice”… And if “love is a choice”, after all, then you could easily choose to not be polyamorous, Gay, Bi, or any number of things- all of which are choices that go against cultural conventions and are often considered unacceptable by greater society. If you’re still “choosing to” be any of these things, then obviously there must either be something wrong with you, or you must be lying or attention seeking.
So you can see where “love is a choice” can be and often is used to devalue a person’s identity, their actual conscious choices, their love for a person, their relationship, and all number of romantic things (even passions and interests, if you really want to get down to it); it opens up the opportunity for and outright allows society to blame, shame, and degrade others in abhorrent manners for something which is ultimately out of their control.
When I say “out of their control”, I really mean that. Emotions are not and will never actually be conscious choices; we don’t get to choose or control which emotions we feel because emotions are not conscious decisions. Instead, they are chemical, biological, psychological, and physiological reactions to people, places, and events around us-and any psychologist with an in depth understanding of Emotion will tell you as much: They are reactions that are ultimately multifaceted, complicated, and involuntary.
While progress has been made in the management of certain emotions- such as in the case of Depression and Mental Illness in general? There are still far too many biological components to emotion that we do not have the capability to change or manipulate. On the base end, you have absolutely no control over the innate biological and chemical processes that happen in your body; you cannot control whether or not something makes you angry in the first pace.
However, emotions can be powerful forces which drive our actions- and that is where their true power lays; you cannot control whether something made you angry in the first place, but you can control how you respond to that anger. Furthermore, you can identify and understand the reason why it made you angry.
This is a prime reason why good Behavioral Therapies focus on the cause of the emotional reaction, and aid you in achieving a different behavioral output; why good Anger Management Therapy teaches you to calm down, identify the source of your anger, examine it, and provide coping techniques to stop yourself from performing off the cuff reactions to that emotion.
All emotions are exactly the same in this manner. But by saying that any emotion itself is a choice, we are placing emphasis and responsibility on the wrong aspect of emotion; instead of placing responsibility on the controllable physical response and action, we are putting it on the uncontrollable chemical and biological process. Doing so sets us up for failure, and telling someone (especially a group of children) that they will never have a fulfilling relationship if they don’t start looking at emotions like Love as a choice that we make is both damaging and offensive.
The fact of the matter is that, on their own, ultimately emotions mean absolutely nothing. It is the behavioral output of that emotion which has far greater meaning- and it is only the behavioral output which we can control. This is why rhetoric like this is ultimately damaging beyond measure, especially when it concerns relationships
You can love someone to the moon and back, but in reality loving someone doesn’t mean a damned thing on its own; it does’t mean conscious commitment. It doesn’t mean that you’re in a relationship with them. It doesn’t mean that you’re obligated to them. It is an emotional state, and really nothing more than that no matter however we define Love- whether romantic, platonic, friendly, or otherwise.
But making the active and conscious choice to express those emotions and enter into a relationship with a person you love? That actually does actually mean something. That is the real choice: The choice to or not to express the love you feel for that person by creating a relationship- and the conscious and willful romantic commitment to them that such an action entails. And regardless of the foundation on which a relationship is built, a relationship of any kind is still a conscious decision which is made by all parties involved in it.
Further than that, no relationship stops at the conscious decision to enter into one. All relationships require a continued series of consciously made decisions and actions in order to continue functioning; they require consciously and repeatedly choosing to stay committed, show that commitment, repeatedly affirm and show that love, to communicate, and so many other things.
But love? Emotions in general? Those are not active, conscious choices that we as individuals make. They are and remain chemical reactions that are produced involuntarily by our brains and nervous systems.
So when someone says they made the decision to Love their Spouse, they didn’t and they never did. What they did make the choice to do, however, was to enter into a relationship with them because they loved them- and then, because of that love, they continued making the choice to stay with them, work through problems, communicate with them, trust them, open up to them and be intimate with them on a personal level, and more. But they never chose to love them in the first place.
By ignoring the biology of emotion and saying that love is an active choice that you make, ultimately you take the responsibility off of the individual to continue performing; to continue making the real conscious choices concerning the plethora of ways they can actively express that love- and not making the choice to express love regularly in a healthy manner (or at all) is what really leads to unfulfilling relationships that do not last.