Riding the Emotional Elevator - Taking a fast track to different levels of emotional maturity.
As we grow older, we develop the ability to think more rationally and less emotionally. We appear to do more of our thinking with the outer region of our brain, known as the cortex and less with the lower regions which appear to be more closely attached to the emotions and the pleasure and pain functions. We still possess those lower regions and have emotions, but with maturity we tend to regulate those emotional impulses with rational thought.
The lower regions in our brains contain the pleasure and pain processing centers and are responsible for our emotions - these include the parts that fire off electrical impulses and release chemicals that make us feel pleasure, ecstasy, fear, anger etc. The outermost region of our brain, known as the cortex, is what differentiates us most from the animal kingdom and is responsible for complex thought, language, planning, calculating etc. Most of us understand that people occasionally take a break from more rational decision making to making choices purely on emotional thought. We all have the ability to temporarily shut off or throttle back the signals that our frontal cortex sends to us and hand command and control back over to our lower, emotional brains. We call this “Riding the Emotional Elevator”.
At these times, we are far less likely to think about the consequences of our actions, plan for the future, or consider the effects that our actions might have on others. We may temporarily live in the moment and do what feels good rather than doing what we know is good for us in the long run. This is why deferred gratification activities like dieting, healthy lifestyle or education can be so difficult for some of us. We may speak of our “heart ruling our head”. However, the battle for control is not between our hearts and our heads - it is between two competing parts of our mind that compete for our attention, our higher-functioning cortex and our lower-functioning emotional mind.
What pushes the buttons of the Emotional Elevator
Certain situations, holidays and anniversaries trigger emotional memories make people more susceptible to riding the emotional elevator down.
When we remember something, our minds store not just the event data but also the emotions - the way we felt when something happened or when we learned about something. When we recall old memories, we are recalling more than just the facts, we are also recalling the way we felt and feeling those feelings again. This is partly why some bad memories are painful to remember and why some good memories make us feel good to remember. In our minds we are recreating some of those feelings again. This helps explain why certain people are susceptible to emotional triggering.
Examples of Riding the Emotional Elevator
Here are some examples of “floors” people ride to on the emotional elevator.
Age 21 - I’m smart and I’m strong and I’m going to rule the world someday.
Age 18 - I’m beautiful and I want the world to notice me.
Age 15 - I’m so ugly and the whole world hates me. I just want somebody to love me!
Age 12 - Yeah, right, whatever, (roll eyes) I can read and write and multiply and I’ve seen it all!
Age 8 - I don’t want to do any of that boring stuff - I just want to play, play play!
Age 5 - Someday I’m going to own every toy at the toy store!
Age 3 - (steals candy from other kid) I want your candy!
Age 2 - I want candy and I’m going to break this vase if I don’t get it now!
Age 1 - I want mommy!
Age 0 - waaaahhhh!
Here are some examples of people riding the emotional elevator down:
- A man gets frustrated at his wife and puts his fist through a wall.
- A housewife spends the grocery budget on a luxury item.
- A parent disagreeing with their child resorts to name calling.
- A teenager is jealous of her school friend and tries to spoil her reputation.
- A man refuses to go anywhere without his wife.
- A salesperson throws a tantrum at a customer.
- A teenager shoplifts from a music store.
Those who have a relationship with a person with a Personality Disorder may immediately begin to recognize some favorite floors they tend to descend to. You may also notice that they can transition fairly quickly from a lower floor back up to greater maturity.
If we are honest with ourselves we will also recognize that sometimes we Nons ride the elevator down too. Sometimes it just feels better to spend a little time on a lower floor. Sometimes Nons will take the bait and ride the elevator with someone who is already going down. Sometimes they will go down all on their own.
What It Feels Like
Most people who take the emotional elevator down are aware of what they are doing. They may feel a certain amount of guilt or know that “I will probably regret this” feeling. Sometimes, people will seek out a way to justify their thoughts. Some people will use a religious argument for abandoning rational logic - this is sometimes seen in extreme religious fundamentalism. Sometimes the justification will be put on another person or a circumstance - “He said X so I did Y” or “Life is so hard I’ve got no other choice”
Coping with People who Ride the Emotional Elevator
Here at Out of the FOG, we believe everyone has the right to have and control their own thoughts and feelings. Everybody rides the emotional elevator to some extent, so the goal is not to transform ourselves into a society of “Mr. Spock’s”. However, at the point when another person’s thoughts and feelings become behaviors that hurt you it is time to take action.
What NOT to Do
When someone close to you takes the motional elevator down...
- Try not to ride down with them. It can be tempting to use another person’s bad behavior as justification for behaving badly yourself, but generally the pleasure is short-lived and the regret is everlasting.
- Try not to communicate with them on the level they are taking. If a 40 year old is communicating like a 2 year old, wait until they take the elevator back to maturity before having discussions about it.
- Don’t judge yourself by the words and actions of a person who has decided to take the elevator down. Your worth is not accurately represented by their words and actions.
What TO Do
- Protect yourself and any children and valuable property from any violent or abusive behavior. Remove yourself if necessary.
- Get help and support. Discuss what is happening with someone who understands and can help you cope. Communicate to the person who frequently takes the elevator down that you need to discuss the situation.
- Learn about Personality Disorders and what is affecting your loved-one. Some situations can feel a lot less threatening when you understand what is going on and what to do about it.