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Basic Instincts

Some people are always happy and positive. Medical studies on longevity have proven that optimism is associated with long life spans. Can you learn to be optimistic? Is a person born a “Ziggy”? My sister identified with the cartoon Ziggy. She would cut them out of the newspaper and put them on her book covers or hang them on the fridge. I always thought he was such a downtrodden character and I could not see what made him appealing.

But, are we born with a particular disposition?  One of my attending physicians at the Medical University of South Carolina was certain babies were born with a temperment. He was an elderly pediatrician who had examined thousands of newborn babies over the course of his illustrious career. He called it “state control”. Some newborn babies can calm themselves down. They suck their fingers or they curl up and lie peacefully in their nursery bassinets. Other babies that lack “state control” cry, flail and wimper. Their limbs project out from their bodies like starfish and they are agitated. Do we ever change? If I was a baby with good “state control”, am I wired to accomodate and adjust to situations?

I know a few adults that lack “state control”. I wonder what they were like as newborns. We are so focused on intellectual development and education. I think we fail miserably at emotional development. It is possible to reach adulthood, even reach mid-life, and lack the most fundamental, emotional development. Before we can write sentences, we must learn to spell. Before we can spell, we have to learm our alphabet.

Emotions are similar.

To have rich, complex emotional connections with other people, we must have a vocabulary of emotions. We cannot make meaningful connections with the emotional equivalent of “Dada” and “Baba”. Emotions begin as primitive things, basic instincts. Pain. Fear. Pleasure. These emotions are tethered to hot, cold, bright, quiet, noisy. Our other senses modulate our emotional interpretations. Over time we learn security, acceptance, affirmation, disrespect, distrust, aversion, joy, frivolity, rapture. Eventually we learn love. Love is such a complex emotion. To love well, to love richly, to love with abandon …we must be mature emotionally.

So many people cannot control their emotions to feel content, to feel safe, to feel connected, to be certain of their acceptance or to be open to love. These abilities are like any other skill. We must aspire to learn. We need to be adept with naming our emotions. We need to train ourselves to be fluent in the language of emotions.  Once we can speak, we can communicate in an effective maner with other people.

Unfortunately, so many of our peers lack any meaningful emotional development. They are developmentally delayed.  They cannot communicate or express themselves.  When I see a person with Down’s Syndrome, I know they lack some cognitive abilities. When I see a person with cerebral palsy, I know they are limited with their motor skills. Peole with emotional handicaps are not so easy to identify.

I just hope I continue to learn. I want to be well educated and well read. I also want to be emotionally mature and understand what I feel and WHY I feel as I do.

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