Emotions, Schmotions

July 2, 2012


Have you ever been struck dumb by the ineffable? Have you ever seen a close friend or relative swept along by an emotion so strong that they no longer seem the same person? Better still, have you ever experienced such an emotional tidal wave yourself? If you have done any of these things you will have a better idea of what I’m about to describe.

Recently, a financial planning client I thought I knew well, told me things that she sincerely believed, but that I thought extremely improbable. In our interactions she had always been sane, sober, lucid and charming, but when she touched on this one particular subject, she became anxious, her voice changed, and she started to behave as if ‘possessed’, talking extremely passionately, but with a complete disregard for facts, logic and reason. It was incomprehensible and humbling at the same time.

I had tried to influence her with charts, tables and numbers but they had meant nothing to her. I had been talking to her new (40,000 years) neo-cortex brain but it was her old (100 million years) instinctual brain that was responding. Yes, we had discussed goals, passions and values but somehow I had overlooked a darker side to her life that I had not seen before. I had tried to squeeze a rich, multi-layered personality into a few sheets of paper and had failed miserably. At that moment I lacked wisdom, what Will Durant defined as the ability to see things in their entirety.

I suspect that most of us have similar black holes somewhere in our psyche, strong, powerful emotions that occasionally overwhelm us for no apparent reason. Cognitive therapists explain that these emotions have become hard-wired into our brains, while the initial reasons for feeling that way have long since disappeared from consciousness. These free floating emotions are just awaiting an activating event to trigger the playing of those old tapes and the emotional outpouring that accompany them. Jungians have another, non-cognitive explanation. Carl Jung talked about the psyche having four functions – sensation, intuition, thinking and feeling. Because we lack knowledge and control over the least developed function in our particular psyche, he argued that this function can have a sudden and seemingly demonic influence over us.

Whatever the exact cause, the wisdom of self and the wisdom of others, has always been the best antidote to harmful emotions. A recent survey commissioned by the National Geographic Channel found that 80 million Americans, or 36 percent of the population, believe in UFOs. What a tragedy, that in an age so rich in knowledge, there is a dearth of wisdom.


Nobody, as long as he moves about among the chaotic currents of life, is without trouble.  Carl Jung

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About Malcolm Greenhill

Malcolm Greenhill is President of Sterling Futures, a fee-based financial advisory firm, based in San Francisco. I write about wealth related issues in the broadest sense of the word. When I am not writing, reading, working and spending time with family, I try to spend as much time as possible backpacking in the wilderness.

View all posts by Malcolm Greenhill


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6 Comments on “Emotions, Schmotions”

  1. Dr. Alice Shaw Says:

    I enjoyed this.


  2. Hanne T. Fisker Says:

    Malcolm, very interesting post touching many great and rich topics as wisdom, honor and what it started out with; emotions. I have seen and experienced this, multiple times and have come to embrace it, to listen deep to it, but also with time a growing humility towards it , not to be swept away and seduced by it,, which can literally be fatal and mess up the psyche big time, particularly if one becomes attached to these experiences and stories we tend to create around them in a deep wish for understanding and finding meaning. But also not to dismiss it or lock it away, which can create as big a mess within. Sometimes these things can be experienced as a sensation of ‘downloading’ or getting ‘wired’ differently and somehow the ability to tune in to things get’s upgraded and something shifts so profoundly that one will never be quite the same again. You mentioned wisdom, an allegory to this is the story of Gandalf the Grey fighting the Balrog and returning as Gandalf the White. Oh boy, sounds like a load of rubbish and maybe it is, it’s hard to find words to these things, words just doesn’t suit, it can’t really be explained, I guess. Only pointed towards and sensed 🙂 Anyway, whether it is actually a black hole, a flaw in the psyche or can be linked to a story, I’m not so sure, or even if it can be called an emotion. Regardless, it always leaves me with the sensation of: hardly nothing is what it seems, there is always more and how little we know….


  3. Holistic Wayfarer Says:

    Appreciate the post, Malcolm. Knowledge is not necessarily wisdom, is it? And we often believe what we want to believe, as with those who hold onto the notion of UFOs (incidentally, as if there weren’t enough mystery – beautiful at that – in our own world). I appreciate that you were humbled in the face of something so startling and disturbing. We all have our ways of trying to cope with our fears.


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