Dehabitualization of Emotions

Emotionalism is more than an emotion. Emotion itself is more than a feeling or simple mood change.
Dehabitualization of Emotions
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Theologically speaking, yes, nobody’s birth is a random coincidence. Nevertheless, it doesn’t necessarily determine one’s fortune. The popular Muslim imagination that being born in a Muslim family is “divinely-privileged” feat, is a hoax. Accepting the imagination of “privilege” definitely means promoting an unjust God. OK. You can question, why so. The answer is straightforward. If getting birth in a Muslim family is fortunate, logically the reverse condition - being unfortunate - is also true. Before accepting this notion, remember, birth isn’t something we “choose” rather it follows the state of natural submission - the Will of God. Certainly, prejudice and privilege can never be the Will of the “Just God”. There could be some other sort of explanation but inclusion of “privilege” is indeed a fallacy. I assume, living in a Muslim family is simply like getting “one type of opportunity” to experience Islam’s socio-spiritual space. Indeed, those who miss this opportunity surely get “other type of opportunity”. As we grow-up, eventually, we all encounter “different types of opportunities”. The point is; no opportunity is a privilege as such. Since I was born in a Muslim family, my experience: observing, analyzing, relating, practicing and interpreting, has enabled me to comprehend the diverse undercurrents of Islam-Muslim equation - the equation that has different phases of convergence and divergence in the past and now. You got it well: they aren’t one indivisible absolute function. Even while applying the terms, one has to be cautious of this subtle distinction. Islam and Muslims are not unconditionally interchangeable. Surprisingly, at times, they aren’t just different but rather antagonistic. One of the features of this equation is emotionalism.

Emotionalism is more than an emotion. Emotion itself is more than a feeling or simple mood change. Functionally, they aren’t interchangeable states. Emotionalism, I propose, is an organized and adaptive meaning-based function. This function: ability to produce positive action; originates from the experienced “emotional pattern” coordinating the action-reaction mechanism. Here, both action and reaction are applied in the sense of internal dynamic. Thus, it would be over simplistic to describe emotionalism as mere stimuli-reaction behavior where stimuli is always external dynamic. Emotionalism, applying psychotherapist Lori Gottlieb’s metaphor, is like GPS of emotions. I’m not taking a position contradictory to established psychological theories such as James-Lange theory, Cannon-Bard theory, Schachter-Singer theory, and Cognitive Appraisal theory. These theories explain the mechanism but not the meaning of emotion. Meaning: a shared bond of “oneness” of origin, thought, purpose and worldview. The loss of meaning indicates two things: insignificant action and loss of direction. Considering the psychological standpoint, an “emotional pattern” has three elements: subjective experience, a physiological response and a behavioral or expressive response. I propose that the first element i.e., subjective experience is the most crucial element. It defines; consciously or unconsciously, the magnitude and pattern of relation between the individual or a society and a particular memory, belief and some other factor. It invokes a feeling: result of an emotion, associated with that memory, belief or factor. Subsequently, an action comes into existence- the expressive pattern. The way an individual or a “feeling-sharing” group acts characterizes the meaning subscribed to a particular emotion. In case, the subject is inept to connect with the meaning of “emotional action or reaction”, he/she will be trapped in a “short-lived” excitement. This state is seemingly colourful but actually it is destructive. Therefore, permanency seeks that rationality- empirical assessment- and emotionality- emotional attachment- go hand in hand.

After having presented this brief description of emotionalism, I will talk about the core problem. The problem is: habitualization of emotions in the Muslim world. Habitualization, summarizing the whole concept, is the “sickness of mind”, “hindrance in the way of critical thinking” and normalizing the “distorted view of reality”. Habitualization of emotions is precisely distorted and vulnerable expression of emotions. Basically, habitualization transmutes emotionalism into an incoherently negative experience of frustration. Under the constant effect of habitualization, I propose, emotional faculties empowering man to generate a well-planned action are sabotaged. Habitualized emotions lose their mature, dynamic and inclusive function. Having lost connect with the meaning, habitualized emotions become random, erratic, and provocative. They are momentary, partial and irrelevant. Such emotions get old but not effectively mature. Overwhelmed by a bulk of immature emotions, a person/group fails to attain the real character of intellectual adulthood: archetype of equilibrium between emotionality and rationality. It is a pathological condition of weak emotional development. A person suffering from this condition reflexively behaves like a child. For example, a child yearns something; let it be a small piece of cake. He gets anxious, screams and, at times, harms himself to possess that thing. Nevertheless, this state doesn’t persist so long. Quickly, he is enticed, distracted, and trapped. His attention is disrupted. He disremembers that a moment ago he screamed and got even physically hurt. He is made to forget the whole cause. Why does this happen? Actually, a child isn’t mature enough to orchestrate his emotions in the frame of cause: the underlying meaning. Also he doesn’t know how and why the cause is related to his life. The whole event turns into an infertile habitualized emotional experience. Implying, the frivolous cycle of yearning and forgetting will continue until there is a “conscious” break of dehabitualization.

Dehabitualization is building strength through management of emotions. It entails critical evaluation of emotion and revisit to its underpinning cause. Hence, dehabitualization facilitates the transformation of an emotion into, borrowing Said Nursi’s term, “positive action”. The trap of delusion won’t work anymore. No distraction will change the focus. No allurement will corrupt the mind. Result: emotionality will reinforce rationality and vice versa. Let’s understand it through a simple analogy. Consider “rationality” as the engine and “emotionality” as the fuel. The operational science is: efficient fuel and efficient engine will together produce efficient work (i.e., positive action). It tells us three interdependent conditions. First, no fuel means zero mechanical work. Second, overflow is simply waste of fuel. And, third, “physical strength” of the engine determines the quantum of work. The analogy I applied is meant to explain the process of dehabitualization. I will go back to my case analysis viz. analysis of Islam-Muslim equation. Presently, Muslim world is facing two major problems. First, its “engine” is not in a workable condition. It needs a thorough mechanical investigation (i.e., critical analysis) followed by immediate greasing: fluidity and diversity, and repair: union and renewal, of damaged parts. Second, there is occasional overflow of unrefined fuel. It needs systematic regulation of both quantity as well as quality.

The analogy of “engine and fuel” can be applied to three interrelated equations: individual equation, collective equation and global equation. At individual level, dehabitualization of emotions will revive the meaning, purpose and calculation in one’s reaction. At collective level, dehabitualization of emotions will revive the process of reconciliation, moderation and toleration in the collective reaction. And at global level, dehabitualization of emotions will revive the context, coordination and control. Dehabitualization is the only way to get the whole grand equation synthesized and streamlined. Let me explain it a bit more. At individual level, a higher level of self-stability can be acquired through self-evaluation of emotions. Positive emotional interaction between different traits of personality can enhance one’s intellectual performance and, simultaneously, it will strengthen one’s competent decision making. As a result, every choice made will be optimal: robust and result-oriented. Strengths and weaknesses get defined. At collective level, the cause of any relation gets clearly defined. There will be an order, a hierarchy and a prioritization; all well-set in the context of meaning. Consequently, there will be the flow of due amount of emotions i.e., producing a genuinely calculated response. Man’s (read Muslims) relation with people, society and social institutions will experience a radical shift in its nature. At large level, a balance will be established between individual, function and structure. It is worth mentioning that one of the major causes of the crisis in the Muslim world is the “lack of balance”. Dehabitualization, I propose, has potential to solve this problem to some extent. It will recommend that where and what exact amount of “emotional action” should be invested. See, for example, political institutions drain most of our “emotional action”. That is why; we attach lot of expectations to politics. When expectations aren’t fulfilled, we feel frustrated, lost and hopeless. Instead of building a false hope, dehabitualized emotion will follow a contained and calculated line of action.

To conclude, I propose, emotionalism is not actually a negative process. Nevertheless, the action produced through emotionalism can be at times negative. It is only possible, as I have explained already, when the cause of emotion and the relation with that cause is not properly understood. And when it’s potential of evoking an emotion is neglected. Otherwise, emotionalism is strength. It is the dynamic process that keeps the mobility of life intact and energized. It permeates action with conscious fluidity, differentiating human action from the sophisticated robot action. The benefits of emotionalism are tremendous provided it doesn’t become the victim of habitualization. In that case, emotionalism will prove counterproductive. It will reduce to the point of emotional distraction which is incapable of producing a meaningful change. Muslim world is best example to suffice my assertion. Wake up! Dehabitualize your emotions and revolutionize your action.

Bilal A. Malik is expert at Alternative Perspective and Global Concern (

Views expressed are author's own

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