Since this test of emotion is fundamentally sound, it is not surprising that the nervous man is in a state of distress. Indigestion, fatigue, over-sensibility, sound like problems in physiology, but we cannot go far in the discussion of any of them without coming face to face with the emotions as the real factors in the case. When we turn to the mental characteristics of nervous folk, we even more quickly find ourselves in the midst of an emotional disturbance. Worried, fearful, anxious, self-pitying, excitable, or melancholy, the nervous person proves that whatever else a neurosis may be, it is, in essence, a riot of the emotions.
There is small wonder that a riot at the heart of the empire should lead to insurrection in every province of the personality. It is only for the purpose of discussion that we can separate feeling from thinking and doing. Every thought and every act has in it something of all three elements. An emotion is not an isolated phenomenon; it is bound up on the one hand with ideas and on the other with bodily states and conduct. Whoever runs amuck in his emotions runs amuck in his whole being. The nervous invalid with his exhausted and sensitive body, his upset mind and irrational conduct is a living illustration of the central place of the emotions in the realm of the personality.
But it is not the nervous person only who needs a better understanding of his emotional life. The well man also gets angry for childish reasons; he is prejudiced and envious, unhappy and suspicious for the very same reason as is the nervous man. Since the working-capital of energy is limited to a definite amount, the control of the emotions becomes a central problem in any life,—a deciding factor in the output and the outcome, as well as in comfort and happiness by the way.
Nothing is harder for the average man to believe than this fact that he really has the power to choose his emotions. He has been dissatisfied with himself in his past reactions, and yet he has not known how to change them. His anger or his depression has appeared so undesirable to his best judgment and to his conscious reason that it has seemed to be not a part of himself at all but an invasion from without which has swept over him without his consent and quite beyond control.
Most of the confusion comes from the fact that we know only a part of ourselves. What we do not consciously enjoy we believe we do not enjoy at all. What we do not consciously choose we believe to be beyond our power of choice,—the work of the evil one, or the natural depravity of human nature, perhaps; but certainly not anything of our choosing.
The point is that a human being is so constituted that he can, without knowing it, entertain at the same time two diametrically opposite desires. The average person is not so unified as he believes, but is, in fact, “a house divided against itself.”