The words of the apostle Paul express for most of us the truth about ourselves: “For what I would, that I do not; but what I hate that I do.” What Paul calls the law of his members warring against the law of his mind is simply what we call to-day the instinctive desires coming into conflict with our conscious ideal.
=Hidden Desires.= Although we choose our emotions, we choose in many cases in response to a buried part of ourselves of which we are wholly unaware, or only half-aware. When we do not like what we have chosen, it is because the conscious part of us is out of harmony with another part and that part is doing the choosing. If the emotions which we choose are not those that the whole of us—or at least the conscious—would desire, it is because we are choosing in response to hidden desires, and giving satisfaction to cravings which we have not recognized. Repeated indulgence of such desires is responsible for the emotional habits which we are too likely to consider an inevitable part of our personality, inherited from ancestors who are not on hand to defend themselves. When we form the habit of being afraid of things that other people do not fear, or of being irritated or depressed, or of giving way to fits of temper, it is because these habit-reactions satisfy the inner cravings that in the circumstances can get satisfaction in no better way.
These hidden desires are of several different kinds, when squarely looked at. Some of the cravings are found to be childish, and so out of keeping with our real characters that we could not possibly hold on to them as conscious desires. Others turn out to be so natural and so inevitable that we wonder how we could ever have imagined that they ought to be repressed. Still others, legitimate in themselves, but denied because of outer circumstances, are found to be easily satisfied in indirect ways which bear no resemblance to their old unfortunate forms of outlet.
WHEN KNOWLEDGE HELPS
The way to get rid of an undesirable emotion is not by working at the emotion itself, but by realizing that this is merely an offshoot of a deeper root, hidden below the surface. The great point is to recognize this deeper root.
=Childish Anger.= It helps to know that uncalled-for anger is a defense reaction—a sort of camouflage or smoke cloud which we throw out to hide from ourselves and others the fact that we are being worsted in an argument, or being shown up in an undesirable light. Better than any amount of weeping over a hot temper is an understanding of the fact that when we fly into unseemly rage we are usually giving indulgence to a childhood desire to run away from unpleasant facts and to cover up our own faults.