Our emotions respond strangely to time


in Psychology

One danger with relationships — from the professional to the familial — is to focus too closely on the recent past when deciding how to feel about them.

I find that I have a tendency to feel like the emotional trajectory of the last few days or weeks offers the best chance for estimating what the future timbre of the relationship may be like.

It’s more prudent, I think, to take a hint from calculus and consider instead the integral, the total area underneath the function you are evaluating (shown here as the area ‘s’), rather than the direction of the last bit of the line:

We don’t judge every burrito or cheese sandwich we have ever eaten on the basis of our most recent serving, and yet the tone of our most recent interactions with any particular person has a strange ability to permeate and alter all our memories about them. Perhaps it’s something we can consciously mitigate or reverse.

I think this tendency to emphasize the short term is linked to another cognitive distortion. When we like someone to the point that we can pleasantly imagine spending a lot of time with them, it can be easy to take on a feeling of entitlement — a sense that they owe us that time and if we don’t get it we are being deprived by their decision.

The world would probably be a lot saner if we all naturally thought that any time experienced with such people is a gift and that, while further engagement might be a hopeful aspiration, it’s not to be considered owed or expected.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

. May 28, 2017 at 12:11 pm
Milan May 28, 2017 at 11:19 pm

Milan May 29, 2017 at 12:00 am

Oleh June 10, 2017 at 10:50 am

Thank you for sharing this insight. The reflection for us to look at time spent pleasantly with someone as a gift without the creation of entitlement was particularly insightful. One part of that gift is that we retain the warm memory of that time.

. July 5, 2017 at 6:50 pm

He was a dear boy, Douglas, but it so chanced that he could not fit into my plans. He wanted marriage — marriage, Mr. Holmes — with a penniless commoner. Nothing less would serve him. Then he became pertinacious. Because I had given he seemed to think that I still must give, and to him only. It was intolerable. At last I had to make him realize it.

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