Do your emotions define you?

Gabby Sharp, Stewart AM Period

“Calm down.” Over and over again, humans are told to take hold of their emotions when they become unwieldy, or unacceptable to those around us, and push them down. We are told that we are being too dramatic or causing a scene when expressing too much emotion, and considered weak. Similarly, we judge others when we see someone having a breakdown or losing control of their anger, assuming that they are lesser of a man. However, Aristotle states that “we are not called good or bad in respect of our emotions.” [1] Perhaps he was getting at a pertinent factor necessary to consider when looking at the reactions of those around us: mental illness.

As humans, we have days when we feel good and days when we feel not so good, which are all controlled by chemicals in our bodies. However, mental illnesses “go beyond these emotional reactions and become something longer lasting.” [2] Because they are medical conditions, mental illnesses cannot be controlled simply through self-discipline and may present themselves anytime, just like a symptom of another physical illness such as a cough. The symptoms of mental illnesses, however, can exist as a lack of emotions or an inability to control those emotions. For example, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), affects those who have experienced or witnessed a particularly shocking, scary or dangerous event. [3] In individuals who possess this disorder, any “words, objects, or situations that are reminders of the event” can trigger a flashback, which can lead to uncontrollable physical symptoms such as sweating, stress, or anger. [3] On the other hand, mental illnesses such as Schizoid Personality Disorder are characterized by detachment from social relationships or difficulty expressing emotions when communicating with another. Although from the outside, those with this disorder may seem like your typical “loner,” they literally lack the physical capability to express emotions, particularly anger, react appropriately to important life events, and desire close relationships. [4]

If 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. experience mental illness, [2]

Is the quality of a human judged on the manner in which they control or express emotions?

According to Aristotle, the answer is no: “we are neither praised nor blamed in respect of our emotions … but we are praised or blamed in respect of our virtues and vices; because we may be angered or frightened without deliberate choice.” [1] Like Aristotle, humans must understand the incontrollable aspects and depth of emotions, visible through the scope of mental illness. Individuals deserve to be acclaimed by the way in which they live out virtuous lives, not how well they are able to keep their emotions in check. So, next time you see one of your peers having a breakdown, jump to comfort, not to judgment.


[1] Aristotle. The Nicomachean ethics. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999. Book 2 Chapter 5.

[2] “Learn More.” NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness. Accessed June 25, 2017.

[3] “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.” National Institute of Mental Health. February 2016. Accessed June 25, 2017.

[4] “Schizoid Personality Disorder Symptoms.” Psych Central. March 06, 2017. Accessed June 25, 2017.


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