On Defining Anguish

Anguish is a human emotion, a behavior that usually comes on suddenly, with several processes that have lain dormant until the quick change of direction toward some different stimulus than the ordinary and regular business, called equilibrium, that was going on before the sudden disturbance of that equilibrium. Two nervous systems of the autonomic nervous system operate rather independently. One works at normal “vegitating” behavior, called the “parasympathetic” system. (“para-” means “outside of”.) When the body needs to go quickly on a “war” footing, to handle some emergency, some threat, the emergency part of the autonomic nervous system, called the “sympathetic” nervous system, starts the “fight or flight” motor without your conscious participation. If the heart beats quicker, the body heats up and nature’s cooling system, sweat evaporating from the skin, acts to cool the body. A number of other things happen, as well.

Anguish can upset the normal operating system. Anguish responds to a perceived set of circumstances or to the sight or memory of another human being. From my experience, anguish is operating in the body when you feel yourself wrinkling the muscles on your face, especially around the forehead and eyes, which comes and stays while you think of your situation with your situation or with your thoughts of another person. What others see is your facial affect display which, to you, may be happening outside of your awareness. Someone may be disappointing you in the extreme, over a long period of time. Or you did something to lose a chunk of your investments. You have lost someone whom you leaned on for advice, and you find yourself wishing for his return. As those thoughts return to you, you feel the brow knitting in anguish. Perhaps it is only a micro-momentary, a fleeting, but telling, moment.

Then you can knit your brow, and simulate to stimulate your anguish and tie it to any one of your regrets, or losses, or disappointments. Notice who of your friends and acquaintances it is who is called up to memory. Anguish is memory-based. Lower animals probably do not experience anguish. But then I have seen elephants surround and lightly touch the bones of dead elephants, rather ceremoniously. Anguish is perception-based, since perception is a response involving both sense and memory. There is a theory of method acting that says you assume the posture and begin to feel the emotions appropriate to that posture. Anguish is very well suited to that theory of Stanislavsky’s, the Russian actor and theater director who trained his actors to emphasize the psychological motivation of their roles (1863-1938). It was “method acting”.

I believe such anguish can, will, or wants to, invent a “god” as savior from such emotions that stimulate a longing for help and deliverance. A “special-needs god”. Anguished people create such a deity, and point to the sky for bread, for salvation, for the lost, for healing and cures, for a job, for a windfall, for touchdowns, for home runs, for jackpots, for the restoration of peace and happiness, for a child to call their own, for a humane boss — for a lost one to look down on a performance for ─ them — up there — — ― ̶ _

I am anguished by some situations, as well as my own, and people. It goes deep. Very deep. That thing about a god, some higher power to deliver a resolution. I can see billions of my fellow Earthlings looking for special-needs deities to help the billions of situations of unimaginable difficulties. From the ancient personifications to the lord of the faith-healers. Wanting miracles. Some seeing a phenomenon as a miracle. The men arising from the Chilean mine are thinking of their saving as a miracle — a marvelous event manifesting a supernatural act of God. But a miracle may be just what I defined on another blog entry, that relating to the putting down of an airship on the Hudson River. A miracle, in all cases, is nothing more than an event where all goes according to plan. Create your own (man-made) miracles by having a really good plan.

Anguish is not so much the severe distress of the body, as the dictionary allows, but of the spirit it calls the soul (if you believe in the “soul”). The anguish is for the others in your life. And it can be for yourself, a genuine “Woe is me!” for the human condition, not for self-pity. “I’m in real trouble here!” It is akin to empathy, feeling into another person’s predicament, or condition, or situation she is in, only on the clearly negative side of empathy, an “anti-empathy”?

That, at length, because I am now anguished by —

I need a plan. The number of plans I need to make are numerous. I am anguished by that. But I am still rational.

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