Raising one’s Emotional Threshold

Anger, sorrow, depression and such negative emotions occur to some people at the drop of a hat because their emotional thresholds are low.

Depressed GirlA threshold is a point at which we perceive a stimulus and act on it. We are born with a large number of physical thresholds. We have a hearing threshold below which we cannot hear, we have a noise threshold beyond which noise becomes intolerable and a pain threshold beyond which we cannot tolerate pain, ditto for smell and taste. As we grow old, some of these threshold values go up, while some come down. For example, an elderly person cannot hear softer sounds that a youngster can hear, likewise, an old person may be less tolerant to noise as compared to a teenager.

The same way, we are also equipped with emotional thresholds. All of us have a threshold at which we feel sad or angry or jealous or guilty. We have a threshold at which we feel irritated or hurt. This varies from person to person and is a result of the way we are born [nature] and our upbringing and conditionings [nurture].

Some of us require a small stimulus or a simple event to become happy or sad as the case may be. Many of us can tolerate someone – spouse, boss, neighbour, co-passenger – shouting at us without reacting, while others get angry and can react violently, verbally or with actions, when shouted at or insulted.

“He is so short-tempered” or “She gets irritated for small things”, we often say. What this effectively means is that these persons have a low threshold for anger or irritation. This is important, for it determines your happiness, adaptability levels, and how well you adjust and are comfortable in your daily life. For example, if someone were to overtake you while driving, if you have a low threshold, you will pursue that person to try and outrace him. Often, in this attempt, you could get into an accident, or end fighting with him. On the other hand, if you have a higher threshold, you will ignore him and go about your business.

Similarly, a wife or a husband with a short temper will fly off the handle for all and sundry, making the lives of those around them miserable. Every small thing or action that is out of place irritates them and they are screaming or ranting the whole day.

The drawbacks of a low threshold

Life is full of events, situations and people, requiring us to constantly make responses. Not a day passes when we can remain emotion-less or action-less. If you have a low threshold for irritation, anger, sorrow, self pity, jealousy or depression, most of your life will pass displaying and living out these negative emotions. People will tend to avoid you, as even small things bring out the worst in you.

On the other hand, those who have a higher threshold for getting angry or sad are generally happier in life, and are accepted wherever they go. People love them for being calm, tolerant, resilient and peaceful. People will often love to have such persons as friends, since such people with a higher threshold for emotions often serve to soothe and calm others. Many people draw their strength from such individuals.

Raising the threshold

Having understood the concept of a high and low threshold, and having seen that having a low emotional threshold often does us more harm than good, it becomes easier for us to formulate some methods and strategies to raise this threshold.

Some ways in which we can do this are:

  1. Becoming aware of our low threshold is often the most important step.
  2. Taking an honest feedback from our near and dear ones about how they perceive us, and acting on this can help raise our threshold.
  3. Consciously letting go of anger or irritations that build in us, and telling ourselves that getting angry or irritated will not bring about a solution, helps a lot.
  4. Making it a policy to always count up to 10, before coming out with a response when angry or irritated, helps to reduce our outbursts as it gives us that little time to become calm and rational.
  5. Knowing and understanding that the world is full of different people with different mindsets, intelligence, attitudes and beliefs helps to realise the various facets of human behaviour.
  6. Looking at past experiences, where blowing our top, shouting or fighting with someone has never brought about the desired results often helps to stop or reduce the same behaviour again.
  7. Using techniques such as yoga and meditation to calm the mind and body assures that we respond to situations and people with calm rather than an agitated mind.
  8. Most of our low thresholds are governed by our egos, which tell us to hit back, to retaliate. Our egos are such that they can never tolerate insults, and can never let us be in peace till we have the upper hand or the last word in most situations. Knowing this and disregarding the call of our ego to hit back, even when it seems the natural thing to do, will help raise our threshold, in the long run.
  9. One must realise that all of us have our own opinions and beliefs by which we live, and none of us are absolutely right or wrong.
  10. Accepting people and situations as they are, without wanting to constantly change them, is a good idea. Unknowingly, many of us are control freaks, wanting others to behave in a manner we think is correct. This, often, is the starting point of conflicts. One should consciously let go of the need to control or change others and learn acceptance.

It is important to realise the futility of raving and ranting all the time. Also, looking back at life’s events and experiences often teaches us that there are many occasions where our responses were not appropriate to the situation at hand. Most of us wish we could have lived life differently, or wish that we could have changed the outcome of certain events in the past. This realisation can become the starting point for us to understand that most of these happened because our thresholds for anger, irritation or frustration were low, and we “just lost it”, at some point. Getting angry and retaliating is also a choice, and we can choose not to react, in a given situation. An intelligent man is not one who does not make mistakes, but one who learns from mistakes and does not go on repeating the same mistake.

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  • P V Vaidyanathan

    P V Vaidyanathan

    P V Vaidyanathan, MD, DCH, is a Mumbai-based paediatrician in private practice, hobbyist writer, and author of a book on childhood stress management.

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2 Responses to Raising one’s Emotional Threshold

  1. useful for me.thank u.

  2. Good article on the need to control temper. Best wishes to the author.

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