Wednesday 11 June 2014

Understanding Emotional and Logical Tendencies

In recent years, I have observed that people usually have a tendency towards making decisions with either their emotions or logical circuits. Here I use the word "tendency" to show that it is a preference, not implying that a particular person is devoid of the non-tendency aspect, i.e. someone with an emotional tendency is not devoid of a logical circuit. (Important distinction!) Why is being aware of our own tendencies and other people around us important? Because this allows us to communicate, relate and also minister much more effectively, even to ourselves. In short, it allows us to stand in the gap. (I'm sure you have some experiences with people who "just don't get" your point of view.) It also allows us to pre-empt reactions and potential struggles or challenges as we follow God. Let me go into a bit more details:
*When I talk about encouraging other people in this post, it can also mean encouraging yourself.
**Please take note that these is an oversimplification of a very complicated issue! What I'm listing is the extreme ends. Please put it in your own context.
***If you're skeptical, please refer to the portion all the way at the bottom. 


Before I go on, I would like to clarify something, as some of you might have the impression that the above picture is how our emotional and logical circuits co-exist. You may think that out of 100%, if we have more of the logical circuit, then we have a logical tendency, and the reverse is also true with the emotional circuit. I used to think this way as well. However, I realized that people can grow in both circuits. Thus I think the picture below is a better explanation of how our circuits actually co-exist. 

In this model, both circuits can grow to reach 100%. II feel that this is more appropriate as I think Jesus Himself is at 100% of both. He is very emotional about the things he sees, people who need healing, the lost sheep of Israel, the demon-possessed and also the teachers of the Law. Yet He is also equally logical about His teachings and His understanding of the Word of God. Of course, this is my own interpretation. Regardless, I personally think that our logical circuits act as a form of boundary or self-control for our emotions.

An analogy I like to use to illustrate the relationship between emotions and logic is like a river; emotions is the water flowing within the river and logic is the river bank which controls the size of the river. There are 4 possible situations:
  1. 1. Having large amounts of water (emotions) in a small river (logic) will cause a flood and harm the surroundings. 
  2. 2. Having small amounts of water (emotions) in a very large river (logic) will result in a drought or a useless river which does not bring forth life. 
  3. 3. Having small amounts of water (emotions) in a small river (logic) will not lead to disasters, but neither can it support a large town.
  4. 4. Having large amounts of water (emotions) in very large river (logic) will not lead to disasters and can support a large number of population and provide for transport to/from other towns.
As you can see, situation 4 is ideal. So in the same way, we want to constantly expand our emotional and logical circuits such that we can become better and more useful vessels. It is ordinarily impossible, but I believe with God it is very much possible. I know because I have been developed patiently by the Father and to date no longer cause floods anymore!

Emotional tendency:
*This list is definitely not exhaustive!

  • By nature more experiential - intuitively we tend to want to have an experience of everything. And naturally we want our relationship with God to be something to be experienced rather than simply a know-how. 
  • More sensitive to emotional triggers from what they see or hear and also to people's emotions - more encouraging by nature and also able to relate well with people in their joys and struggles. Romans 12:15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.
  • More real with people and themselves - they tend to act as they feel and would not intuitively bother with hiding how they feel (although some do bother).
  • Able to use emotions as a force for breakthrough in struggles/inertia - very useful for making difficult decisions that cost a lot. Sometimes it'll be good to think less and just do it (depends on situations, of course).
  • Require more emotional interaction/care, so such an unmet need may be very damaging in the long run - easy to feel jaded or tired or unloved (their love language may mean a lot more to them than logical-tendency people).
  • Naturally more difficult to control their emotions from spiraling out of control - may make rash actions and other people might misunderstand these actions, causing more hurts.
  • Finds it very, very difficult and tiring to remove sources of emotional triggers (be it things that make them feel better or feel worse) - they cannot think/do something just because it makes logical sense if their emotions interfere e.g. in the case of an emotional trauma/incident.

Logical tendency: (largely just the reverse)
*This list is definitely not exhaustive!

  • Require less emotional interaction/care than emotional-tendency people - they are naturally more secure in who they are and that they are accepted in LG, ministry, family and friends. Having occasional meet-ups or simply doing something together might suffice. 
  • Generally make decisions by logic and tradition and also less susceptible to emotional triggers - more predictable and therefore less likely to perform erratic actions that shock people.
  • Usually more able (than emotional tendency people) to get out of sticky situations on their own - they can apply the Word of God more readily even in emotionally-difficult situations.
  • Generally make decisions by logic and tradition - won't really do random or out of character things which might unintentionally create a locked-in mindset of what God has possibly in store for them. Inertia to change cannot be assisted by emotions. 
  • Might find it difficult to talk about how they feel or to grow in intimacy in their friendship/relationship with other people as they do not intuitively use their emotions to relate to others. 
For those with no tendency:

Although rare, I believe that there are people who,  by nature or supernatural nurture, do not have any tendency, but instead an almost equal preference for both emotional and logical circuits. For such people, the strengths and risks are just all of the above. However, I think the most distinct strengths of such people is that they are especially good at ministering and leading people out of the mire. This is because they are able to relate very well, given their emotional side, and also able to combine relating with providing logical, applicable advise (through their logical side) that is palatable to the person they are speaking to (even themselves). As for the most significant risk, my opinion is that their emotions and logic can actually short-circuit one another more readily than those with a tendency. For example, if they want to do something that is good and right but feels wrong, they may end up not doing anything as the motivations cancel each other out. The logical side wants to do it because it is right, but the emotional side does not want to because it feels crappy doing so. The same goes for something that is wrong but feels good and right. In both cases, it will lead to inaction, which might be the wrong outcome. This is different from people who have a particular tendency, as they have a predictable decision-making process based on their emotions or logic, whereas those without a tendency is often subject to circumstance. 

Different (Divine) Situations, Different (Divine) Circuits

For most of us who have been following God, I believe that having faced similar circumstances several times before, our decision-making process for specific circumstances are no longer subject to our emotional or logical tendencies. Instead, they are subject to God's tendencies; how He prefer to resolve or deal with such situations. In such cases, what is important then is to understand how God wants to move and why. For example, suppose in the past, how I respond to a particular person who is hurt is that I tend to comfort the person and try to relate to the hurt. After some time, I realize that what I am doing is not working as the person repeatedly does things that hurt himself. Therefore, after praying and asking God, I decided to respond in a way not intuitive to my emotional tendency, but instead using more of the logical circuits and eventually see how God works in the life of this person for the better. At this point of time, rather than say: "okay, from now on I'll always talk logic to this person", we should think and try to understand WHY God moves in this particular way for this person in this circumstance. This would help us to be more sensitive towards this person and in the long run, have a better understanding of the human heart. This will help us to encourage, edify and counsel both ourselves and others more effectively in the future. We should also try to learn the HOW, as often we may not be as tactless/tactful as we have hoped. I'm not saying that we do not need to seek God's input in the future circumstances, but that we want to be faithful, learning servants who continues to give God our 100%

Application of Understanding

#1 I think in most cases it'll be wise to first identify the tendency of whoever it is we want to encourage/edify/counsel/bless. This allows us to be much more sensitive to the thought process/decision-making/needs of the other party. Of course, in most cases it will be hard to have pinpoint accuracy and even then, circumstantial factors may affect our opinion or the other party's reaction. I think it'll take time to interact and understand the person before you can have an intelligent guess and even then you might be wrong. But the point is that this allows us to be more sensitive towards others, which allows our actions and speech to be accepted more readily by the other party. Overall, you'll become a much more approachable person in his/her eyes,not just now but also in the future. As to exactly how to identify, my opinion is that emotional tendency people like to talk about how they feel (in terms of emotions) and their personal experience whereas logical tendency often will just talk about things as though its common sense and slightly gearing towards things they see/hear without referring to themselves as often. (This is just my subjective view.) Experience also plays a part in identifying. 

#2 If we are unsure of whether the person is of the emotional/logical tendency, the safer bet is to go with the emotional tendency route, as there is less risk in doing this. This is because there is generally less damage done if you mistakenly treat an logical tendency person like an emotional tendency one, as compared to the other way round. After all, logical people have emotions and surely they will appreciate your sensitivity to how they are and how they are feeling. But if you are perceived to be negligent with an emotional tendency person's emotions, he/she may feel hurt/awkward. By the way, this is especially important for our sheep, because we can be regarded to be the personification of God’s authority in the sheep’s life.

#3 If the person we want to encourage/edify/counsel/bless does not have similar tendencies as us, it may be a good idea to ask someone else with the same tendency as the person for their input or to do it instead. This is especially important when there is also a gender difference, and also when that person comes to you for advise and you're not sure what to say. Here, I am not dismissing the need to grow and learn to cross that "gulf" of tendencies (nor is there that big of a gulf to begin with), but that if you're clueless, it would probably be better to watch and learn how to interact with people of a different tendency from ours than to jump in and cause unnecessary damage. So what I suggest above is like a “next best plan”. It happens in the interim while we learn how to cross that "gulf". Once you're more confident, then please do encourage/edify/counsel/bless people who have a different tendency from ours. There is surely benefits of having cross-tendencies interaction and counsel.

Lastly, I want to highlight that maturity is independent of what is written above. That is, what is written is just to be more effective in handling different types of people. Regardless of the maturity, it'll always be beneficial to at least be aware (when applicable) to the existence of different tendencies. But the practical application may vary depending on the maturity of yourself, or the other party.

Additional details: For shepherds and caretakers, if you have emotional tendency sheep with poor logical circuit, they will eventually need to learn how to control and handle their emotions and also to receive their emotional sustenance from God Himself. If you are of the logical tendency, this is probably something that you can do already, since you don’t really have much of an appetite for emotions to begin with. You don’t need to learn this all over again, which is why in this aspect, my personal advise is to encourage your sheep to find someone who is also of the emotional tendency that is much more experienced with handling emotions. (You can’t teach someone to breathe, right?) Or at least, ask others who have learnt it how they learnt it for practical tips so that you can teach your sheep.

If you're still skeptical about classifying people....

What is written is not to divide people into factions of emotional or logical tendencies. Rather, it is written to unite, such that people of differing tendencies can understand better how each other works and thus become more sensitive towards one another as they walk with God together. And as shepherds and caretakers: how we can give those entrusted to us our best, such that we can meet their needs and disciple them as effectively as possible. If you think that this is not relevant in your ministry/circle, then it could possibly (in my opinion) be due to several reasons:

#1 I think that emotional and logical tendencies have a large correlation with gender. In that manner I would see most guys to have a logical tendency whereas most girls have an emotional tendency generally. And so, I'm quite certain that gender differences become more important and plays a bigger role as people grow older. (excluding puberty phase, that's a different situation). But with regards to 17-19 year olds, I think people wouldn't perceive things in terms of gender differences, so perhaps there is less relevance for what is written above. However, there are always the few extreme cases of people who are especially emotionally/logically inclined. Then, what is written above will become relevant. 

#2 As people get older, they tend to naturally develop both sides. Older in this case is in terms of age and also lifestation. I've not reached these lifestations yet but I would think that going to work and surviving in the marketplace will require us to develop our logical aspects since, well, work is, more often than not, about getting things done as soon as possible and at the lowest cost. Emotional aspects would be developed as people get married, start a family and have kids on their own. In my imagination, it's really difficult to love kids based on logic and without emotions. So as parents, I think it's inevitable that we try to understand/be sensitive/loving to children. So perhaps at 25-30+, the difference between the emotional and logical aspects will be smaller and therefore despite having a tendency, they will be more balanced. So perhaps for such people the stuff written above is less applicable. 

During one of the church services, a speaker also confirmed that indeed, one of the parts of the brain called the 'Pre-frontal Cortex', which is responsible for rational thought, fully develops in a person at about 25 years of age.

#3 Environmental/circumstantial reasons. As mentioned earlier, perhaps in a working environment where the emphasis is on being productive and getting work done, people are less interested about what each other is feeling and people's thought processes would be akin to/affected by the culture of the workplace. Similarly in a secondary school's Parent Support Group, it is possible for there to be a more even-handed focus on both getting things down and having a positive feeling from decisions made. But regardless, if this is the case in the marketplace/committees, I think as salt and light if we know how to treat people according to their natural tendencies, it will be a refreshing change that could lead them closer to God! 

I hope that this post has been useful in making you more aware of people's thought process!

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