The Vulcan’s Way? Passion vs. Self-Regulation of Reactivity

Understanding is scaffolded in part by our accumulated cultural metaphors. For better or for worse, I must confess that many of my internalized metaphors came from watching Star Trek. And these days I’m thinking a lot about Vulcans.

If you are not a Sci-Fi fan, the “Vulcans, as a matter of custom and policy, suppress or think past all emotional influence by living lives of rigid emotional self-control through meditative techniques and training of mental discipline.” As an alien race, in psychological terms, they were the masters of regulating emotional reactivity. And that is what concerns me.

I am troubled because so much of the research into regulation of emotional reactivity seems to discuss regulation as if this skill is the goal, not the means to achieving a greater goal. It is presented as if the more we regulate our emotions the better off we will be. Sound familiar? I don’t want to be a Vulcan!

I guess my question is, what is the goal? I want to live a life of passion, not a numb life. If I am totally regulated, am I not blunting and numbing myself from extremes? Researcher Brené Brown talks about how we cannot selectively numb. When we numb hard feelings, we also “numb joy, we numb gratitude, we numb happiness.” That totally makes sense to me – the Vulcan’s showed me this years ago.

I suspect I missed some subtlety of definition; something got lost in translation. If passion is not at odds with the concept of emotional regulation, I would love to hear how I am interpreting things incorrectly. If emotional regulation is different than numbing, how is it different? Is numb an extreme of a spectrum and if it is, how would I know if I am regulating just enough? What does that look like? Thank you in advance for helping me to understand.

2 thoughts on “The Vulcan’s Way? Passion vs. Self-Regulation of Reactivity

  1. Emotional regulation isn’t about numbing all emotions but about containing damaging or unhelpful reactions harming self or others. My humble two-cents, of course.

    Lisa Brookes Kift, MFT

    • Thanks Lisa! On one hand, I get that. If emotional regulation is a conventional learned behavior, that makes total sense to me.

      However, a lot of recent work includes discussions of neuroplasticity and changing the observable characteristics of neurological pathways. For example, Dr. Dan Siegel talks about thickening of brain tissue and the assertion is that this is a good thing. However, my skeptical side wonders, in that context, if the brain change might be acting like a prophylactic that “takes the edge off”… obviously helping with the damaging or unhelpful reactions… but possibly also blunting the intense pleasurable reactions too?

      Any brain researchers out there have a moment to educate me and explain how I am wrong?

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