Emotions directly influence how we see the world, because they influence how we interpret the actions of others and the events which occur around us.
When we are fearful, we commonly do not seek to challenge WHY we are feeling this way, rather we seek to confirm it.
We do this on a subconscious level by referencing what is happening against what we are feeling. The feeling drives the interpretation, which in turn drives a rationalization – all of which can be completely inaccurate and unhelpful.
We see this with some new patients whose fear of being hurt completely impairs their health care choice-making, which then impairs their health, which causes them to hurt themselves even more.
So when our patients are gripped by fear they tend to discount or ignore new information. Psychologist Paul Ekman calls this being in a “refractory state”, “during which time our thinking cannot incorporate information that does not fit, maintain or justify the emotion we are feeling.”
So the same mechanism which guides and focuses attention at critical moments can distort and block the capacity to process new and helpful information.
This is why attempting to teach a patient at a fearful moment (such as at an initial emergency visit) is so unproductive. We must at least temporarily resolve their immediate issue, allow a helping relationship to be established, (which catalyzes a feeling of safety to emerge), AND THEN attempt to facilitate learning – most ideally at another time and in another environmental space.
Bob Barkley said, ” …dentists who, for the most part, avoid explanations in favor of helping patients to think clearly are more likely to influence their behavior.”
And he was right.
Paul A Henny DDS