On Emotional Armor

(Epistemic status: Endorsed, involves frames, may be a weird bipolar thing)

In day to day life, things often go well, poorly, or unnotably. At least, they largely feel that way – in reality, such as it is, everything is a neutral event; it just is. As such, the real factor in a good day or a bad day is the perception wetware behind your eyes – how you frame events mentally. This is not to say you have control over it, most of our mental subroutines run too fast to do that. However, there is a useful thing I have noticed in relation to how we interact with our affect – the concept of emotional armor. This is adjacent to, but not the same concept as Slack (https://www.lesserwrong.com/posts/yLLkWMDbC9ZNKbjDG/slack is a post about the initial Facebook post; the idea as far as I can tell is Brent Dill’s.) Slack involves external and internal components – emotional armor is the internal only part. Emotional armor is how much bullshit you can take before you are vulnerable and emotionally high variance.

Emotional armor is a form of composure that relies on frame agility, how quickly you spin the valence of an event. Let us suppose the train is late and you will not make it to work on time – it’s easy to become upset and start being more annoyed by other things you might have taken in stride. Maybe you’re more annoyed at the beggar in the terminal. Maybe you’re sick of waiting for the old man to get his walker through the doors. Maybe you’re shoving through people with much less regard than usual – you let things get worse because you’re already taking emotional damage from an unprotected vector. You have framed things as Bad. Emotional armor is the ability to see the train delayed, give a hapless shrug, commiserate about the transit service with the old man next to you, who you patiently helped onto the train because you weren’t fussed and still maintain a pleasant morning despite the stress. While none of the external events really changed, the way you related to them did. Emotional armor often increases your opportunities to Choose Otherwise.

How much emotional armor you have going into a day can vary wildly based on physical, mental, and baseline factors. The type of person you are generally places the range on your emotional armor capacity. How well rested and fed you are, how balanced your nutrients are, whether you’ve had medication or not, all these things can also affect your emotional armor. Mentally, how much is already on your mind can increase or decrease emotional armor – to elaborate, I find that the more of my processing is tied up, the further my emotional armor decreases at a surprisingly rapid pace. Even if the thing taking my processing isn’t Bad, it’s the fact that I lack the extra room to engage in frame agility that decreases this value. Having had positive experiences or fulfilling interactions can often increase emotional armor – so can the anticipation of such things.

Overall, emotional armor is the kind of thing that seems difficult to hack in unusual ways – doing basic self care is the most consistent way to increase it. Emotional armor also isn’t a cure for bad situations – it often can internally improve your life and leave you more open to alternatives, but it’s not going to prevent you from getting fired if you’re one late train away from termination, no matter how good you feel about the moderate delays in service (however, it might make getting the termination news easier to weather and increase recovery time for finding another job.)   The biggest benefit to having emotional armor as a concept is the possibility of using it to break downcycles and “put the emotional armor back on” to restore a certain presence of mind.

Discussion: How has emotional armor improved your relation to events in your life? Have you experienced the sensation of knowing something “should” be bad but having been sufficiently insulated that it surprises you? How do you personally increase your emotional armor levels?

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