There’s a term which originated in engineering called positive feedback. An example of positive feedback is in a concert hall. Someone taps on the microphone to test it and there is loud screech that comes from the loudspeakers. What happens is that the initial tap comes out of the speakers amplified, the amplified sound goes back into the microphone and gets further amplified until the amplifier has reached saturation and can’t amplify the sound any further. The solution is to turn the volume down, cover the microphone or move the microphone away from the speakers. Positive feedback pops up in many other situations and it seems as though the human condition is based on positive feedback.

  • Someone gets angry. The more angry they get the more their ability to control their anger diminishes and so they get even more angry.
  • A person drinks to deaden the feeling of their problems. The more they drink the worse their problems become until they reach rock bottom. It’s not unusual for people to go from a high powered job and marriage to being homeless within a few months.
  • An initial feeling of panic results in the body producing adrenalin. This produces a feeling of butterflies in the stomach, clammy skin and nervousness, which in turn produces more of a feeling of panic and more adrenalin until sometimes the person will collapse on the floor with a panic attack.

The secret in all these situations is to develop self awareness so that you can stand back from the situation and take action. There used to be a saying ‘to be beside yourself with anger’, and it’s possible to be so angry that you develop this self aware feeling. When alcoholics claw their way back from the depths of a desperate situation, it’s usually because they developed a degree of self awareness. Sometimes they say afterwards that they suddenly saw themselves and were shocked at what they had become. I knew a person who was so overtaken by paranoia that he was locked up in a padded cell in hospital after nearly killing his wife. He reached a point where he suddenly saw himself and what he had become. He said it was the start of his recovery.