Motivation and emotion/Book/2020/Bewilderment

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What is bewilderment and how can it be dealt with?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Many people experience some level of confusion on a common basis, however complete and utter confusion and perplexity can be quite unusual. This feeling can be defined as bewilderment. The synonyms of bewilderment include bafflement, discombobulation, confusion and puzzlement (Merriam Dictionary, 1828). Bewilderment is an intense emotion that everyone may experience at some point in their life. Bewilderment can be distressing to those who experience it. Although bewilderment can seen as an emotion everyone would want to avoid, it is inevitable that we will all experience it one day, therefore it is important to understand the methods we can adopt to reduce the effects of bewilderment. Experiencing bewilderment may uncover concepts or ideas that we do not know and have not have thought of previously. It is important to understand how bewilderment can occur and how to manage it's effects for when it occurs.

Quote from Jalaluddin Rumi

"Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment"

Focus questions:
  • What is bewilderment?
  • What are the causes of bewilderment?
  • What are the effects of bewilderment?
  • How can bewilderment be dealt with and what are the solutions?

What is bewilderment?[edit | edit source]

Figure 1. Depiction of a person experiencing bewilderment

Definition of bewilderment[edit | edit source]

Bewilderment is a short-lived emotion that is commonly associated with other emotions such as being confused, perplexed, puzzled, baffled, disorientated, oblivious or lost. The Merriam-Webster dictionary (1828) defines bewilderment as the quality or state of being lost, perplexed, or confused: the quality or state of being bewildered. Bewilderment in considered to be the opposite of certainty and orientated. Bewilderment is often described as an unpleasant emotion or feeling that is experienced when a person has no notion or understanding of what is happening in a particular situation. Although bewilderment can be harmless, it can cause a person to feel distressed, disturbed and upset. This can be due to the person having no recollection or certainty of the particular situation, therefore the person may lose confidence within themselves and their abilities, which can be daunting and frightening. Bewilderment can be experienced by anyone at any stage of life due to various reasons. Bewilderment can occur in an individual fortuitously due to health reasons and mistakes; or by the hands of another individual, however bewilderment can also be caused intentionally.

Although it can be seen in a negative light, bewilderment may also cause a sudden sense of clarity (Akbari, 2019). This can be due to receiving or discovering new information. Akbari (2019) states that bewilderment is essential for the search for insight and knowledge. Bewilderment can be a necessary first step in the process of reaching greater clarity.

Case study example

Holly has never hiked at this particular mountain before so she took a map with her. Holly believed she had taken the right path whilst on her hike. However, half way through her hike she realises that the path she has taken was the wrong path as she has not passed landmarks that she should have that are displayed on her map. Holly feels lost and confused about her current location as she was sure she took the right path at the start of her hike. The initial emotion Holly is feeling can be defined as bewilderment.

Causes of bewilderment[edit | edit source]

Bewilderment can be caused by chance, mistakes, our own fault or the fault or intentions of others. There are multiple causes of bewilderment including:

  • Alcohol and/ or drug intoxication
  • Mental illness (e.g. dementia or manic episodes)
  • Head trauma or a head injury (e.g. concussion)
  • Receiving or discovering information that they may not understand, have heard of previously or have no notion of
  • Ageing or reduction in physiological brain functions
  • Fatigue
  • Sudden realisation of an event, situation, object, item or another individual

History of bewilderment[edit | edit source]

The word bewilderment was coined in 1789. However, bewilderment stems from the word bewilder, meaning, to confuse someone (Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary & Thesaurus, 1995) which was coined in the 1680's. For hundreds of years, bewilderment has been able to define the intense feeling of complete confusion, disorientation and feeling perplexed.

Bewilderment has been used in various forms of media and literature throughout the years. In 2016, a mystery and thriller movie named Bewilderment was developed. Bewilderment has often been a topic throughout poetry as well. For example, a 1998 poem also by the name 'Bewilderment' written by Fanny Howe which explores and analyses the concepts of bewilderment.

Quote from Fanny Howe

"Bewilderment circumnambulates, believing that at the center of errant or circular movement, is the axis of reality."

Effects of bewilderment[edit | edit source]

As bewilderment is an intense emotion, it can cause many effects to an individual that experiences it, both psychologically and physically. These effects can differ between individuals who experience bewilderment, with some only feeling the psychological effects and not the physical effects. The severity of the effects can also differ between people and the level of bewilderment they are experiencing (HealthDirect, 2020).

Long-term effects[edit | edit source]

Although long-term effects of bewilderment can be rare, individuals who are more susceptible to feeling bewilderment can develop psychological effects that stay with them long after feeling bewilderment. Bewilderment's long-term effects can be the result of an individual's fear of the unknown or fear of losing their mental and psychological abilities. These psychological effects can include:

Case study example

Ned experiences bewilderment on a regular basis. This is frightening for Ned as he believes that his mental capacities are reducing, therefore, leaving him with gaps in his memories. As a result of this fear, Ned has experienced regular symptoms of anxiety and heightened stress levels.

Figure 2. Chemical compound of Epinephrine, a common hormone produced when experiencing bewilderment

Short-term effects[edit | edit source]

Short-term effects are more commonly felt whilst experiencing bewilderment and can produce similar symptoms to panic, stress, anxiety or fear. This can be the result of an individual feeling frightened, alarmed and nervous when experiencing the emotion of bewilderment. When an individual experiences bewilderment, their body can release the hormones adrenocorticotropic, epinephrine (also known as adrenaline) and cortisol into their bloodstream. These hormones can trigger a person's natural survival instincts such as the 'fight or flight' response and produces effects listed in Table 1. In severe cases of bewilderment, an individual may experience a panic attack due to the sudden increase in hormones throughout their bloodstream. A panic attack can be defined as a brief episode of intense anxiety (Better Health Channel, 2020). A panic attack can also trigger the 'fight or flight' response. However, it is important to note the not everyone who experiences bewilderment will experience these effects or may only receive mild symptoms of bewilderment.

Table 1. Short-term physical and psychological effects of bewilderment.

Physical Psychological
Perspiration Confusion
Quickened pulse/ palpitations Self-doubt
Clammy skin Fear of lack of control
Irregular breathing Feeling out of touch with reality
Light-headed feeling Heightened anxiety and stress levels

Case study example

Helen just received information that her husband is having an affair. Helen feels bewildered as she had no idea of the affair. Helen begins to feel her breathing change, beginning to perspire and experience confusion and anxiety. After a short while, Helen then experiences a panic attack.

Figure 3. Nail biting, a common form of fiddling when experiencing stress or confusion

Signs of bewilderment in other people[edit | edit source]

Although bewilderment is an internal emotion, there can be some signs that others are experiencing it. Knowing the signs of bewilderment may assist others in comforting the individual it is happening to. These signs can include:

  • Slurred or abnormal speech
  • Fidgeting or fiddling
  • Sudden change in mood or emotion
  • Perspiration
  • Irregular breathing
  • Need to sit down or lean against something
  • Difficulties in listening (Healthline, 2020)
Case study example

Austin just told Matilda about a rumour involving herself. Austin noticed that he is now having trouble communicating with Matilda as she seems to be mentally distant from their conversation. Austin also notices that Matilda is fiddling with the ring on her finger. Austin believes that Matilda is experiencing the emotion of bewilderment.

Genealogical bewilderment[edit | edit source]

The term genealogical bewilderment refers to potential identity issues that can occur in children that have been adopted, fostered or conceived by an assisted reproductive technology procedure. These procedures can include gamete (egg or sperm) donations or using a surrogate mother to gestate the fetus till birth. The term genealogical bewilderment was first coined by Wellisch in 1952 (Sants, 1964). Wellisch was interested in studying how genealogical bewilderment can present itself in children who are experiencing adoption stress. Wellish (1952), defines that a genealogical bewildered child has little to no knowledge of their biological parent or parents which results in a state of confusion and uncertainty. Ultimately, this can fundamentally effect the child's sense of security and effect their mental health as they begin to question their genetic makeup, ancestry and heritage. Genealogical bewilderment is prevalent in children with different racial features than their adoptive or foster parents. This is due to their potential desires in discovering the customs and culture of their biological parent or parents.

Quote from Wellisch, 1952

"Knowledge of and definite relationship to his genealogy is ... necessary for a child to build up his complete body image and world picture. It is an inalienable and entitled right of every person. There is an urge, a call, in everybody to follow and fulfill the tradition of his family, race, nation, and the religious community into which he was born. The loss of this tradition is a deprivation which may result in the stunting of emotional development."

Bewilderment in theory[edit | edit source]

James-Lange theory of emotion[edit | edit source]

The James-Lange theory of emotion, developed by psychologists William James (1884) and Carl Lange (1887), was one of the first hypothesised explanations of the origins of emotions in modern psychology. The theory suggests that witnessing an emotion-inducing external stimulus (can also been known as an arousal) can create a physiological response to those experiencing it. Examples of these physiological responses can include a quickened pulse, perspiration, and irregular breathing. An emotional response is then developed depending on how the individual interprets the physiological response (Cherry, 2020). The James-Lange theory of emotion has also been known as the peripheral theory of emotion due to the bodily responses being controlled by the peripheral nervous system. The central nervous system then interprets these bodily responses to create an emotion.

The James-Lange theory of emotion suggests that the emotion of bewilderment can occur due to a physiological response to an external stimulus. For example, a person discovers new information and their heart begins to pound in their chest. This person then cognitively interprets this bodily feeling as the emotion of bewilderment.

Figure 4. Diagram of the events of the James-Lange theory of emotion

External Stimulus (Arousal) → Physiological Response → Emotion

Cannon-Bard theory of emotion[edit | edit source]

The Cannon-Bard theory of emotion argues that an emotion-inducing external stimulus almost simultaneously develops an physiological response and an emotion (Cherry, 2020). The theory suggests that emotional responses usually occur instantly whilst physiological responses take one to two seconds after the stimulus has been presented. Cannon (1927) and Bard (1934) argue that although emotional and physiological responses occur mostly simultaneously, they are separate and independent from each other. The Cannon-Bard theory of emotion can also be known as the thalamic theory of emotion due the thalamus role in transmitting a signal to the amygdala (part of the brain responsible for emotional processing) and the autonomic nervous system (Cherry, 2020). The autonomic nervous system is responsible for the physiological responses to the stimulus.

In relation to bewilderment, the Cannon-Bard theory suggests the emotion of bewilderment and the physiological responses that an individual can experience from bewilderment occur almost simultaneously due to an emotion-inducing stimulus. For example, an individual begins to feel lost and disorientated whilst hiking. The begin to feel bewildered and their heart-rate immediately increases.

Figure 5. Diagram of the events of the Cannon-Bard theory of emotion

External Stimulus (Arousal) → Physiological Response + Emotion

How bewilderment can be dealt with[edit | edit source]

As bewilderment can be a negative and distressing emotion, it is common for people to resist it by either stopping the emotion prematurely or have certain methods of preventing it all together. It is important to note that bewilderment can feel 'crippling' to some who feel it whilst others consider it to be a passing and somewhat, mildly irritating emotion. However, completely blocking out an entire emotion is not a simple task. An individual that wishes to resist feeling bewilderment can either adopt short-term or long-term solution to manage or treat the effects of bewilderment.

Figure 6. Yoga is considered to be a relaxing exercise that could decrease the effects of bewilderment

Everyday personal solutions[edit | edit source]

A beneficial and easy way for a person to prevent or minimize the feeling of bewilderment would be to change some aspects in their day-to-day lifestyle. Some approaches to resist bewilderment include:

  • Participate in frequent exercise
  • Do not ingest copious amounts of alcohol
  • Eat a healthy and balanced diet
  • Sleeping the suggested healthy amount of sleep per night (approximately 8-10 hours per night)
  • Avoid recreational drugs

By adopting these solutions, the intense emotion of bewilderment may be reduced significantly and may also occur less frequently.

Managing and treating bewilderment[edit | edit source]

As previously stated, treating a somewhat short-lived emotion is difficult to achieve, therefore, it would be beneficial to receive methods of managing the effects of bewilderment when it is felt. Some of these methods may include:

  • Taking slow and deep breaths
  • Counting (e.g. counting your breaths or fingers)
  • Talk to others about the emotion when it arises (including helplines such as Beyond Blue)
  • Partake in a form of exercise
  • Distracted from the emotion (e.g. by reading a magazine)

These short-term methods of managing the effects of bewilderment can assist a person in distress as they can distract the person. This can therefore reduce the intensity of the effects of bewilderment and can provide instant assistance. Adopting long-term methods for avoiding bewilderment can be difficult, therefore, it would be useful to seek assistance from professionals such as general practitioners, counsellors, psychologists and psychiatrists. These professionals will most likely suggest psychotherapy treatments such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

Cognitive behavioural therapy[edit | edit source]

Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) is a form of psychotherapy that helps you recognise unhelpful or negative thoughts and behavior patterns (Healthline, 2020). CBT can help an individual in identifying and analysing the emotions that they are feeling. CBT allows a person to reorganise and learn how to deal with negative emotions and thoughts in a more positive way by adopting healthy behaviour patterns, therefore, improving emotional regulation. CBT can help people struggling with the effects of bewilderment long-term as it provides the patients with a healthy way of coping with the negative effects of bewilderment.

Interactive learning[edit | edit source]


1 Which of the following is not a effect or symptom of bewilderment?

Increased heart rate

2 Which of the following is not a a form of treatment for reducing the effects of bewilderment?

Ignoring the feeling
Speaking to another person

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Bewilderment can be a defined as a state of complete confusion and disorientation. Bewilderment can be daunting and distressing emotion to feel and may cause other mental disorders such as stress and anxiety. The emotion of bewilderment can most commonly produce short-term physiological effects such as perspiration, quickened pulse and irregular breathing. Bewilderment has the potential to create long-term cognitive effects which can include anxiety. There are a variety of ways in which an individuals can deal with the effects of bewilderment, initially and in the long run. These can include simple solutions such as living a healthy and active lifestyle and confiding within another person (including professionals such as counsellors and psychologists). However, a long-term beneficial form of treatment to prevent or minimise the effects of bewilderment is to partake in cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). CBT allows a person to be able to identify the emotion whilst providing healthy coping mechanisms. With these measurements in place, bewilderment can become a passing and harmless emotion. Without bewilderment, it can become difficult to reach a greater clarity and breakthroughs (Akbari, 2019).

See also[edit | edit source]

  1. Anxiety (Book chapter, 2010)
  2. Anxiety neurobiology (Book chapter, 2018)
  3. Cognitive behavioural therapy (Wikipedia)
  4. Cortisol and stress (Book chapter, 2015)
  5. Fear (Book chapter, 2011)
  6. Handling stress (Book chapter, 2011)

References[edit | edit source]

Akbari, S. C. (2019). From Bewilderment to Clarity. Historical Studies.

Betterhealth (2020). Cognitive Behaviour Therapy.

Beyondblue. (2020). "Beyond Blue."

Dimas, J. (2019). 15 Life Lessons From Rumi. Dwell in Magic.

Howe, F. (1998). Bewilderment.,being%20completely%20lost%20by%20choice!

Kasper, H., Bloemer, J. and Driessen, P.H. (2010), Coping with confusion: The case of the Dutch mobile phone market, Managing Service Quality: An International Journal, Vol. 20 No. 2, pp. 140-160.

Khanagha, S., Ramezan Zadeh, M., Mihalache, O., & Volberda, H. (2018). Embracing Bewilderment: Responding to technological disruption in heterogeneous market environments. Journal of Management Studies, 55(7), 1078–1121.

Lee H. Yearley. (2010). ETHICS OF BEWILDERMENT. The Journal of Religious Ethics, 38(3), 436–460.

Lewis, J. (2019). Reflections: Dialectic of Bewilderment. Eighteenth-Century Fiction, 31(3), 575–595.

Medical News Today. (2020). Fear: What Happens In The Brain And Body?.

Sants, H. J. (1964). Genealogical bewilderment in children with substitute parents. British Journal of Medical Science. 37, 133.

External links[edit | edit source]