emotions intelligence

written by Dr L.Michael Hall

What Are Emotions Anyway?

With something as fundamental and basic as emotions, you might think that defining an emotion would be no problem. Yet that is not the case. Part of the reason for that is due to the fact that there are several component elements within an emotion. Yet you would not know that when you are experiencing an emotion. When you are relaxed or stressed, when you are sad or joyful, when you are loving or indifferent, when you are disgusted or attracted, etc., experiencing the emotion seems to be a single and whole thing. It sems that way, yet it is not.

1) “Emotion” as Movement.

Before getting to that, let’s look at the term itself: emotion. Obvious within an emotion there is motion- that is, movement. Something is moving somewhere, in some direction. Now inasmuch as the word was originally spelled ex-motion, the idea of an emotion is that its motion is moving you out (ex-) from wherever you are. Accordingly, a medical definition of an emotion is that it has within it “an action tendency.”

As this gives us our first picture of an emotion, it also distinguishes emotions that move us out to embrace and connect with the world and then the emotions that move us to hold back from the world. The metaphor which I like to use regarding this is that of the brakes and accelerator in a car.
Some emotions are like the brakes-when you experience them, they hold you back from something threatening or dangerous.They enable you to slow down, think, consider, and decide on a course of action. Fear is like that, tension is like that, so is sadness, disgust, fatigue, etc. other emotions operate like the accelerator-when you experience them you want to move forward.Joy is like that, so is love, excitement, curiosity, etc.

2) Emotions as Nerve Impulses.

Interesting enough, our neurology has a similar dynamic. We have inhibitory nerve impulses and we have excitatory nerve impulses. When the inhibitory impulses occur, we experience “negative” emotions. So we tense up, we restrain ourselves, we slow down, we may stop breathing, etc. It’s as if we have put the brakes on ourselves so that in our journey in life, we operate in a more careful, mindful way.
When the excitatory impulses occur, we experience “positive” emotions. We breath more fully, muscles relax and/or are activated to engage in some activity. It’s as if we have put the pedal to the metal and we’re ready to cruise down the highway of life.

3) Emotions as distinction from Feelings.

Inside of these positive and negative emotions are two primary elements: kinesthetic sensations and thoughts. Technically, this is the difference between feelings and emotions.Within every emotion are feelings-kinesthetic sensations. But you can experience any and all of your kinesthetics apart from it being an emotion. Take any emotion and we can ask, “What are the kinesthetic sensations of that emotion?” It may be cool or warm, calm or agitated, tension in the body in one or more muscle groups or relaxed, etc. “What are you experiencing in your body?”

• What are the kinesthetic sensations when you are afraid? What happens to your breathing, muscle tension, face, neck, hands, stomach, etc.?

• Similarly with anger-what are the feelings within your body? And sadness? Excitement? Fatigue?

With the feeling side of an emotion, we look at your diet, what you’ve been eating; your sleeping habits, your health and/or illness; your blood pressure, and on and on. Since your body is the place where your kinesthetic sensations occurs-how you take care of your body (or don’t take good care of it)-will strongly influence your feelings and how they play a significant role in your emotional well-being.

4) Emotions as cognitively based.

That’s the feeling side of an emotion, for the thought side, we have to ask, “What are you thinking? What are you aware of? Remembering? Imagining? Anticipating? Intending?” That’s because, “as you think, so you are” … “so you feel.” Together, your thinking-emoting is one system and whenever we speak about these elements as if they are independent factors, we are dichotomizing and polarizing. That, in turn, creates a false-to-fact understanding of emotions.

5) Emotions as relative to Map and Territory.

Now while we have a good beginning in understanding an emotion, it is just the beginning. There’s much more. In understanding an emotion, we need to include in our definition that every emotion is relative. It is relative to two phenomena- first, the mental map that a person is operating from and the territory that one is trying to navigate. Imagine a scale. On one side of the scale there is the mind-and all of the mental thinking, understanding, believing, expecting, intending, etc. On the other side of the scale is the territory-the experiential area of life that a person is dealing with-people, work, hobbies, career, communication, conflict, sports, etc.

The emotion you feel at any given moment in time depends on the relationship between your mental map about things and your experience of those things.
If you are driving in New York City and your map was develop in a country town of 2,000 people, you may be in for a shock! You may emotionally feel stress, anger, and fear at the same time! What’s wrong? Your map is not sufficient for that territory. If you have a map of driving in Cairo Egypt and you are in a tiny village in Maine, you may emotionally feel joy, delight, playful, and on top of the world. Why? Your map is more than able to effectively handle that territory.

6) Emotions as Interpretations.

Because of the cognitive component in every emotion, your emotions are functions of your interpretations.That is, how you interpret an experience will determine the emotion you experience. It is in this way that we can say that you are the creator of your emotions. After all, it is something you do-you emote. And that’s why reframing works, when you change the meaning frame about something, your emotional experience of it changes.

Back to our question, “What are emotions?” They are dynamic processes within us creating movement, information, and energy-and they are the very feel of life. More next time.

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