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June 6

What Are Emotions and Why Should You Care?

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What Are Emotions and Why Should You Care?

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We experience emotions all the time, but do you know what are emotions? And do you know how to unlock the hidden genius of your emotions? In this video, I will explain what emotions are and why they are your hidden genius. And at the end, I’ll show you the path to unlocking your hidden genius.

Many People Do Not Think About What Emotions Are

So if you’re like most people, you don’t give a lot of thought to your emotions unless they are intense enough to disrupt your day.

You could be super excited and happy, or you could be angry, frustrated, or sad. At those times, you feel emotional. Otherwise, emotions work just outside your consciousness, and you probably don’t pay much attention to them. However knowing what emotions are is the difference between a happy, fulfilled life, and one that is hit-or-miss.

Everything you do is affected by your emotions. Every decision you make is emotional. You can’t even be rational without being emotional first. And that’s kind of scary for people. And that’s why you should know what are emotions.

Neuroscience shows us that we are 98% emotional and only 2% rational. The idea that humans are rational beings is simply wrong. And the idea that emotions are destructive, weak, evil, or even irrational, as many philosophers and theologians have taught us for thousands of years, is wrong too.

We are emotional beings. And the good news is our emotions are our hidden genius. When we are aware of our emotions at a granular level, we are authentic. We have self-control. We can create emotional safety.

We can build deeper relationships. We can have compassion and understanding and are more tolerant and understanding. Our emotional nature is the secret to happiness.

What Are Emotions Scientifically?

So what are emotions scientifically? Not surprisingly, there is some controversy around the definition of emotion. The best explanation that describes what are emotions  comes from neuroscientist and psychologist Lisa Feldman Barrett at Northeastern University in Boston. She defines emotions as biologically based patterns of perception, experience, physiology, action, and communication that are culturally created in our brains.

Now there are some interesting implications to this definition. First, we are not born with emotions. We create emotion (more on this in a moment). Second, emotions are created in our brain and vary from culture to culture.

Third, we can develop our emotional vocabulary through emotional granularity. More on this in a moment. people who are unable to label their emotions are said to be suffering from alexithymia

We’ll talk more about alexithymia in a moment.

So, where do these emotions come from? Well, we are not born with emotions. We are born with affect, and all emotion is based on affect. Affect is the general sense of feeling that we experience throughout the day.

Affect has two components: valance and arousal or intensity. According to psychologist Sylvan Tomkins, there are nine fundamental affect: positive affect, neutral affect, and negative affect.

Positive affect are inherently rewarding. Negative effects are intrinsically painful, unpleasant, and punishing, and neutral affect is neutral. So in positive affect, we are interested in excitement, happiness, and joy. The neutral affect is startle-surprise, which, as you can imagine, can either be happy like a surprise party or fear, like almost stepping on a rattlesnake. Negative affect, of which there are six, consist of fear, distress-anguish, anger-rage, disgust, dissmell, and shame- humiliation.

Think of these nine affective states as the primary colors of an artist’s palette. The artist combines primary colors, hues, and intensities to create an infinite number of secondary colors.

Our brain does the same thing. It combines different affect and intensities to create emotion.

Think of affect as information. And one of the things that you may have noticed in your life is that emotions give you information about the environment.

So this is how affect works as information coloring. Everything that we see, do, and experience on an hourly, minute, second by second basis as we go through our waking day creates perceptions about the environment.

So we can look at an environment and if we have an affective state of sadness, then the environment’s going to look depressing to us. If we’re happy, the environment will look alive and exciting to us. It’s the same environment, but our affective state creates our perception of it.

Affect changes the way that we perceive our surroundings. Affect also creates our reality. Without affect, we wouldn’t be able to make sense of all of the sensory information that we take in through our five senses.

Affect controls our behavior. It forces us or moves us in different directions either to approach or withdraw, depending upon the situation. It finally affects decision-making. Our affective state is critical to everyday survival. How to Honor Your Emotions With This 1 Powerful Tool

Now here’s the thing that’s important to understand. We are born with affect. We are not born with emotions. All animals have affect, but no animals other than humans have emotions. And in humans, all emotions are based on affect.

How do we know what emotion we are experiencing? Well, we’re okay at guessing what emotions other people are experiencing by looking at them. But if we’re not looking in the mirror, how do we know what emotions we are experiencing?

The way that I teach this is to think about what is reality. Reality is either perceiver-independent or it’s perceiver-dependent. What does that mean? Think about this old Zen question: If a tree falls in the forest, is there a sound?

The answer is no, a falling tree makes no sound.

A falling tree creates vibrations in the air and the earth. Only if something special is present, is there sound and that’s something present is an ear. If there is a human ear present, vibrations are transmitted through the air, picked up by our ear, and electrical signals are created inside our ear that are then transmitted into the brain and processed and interpreted.

And finally the concept of tree emerges, the concept of falling, and the concept of sound emerges. We get the idea of a falling tree makes sound. Without a perceiver, there is no sound. There’s only physical reality. That is the vibrations going through the air.

Emotions are likewise created by a perceiver. For example, muscle movements and bodily changes become functional as emotions only when we categorize them that way.

Think about this. What are your emotions when you have a fleshed face or goosebumps, short, fast panting clammy, sweaty hands, or a racing heart. These could relate to all kinds of different emotions in any given moment and any given context. Your perception creates an emotion out of a physical sensation.

Emotional Categorizaton-The Secret to Emotional Intelligence

This leads us to the concept of emotional categorization. Emotional categorization is a process of taking all of this information from our affect and doing things with it in our brain. This is really at the core of what are emotions.

The first thing that emotional categorization allows us to do is to transform our core affect into our conscious awareness. Now we can start doing something with it.

If we couldn’t transform affect into consciousness, we would only be experiencing the effect and be reactive to it. We would not be able to manipulate it.

It also allows us to draw inferences about what caused the affective change. I can look around and say, “Hey, what just really pissed me off?” “What made me really angry?” I can draw inferences from my environment to figure out why I’m experiencing emotion.

Emotional categorization also allows us to decide what we’re going to do next. When I can feel anger and label it, I can make decisions about how I want to respond to my anger.

And finally, and probably most importantly, emotional categorization allows us to communicate our emotions to other people by saying something like, “I’m really angry.”

Emotional categorization begins at about 18 months of age, about the time that infants or toddlers start to verbalize. And as they begin to verbalize, the emotional centers of their brain start to mature. Just by the environment they’re in, in their family life, they begin to relate affective experiences to emotions. They begin to learn what are emotions.

The problem is that almost every human being is subject to emotional invalidation.

For example, if you fall over and scrap your knee, you’re told to be a big boy, grow up, put on your big girlpanties. You’re told not to feel. Emotional invalidation destroys maturation of the emotional centers of the brain.

People end up being emotionally illiterate as adults, which leads to all kinds of problems. You can develop proper emotional categorization if you’re fortunate enough to grow up in a family with emotionally competent parents. You can also develop emotional granularity.How To Have A Relationship Without Arguments or Fights-3 Amazing Steps To Take Now

People with high emotional granularity tend to be emotionally self-aware. They have higher emotional intelligence and they tend to be able to emotionally self-regulate compared to people with low emotional granularity.

Take a negative effect such as anger. We can subdivide anger into many different, more discreet forms, such as frustration, irritation, annoyance, or aggravation. So developing emotionalization is one way to unlock your hidden genius.

I have observed that when people cannot access their emotional database, their emotions completely overwhelm them.

This is why you see people acting out, acting badly, yelling, screaming, arguing, fighting, and sometimes resorting to violence. The research shows us that when couples argue or people get into intense emotional situations, their prefrontal cortex shuts down.

They’re unable to access whatever emotional database they have. They are only left with affect, and the reactive behaviors that flow from the experience of affect. They’re basically out of control.

Studies have shown that people who are alexithymic cannot express emotions with any kind of granularity; they cannot cope with strong emotions. They feel the affective experience in their bodies like an itchy feeling or clammy skin.

Without emotional categorization, decision making is impaired. Alexithymic people experience negative effect more intensely. Even if it’s temporary, they have low emotional intelligence, are much more reactive, and have decreased empathy.

To unlock your hidden genius, develop emotional granularity so you will not drop into alexithymia.

This article has touched lightly on what are emotions. Check out my many other articles and my courses on emotional competency to go deep into mastery.

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About the Author

Douglas E. Noll, JD, MA left a successful career as a trial lawyer to become a peacemaker. His calling is to serve humanity, and he executes his calling at many levels. He is an award-winning author, speaker, teacher, and trainer. He is a highly experienced mediator. Doug’s work carries him from international work to helping people resolve deep interpersonal and ideological conflicts.

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