Feelings and Emotions are an Essential Part of Our Everyday Experience So Why Do So Many Modern Therapies Try to Get Rid of so Called ‘Bad Feelings’ by Leon Paterson
In this short article we will go beyond the limited psychology research to explore how feelings and emotions work. The variability of emotions will be demonstrated to show that they are not simply on or off – you’re happy or you’re not happy. That in fact emotions increase to a peak and then decrease often through a short space of time.
When understood in this way we can have far more flexibly in managing challenging or difficult emotions. We will also explore how feeling help us to effortlessly orientate ourselves through life knowing what to move towards and away from. And as we shall see, emotions can activate and ready us for perceived threats which may often just be in our heads.
From an early stage of development we begin to interact and orientate ourselves to the world around us. We learn how to move towards objects which bring us pleasure, joy, novelty, and to move away from objects which frighten, bore us etc.
As we grow this pattern continues to develop and the objects are replaced by people, places, activities, ideas etc. What interests us and what we like we move towards, the things we don’t like we move away from. What makes this sense different to other senses is the emotional bonds, attachments and connections it allows us to create.
Remembering a special place or hearing a special song from the past, only has significance with the additional feelings involved. This is because our visual and auditory senses are quite neutral when it comes to directing us towards what we like or don’t like. In contrast our feelings are extremely biased and will greatly influence our interests and preferences.
Seen in this way feelings are the stand out sense in helping give us a strong sense of our own identity. To know yourself is to know your likes, wants and needs, and also the things best avoided. Through knowing what we like and what interests us we can direct ourselves through life towards the people, places, activities which bring us purpose and direction. Feelings can also be a useful call to action. However this activation can lead to problems if what we’re reacting to are thoughts or ideas in our head, and not something we can directly change in the world.
Many of our emotions come about as a response to our thinking processes. We imagine a number possible scenarios, or imagined outcomes and respond as if there is a real, immediate threat in the environment. Our body becomes activated ready to mobilise into action. But because all the activity is taking place in our heads, there is nothing to respond to immediately in the world. Anxiety is often a response to thoughts about possible imagined futures.
We picture a scenario, experience the feeling/emotion, and our body responds as if it is a real threat. Except there is no threat in our immediate environment and so the emotion and body activation has nowhere to go, and nothing to do. Much unnecessary suffering is created with runaway thinking processes leading to activated feelings of fear and anxiety.
A simple way to improve and better manage these negative patterns of behaviour is to recognise emotions and feelings as something we do and not something we have. Traditionally emotions are treated in a binary way, they are either on or off. We’re angry or we’re not angry, we’re happy or we’re not happy.
This way of understanding feelings and emotions greatly limits how we use our feelings and emotions. I can’t go for a little bit less anger, or try for a bit more happiness if I’m limited to being either you are or you aren’t. In reality there is much variability to our emotions, they will have a start point, a peak, and an end point. And in fact it’s this variability that is the key to better managing your emotions.
If you can vary something then you can change, alter, increase and decrease it in ways in which something which goes on and off, cannot be changed. As a simple example if you were to select a previous situation in which you had a strong emotional experience such as anger. We could have you recreate the experience and follow the emotion back to a starting point before the emotion began.
We could then have you notice the starting point and follow it through time to notice how it increases to a peak and decrease down again. Although this would be just a starting point for creating lasting change. The very awareness that emotions and feelings are extremely variable and can be altered creates new possibilities for successfully managing them.
Here are a couple of links to include to give people a flavour of emotion.
- http://sensorysystems.co.uk/ courses/4389/
- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Emotion
- https://www.psychologytoday. com/blog/hide-and-seek/201601/ what-are-basic-emotions
Leon is doing a talk on this subject which everyone is welcome to: