TOUCH THE EARTHNovember 7, 2023
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BUILDING BETTER MENTAL HEALTH
Your Emotional Mind – Part 1
Our view of human intelligence has been… and often still is, far too narrow. Excellence is more than IQ (intelligence quotient). Brains may be useful, as may social class and luck, but as a predictor of who will succeed in any area of life, EQ (emotional intelligence) is the thing to nurture and strengthen.
Our emotions play a far greater role in thought, decision making and individual success than we commonly acknowledge. So much of what we do can be emotionally driven. We can be so reasonable in one moment and so irrational the next!
The emotional mind is far quicker than the rational mind, springing into action, without pausing even a moment to consider what it is doing. Its quickness precludes the deliberate, analytical reflection that is the hallmark of the thinking mind.
During evolution, this quickness most likely revolved around most basic decisions, such as what to pay attention to, for instance, confronting a ‘threat’, making split-second decisions such as: Do I eat/kill this, or does it eat/kill me? Organisms that had to pause too long to reflect on these answers were unlikely to have had many progeny to pass on their slower-acting genes.
Actions that spring from the emotional mind carry a particular strong sense of certainty, a by-product of a streamlined, simplified way of looking at life, the world, things, people… that can be absolutely bewildering to the rational mind. When the dust settles, or even in mid-response, we find ourselves thinking: “What did I do this for?”…a sign that the rational mind is awakening to the moment, but not with the rapidity of the emotional mind.
Since the interval between what triggers an emotion and its eruption can be virtually instantaneous, the mechanism that appraises perception must be capable of great speed, even in brain time. This appraisal of the need to act needs to be automatic and so rapid, that it never enters conscious awareness. A quick-and-dirty variety of emotional responses sweeps over us virtually before we know what is happening.
This rapid mode of perception sacrifices accuracy for speed, relying on first impressions, reacting to the overall picture, or its most striking aspects. It takes things in at once, as a whole, reacting without taking the time for thoughtful analysis. A vivid element can determine that impression, out-weighing a careful evaluation of the details. The great advantage is that the emotional mind can read an emotional reality, for example: ‘he is angry with me’; ‘she is lying’; ‘this is making him sad’, in an instant, making the intuitive snap judgements that tell us who to be wary of, who to trust, who’s in distress.
The emotional mind is our radar for danger. If we (or our forebears in evolution) waited for the rational mind to make some of these judgments, we might not only have been wrong, we might have been dead. The drawback is that these impressions and intuitive judgments, because they are made in an instant, may be mistaken or misguided.
However, this quickness, in which emotions can overtake us before we are quite aware that they have started, is essential to their being so adaptive. They mobilise us to respond to urgent events without wasting time pondering whether to react, or how to respond.
Because it takes the rational mind a moment or two longer to register and respond than the emotional mind, the first impulse in an emotional situation is the heart’s not the head’s.
There is also a second kind of emotional reaction, slower than the quick-response, which simmers and brews, first in our thoughts before it leads to feelings. This second pathway to triggering emotions is more deliberate, and we are typically quite aware of the thoughts that lead to it.
What are Emotions?
Emotions are an excited mental state, arising from any agitation, disturbance of the mind, passion, feelings and their distinctive thoughts, psychological and biological states, and a range of propensities to act.
Emotions are usually based on an external stimulus, and almost always come and subside quickly. The full heat of emotions is very brief, lasting just seconds to minutes.
They are controlled by chemicals the brain releases in response to a trigger or event, and basically are our body’s response to whatever is happening around us, shunting our blood flow and increasing our heart rate. The chemicals go throughout our bodies, forming a feedback loop between our bodies and our brains, creating emotions. For emotions to last longer, the trigger must be sustained, in effect, continually evolving the emotion, as when the loss of a loved one keeps us mourning. When feelings persist for hours, it is usually as a mood, in a muted form. Moods set an affective tone, but they are not such strong shapers of how we perceive and act as in the case of the high heat of an emotion.
Emotions are an intricate process of mental formations, within neurophysiological, phenomenological, and neuromuscular areas.
The neuropsychological aspect relates primarily to the patterns of the electrochemical activities within the brain.
The phenomenological aspect is the motivational experience, or the experience that has instant significance for an individual.
The neuromuscular aspect relates to facial activities, patterns, and the body’s responses.
Various parts of the brain can trigger different emotions. For example, the amygdala is the locus of fear. The amygdala senses fear and it orchestrates physical actions and emotions.
Emotions, Mood, Temperament …and the rest of mental life
Most of us have a general idea of what it means to be in a good mood versus a bad mood. However, we might find it more difficult to explain the difference between moods, feelings, and emotions.
Put simply, emotions can turn into moods, moods can affect emotions, and feelings are how we interpret our emotions.
There are hundreds of EMOTIONS with multifarious blends, variations, mutations and nuances. Indeed, there are many more subtleties of emotions than we have names for. Families of emotions have a basic emotional nucleus at its core, with its relatives rippling out from there in countless mutations.
In their outer ripples are MOODS, which are more muted and last far longer than emotions… So, for example, while it’s relatively rare to be in the full heat of anger all day, it is not that rare to be in a grumpy, irritable mood, in which shorter bouts of anger are easily triggered.
Beyond moods are TEMPERAMENTS, the disposition or readiness to evoke a given emotion or mood that makes people melancholy, timid or cheerful.
Still beyond such emotional dispositions are outright emotional) DISORDERS, such as clinical depression, or unremitting anxiety, in which someone feels perpetually trapped in a toxic state.
In addition to being specific and as a reaction to something, emotions have corresponding and universal facial expressions and body language. Charles Darwin saw the universality of facial expressions for emotions as evidence that the forces of evolution had stamped these signals into our central nervous system.
Emotional intelligence includes self-awareness, and impulse control, persistence, zeal and motivation, empathy and social deftness. These are the qualities that mark people who excel, whose relationships flourish and who are stars in the workplace.
Next we will look at the primary families of emotions.