What are emotions?
- They are a response which is characterized by the generation
of energy within the body and psyche.
- The three emotions are fear, anger, and love. (The word "love"
has many meanings; one meaning refers to the emotion of
love, but there is also the "unconditional love" which is a trait
- Emotions are not the same as feelings. The differences are
explained in the chapter regarding feelings.
The value of emotions.
- Emotions provide energy for us to confront challenges. The
energy is given to us for the specific purpose of gearing us up
for action (pleasant or unpleasant), such as fighting, or
defending ourselves verbally, or interacting enthusiastically with
another person, or running away, or working on a project. Some of
this energy is provided physiologically through the release of
adrenaline and other substances in the body.
- Emotions help us to communicate. They add force, depth,
texture, and greater meaning to whatever we are saying.
There are no
"negative" emotions. None of our emotions are "bad." When emotions
are understood and used for their intended creative purposes, they
all have a potential to be constructive. (In any event, our judgment
of a given emotion as positive or negative is subjective, depending
on the circumstance and the consequence, and even the culture in
which it is expressed.) Two of our emotions -- anger and fear -- are
often considered negative because:
- They are usually expressed in ways which are disruptive. For
example, anger often results in arguments, fights, and other
conflicts. However, the disruptions occur not because the emotions
are inherently sinister but because we have not learned to manage
- They are frequently repressed. Thus they damage our
psychological health. Again, the harm occurs because we have not
learned how to use the emotions.
- Because they are visceral (i.e., we feel them physically),
they cause a turbulence which tends to block out other
contributors to our decision-making processes -- our rational
thinking, our intuition, our common sense, our focus on the
problem itself instead of the turbulence, etc. This is perhaps
what former U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt implied when he said
that "we have nothing to fear but fear itself."
- They push us out of comfortable complacency where we have
settled into erroneous views about ourselves. "Negative" emotions
force us to question our ego boundaries, our goals, our values,
our self-concept, our archetypal-field elements, etc. For example,
we might become angry or fearful about circumstances which are not
truly dangerous to our well-being but seem to be so only because
of incorrectly defined ego boundaries; i.e., we become upset about
something which is "none of our business." Instead of viewing
these challenges as unpleasant because they propel us out of our
comforts (however stagnant they might be), we can choose to see
the emotions' energy and demands as an exciting call to a life of
vigor, exploration, and growth.
We can define
each of the emotions. Because I define emotion primarily as "a
generation of energy," the following explanations are presented in
terms of that energy, but some of the cognitive aspects -- the
associated thought processes -- are also mentioned; in addition to
energy and thoughts, our emotions also involve physiological changes
and other attributes which are not covered in this brief overview.
Many of the following experiences are called "defaults" because they
arise out of our refusal to confront challenges (including the
challenge of administering the primary emotions of anger, fear, and
love); defaults cause discomfort because we did not use the energy in
the confrontation, and so that energy festers within us.
- Anger. It is a reaction to a perceived harm to our physical
health or our ego boundaries (including everything which we
ascribe with our human self -- our family, or home, our plans, our
freedoms, etc.) Its purpose: It gives us a heightened sense of
individuality and territoriality, and an increase of energy which
is given to us specifically to deal with the threat. The defaults
include resentment, and bitterness.
- Anxiety. It is not an emotion; it is the default of fear. If
we ignore the problem which is evoking fear, the energy remains as
a vague anxiety. To resolve the anxiety, we have to backtrack
through it to find the original fear and then confront the issue
which frightens us.
- Depression. It is not an emotion; it is a default due to a
failure to obey our impulses toward life and action. Emotions are
characterized by a release of energy, and a drive toward action;
depression is characterized by diminished energy and drive,
because most of the original energy has already dissipated. (As I
said previously, the descriptions in this list deal mostly with
energy; obviously, depression and the other conditions also
have other aspects, particularly related to our thoughts.)
- Envy. It is not an emotion; it is a default, characterized by
the festering energy which we are not using in an effort to
acquire that which we envy, and it is characterized also by
thoughts of hatred toward the owner of the envied object (as
though his or her ownership is a threat to our ability to own
- Fear. Like anger, fear is a reaction to a perceived threat;
anger is a response to damage which seems to have occurred
already, but fear is a response to the possible damage
which might occur. The purpose of fear: to release energy so that
we can confront the circumstance; the energy which is associated
with fear stimulates our thinking processes (in contrast with
anger's stimulation of the body), so that we can think more
clearly to analyze the threat and devise a plan. (In practice,
however, fear tends to "paralyze" us; the energy is present, but
we do not use it, and so this lingering energy becomes an
impediment to action and thought.) The default is anxiety.
- Frustration. This can be a blend of anger and sadness; we are
angry at the blockage in our movement, and sad that we have not
yet achieved our goal.
- Grief. This is not an emotion; it is a default, characterized
by a gearing-down of a portion of the body's energy system; this
gearing-down is a necessary action because the person or activity
which was receiving the flow of energy and love is no longer
there. The channels are being shut down; the energy which was to
be directed is being dissipated.
- Guilt. This is not an emotion; it is a default, characterized
by the discomfort caused by the festering energy which we are not
using in an effort to attain our goals. Aside from the energy
aspect of guilt, it is a useful and vital alarm mechanism that
informs us that we have violated our values (regardless of what
those values might be).
- Happiness. Dynamically, this is the opposite of grief; instead
of closing ourselves down, we are opening ourselves so that more
energy can flow through us, for a fuller connection to the life
- Jealousy. Jealousy is directed primarily toward a person who
owns a coveted object; envy is directed more toward the object
itself, but the dynamic is the similar. In both cases, there is a
festering energy because we are dwelling on our desire instead of
using the energy in an effort to obtain the object which we
- Loneliness. This is not an emotion; it is a default,
characterized by the discomfort caused by the festering energy
which we are not using in an effort to create social contacts.
- Love. The emotion of love is analogous to the "unconditional
love" which is a trait of spirit; in both cases, there is an
outflow whose nature is to seek a productive connection to
something. The emotion of love is "conditional"; it is directed
only toward particular people and things.
- Sadness. Sadness is similar to grief; the energy festers
because we have lost (or we want) a particular person,
object, or activity with which to interact energetically.
- Shame. This is not an emotion; it is a default, characterized
by the discomfort caused by the festering energy which we are not
using in an effort to attain our goals. We have stifled that
energy because we have decided that we are unworthy of attaining
- Shyness. This is not an emotion; it is a default, caused by
the festering energy which is intended to be used for the acts of
- Worry. This is not an emotion; it is a default, characterized
by the festering energy which was intended to be used for action
to resolve the situation about which we are worrying.
managing emotions. If we have had difficulties in knowing and
revealing our emotions, we can practice with the following techniques
when we are alone.
- Archetypal field-work.
Intuition. Intuition can give information which helps us to
resolve the situation to which the emotions are responding.
Acceptance. Accepting our emotions is simply accepting
reality; they exist. Only if we acknowledge their reality can we
see them clearly enough to (1) understand their purpose, and (2)
consciously assist in their expression to fulfill their purpose,
and (3) examine the associated thoughts which are amplifying or
repressing the emotion. "Acceptance" does not mean that we must
express an emotion; we can suppress it -- acknowledging that it is
there, but choosing not to reveal it, because of our regard for
social protocol. (Suppression is different from repression; in
repression, we deny that the emotion exists.) From this calm,
neutral viewpoint of acceptance, we are more effective in using
the emotions productively. Repression blocks the energy of the
emotions, and it causes a psychological numbness which impairs our
ability to be aware of the emotions.
We can be more aware of our natural emotional responses.
Instead of repressing, we can be alert (and accepting) during the
moments when we detect even a slight amount of fear, sadness,
anger, happiness, or another emotion or default. For example: "I
am happy to have this beautiful couch" or "That messy room
depresses me." Emotions arise frequently even when we are alone,
but we can cause more of them to emerge for this exercise if we
watch a television program or listen to a radio.
We can notice the emotion responses of other people. In our
everyday life, we might know people who are emotionally "flat";
they give information, but there is only a small emotional charge.
However, many people put a distinct emotional charge into
virtually everything which they say or do; these people are
animated and lively, and they "have personality." We can study
this powerful emotional quality when we watch professional actors
in television programs; in every word and action, they consciously
impart a distinct emotional expression. We can notice also the
variations and nuances of emotional expression; for
example, at a wedding, each person displays happiness in a
different way -- with smiles, or bright-eyed attentiveness, or
We can experience the "pure" emotion. When we accept our
emotions, we are more likely to experience them in their pure
form. Anger is anger, and it can be expressed forthrightly and
effectively in that way. But when we interfere with our emotions
-- denying their existence or their intensity or their direction
-- they become distorted, unfocused, and complicated; they become
what Wilhelm Reich called "secondary emotions" in contrast to
"primary emotions." For example, anger becomes annoyance or
hostility or rage; fear becomes anxiety. When an emotion has been
downgraded to "secondary" status, we cannot directly manage our
inner predicament; for example, anxiety is usually a vague
sensation with no clearly discernible cause whereas fear is a
response to a specific situation which can confronted head-to-head
and then resolved.
We can think or say a phrase which expresses each emotion. For
example, we would say, "I am annoyed that I spilled the juice." We
can try different words and emotions until we find the ones which
depict our inner state accurately. And then we can observe the
satisfaction and confidence which occur when we are honest about
that state, even if we are not expressing it outwardly.
We can practice evoking emotions. We can evoke emotion by
reading a book, or doing an improvised monologue, or reciting a
memorized passage, or singing, or repeating the chatter of a radio
DJ. During this exercise, we can watch ourselves in the mirror, to
practice using gestures and facial expressions which correspond to
the emotions; we can exaggerate the expressions during this
We can achieve a balance between the emotions and the
intellect. The natural state between the intellect and emotions is
one of cooperation; they each need the other for the survival and
success of the person. The intellect and emotions battle one
another only when (1) our mental perspectives misunderstand the
purpose of the emotions and therefore repress them, or when (2) we
overvalue our emotions (and thus we give free reign to them) at
the expense of the caution, precision, and worldly management
which would be assessed by the intellect.
We can notice the ways in which our emotional expression is
influenced by our thoughts. The intellect can help to devise ways
to resolve an emotionally upsetting conflict. But sometimes the
intellect can cause an escalation -- if we interpret the
situation to be significant and threatening (whereas a different
interpretation would not view it in that way); for example, we
might become angry if we look at the problem as a threat to our
dignity -- but we might just as easily look at the problem merely
as an interesting challenge, or as a humorous circumstance. In any
situation, there is a basic emotion, but in addition, we are
telling ourselves particular things which amplify or diminish that
emotion. To an extent, we can manage our emotions by selecting a
perspective which is less likely to inflame them; we can ask
ourselves, "How can I view this situation in a way which doesn't
upset me?" We are always free to choose our viewpoint, regardless
of other people's viewpoint, or our viewpoint in previous similar
situations, or whatever expectation other people have regarding
the viewpoint which we should have, or whatever feels natural
(since our response might feel "natural" only because it is a
habit). For that reason, there is only a partial truth in the
statement, "He made me angry"; yes, his intrusion might have
triggered a natural defensive anger, but it was our perspective
(from our present situation or from any related archetypal-field
elements) which amplified the anger from a simple emotion into a
We can gradually increase our capacity for emotional
expression. We are learning to become expert managers of our
emotions, but we require time and practice in order to adjust to
this greater activity and energy. If we are not accustomed to
releasing our emotions, we need to proceed slowly and carefully so
that we will not become overstimulated.
We can become familiar with "energy tones." Energy tones are
the emotions, feelings, and other "energies" which we experience
We can refrain from identifying ourselves with our emotions.
Our emotions come from us, but they are not us. We might identify
patterns in their occurrence (e.g., perhaps we tend to express
anger frequently), but we do not have to give these patterns too
much weight in our self-image (and to add a value judgment
regarding the patterns); for example, jealousy does not imply that
we are wicked, nor does happiness attest to our virtue. If we
identify ourselves with a socially unacceptable emotion, we damage
our self-image and our self-esteem, and we unfairly punish
ourselves with unwarranted guilt. If we do take these additional
steps which compound our pain with self-inflicted suffering, our
unfortunate course might be to stop the suffering by repressing
our awareness of the emotion which precipitated it, and to try to
stifle the emotion itself, causing further psychological injury.
We can observe the occasions when we seek emotional
stimulation. Particularly if our life seems drab, we sometimes
stir ourselves up emotionally to feel the thrill and the
adrenaline. That is one reason for the popularity of horror
movies, roller coasters, soap operas, spectator sports, and the
fighting among kids when they are confined inside on a rainy day.
If we are being excessively emotional, perhaps we need to find
other ways to stimulate ourselves, perhaps by exercising, or
traveling, or playing sports, or seeking vibrant social
We can let your emotions come and go. During our lifetime, we
experience every possible emotion. An emotion passes through us,
and then a different emotion comes. The transient nature of
emotions allows an impartiality: "Now I'm feeling anger." But
sometimes we impose damning judgments: "I shouldn't feel anger; I
feel angry too often; I shouldn't be angry at that person." Those
verdicts make the emotion linger, long after the original
situation has passed. Emotions run a natural course through time;
we can do nothing to shorten their cycle while the catalyst ceases
and the energy dissipates. If we permit the emotion to arise and
then fade in its own cycle, we heal and re-balance at our own
pace, and we retain our psychological health and dignity. This
detachment allows a transcendental view from which we can
more-easily see and examine the emotion's cause, our management of
it, and ways in which we could direct it more effectively next
time. In contrast, if we resist the emotion, we create
repression and archetypal-field elements which will perpetuate and
re-trigger the emotion indefinitely.
- Self-talk. For example: "I enjoy expressing emotions." "I
accept my emotions." "I can express emotions in a manner which
- Directed imagination. For example, we can visualize
ourselves responding with appropriate emotions. In our
imagination, we see ourselves enjoying the emotional
- Energy toning. Emotions are energy tones. The techniques in
this list will help us to explore and develop the energy tones
of the emotions.
- The "as if" principle. We can act as if we are comfortable
in the expression of emotions.