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Emotions

Jump to the following topics:

  1. What are emotions?  
  2. The value of emotions.
  3. There are no "negative" emotions.
  4. We can define each of the emotions.    
  5. Techniques for managing emotions. 


What are emotions?  

  1. They are a response which is characterized by the generation of energy within the body and psyche.
  2. 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 of spirit.)
  3. Emotions are not the same as feelings. The differences are explained in the chapter regarding feelings.


The value of emotions.  

  1. 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.
  2. 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:

  1. 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 them properly.
  2. They are frequently repressed. Thus they damage our psychological health. Again, the harm occurs because we have not learned how to use the emotions.
  3. 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."  
  4. 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.)
  4. 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 something similar).
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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).
  9. 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 around us.
  10. 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 desire.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. 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 those goals.
  15. 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 social contact.
  16. 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.


Techniques for managing emotions. If we have had difficulties in knowing and revealing our emotions, we can practice with the following techniques when we are alone.

  1. Archetypal field-work.
    • Self-talk. For example: "I enjoy expressing emotions." "I accept my emotions." "I can express emotions in a manner which is suitable."
    • Directed imagination. For example, we can visualize ourselves responding with appropriate emotions. In our imagination, we see ourselves enjoying the emotional expression.
    • 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.
  2. Intuition. Intuition can give information which helps us to resolve the situation to which the emotions are responding.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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 even crying.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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 the expressions during this rehearsal.
  9. 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.
  10. 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 disruptive crisis.
  11. 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.
  12. We can become familiar with "energy tones." Energy tones are the emotions, feelings, and other "energies" which we experience and express.
  13. 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.
  14. 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 activities.
  15. 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.

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