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The Emotions

Chapter 7

What are the emotions?

We all feel different things all the time. But, like the fish of the proverb that is not aware of the water as it is in there all the time, so most of the time many people are not aware of their feelings and other bodily sensations because they are perpetually with them.

It is not customary, nor acceptable or proper or nice to admit that "the real motivation behind all human activity (our own included) is emotional". It is difficult for members of our culture - especially the more sane and serious of us - to come to terms with the fact that we are not really rational creatures. It is hard for them to admit that each of the main facets of our life is regulated and controlled by one of the innate basic emotions.

Unlike the fish, however, most human beings are not usually satisfied with the feelings, sensations and emotions they have. They devote a great deal of effort towards changing them. Many ask themselves about the essence of emotions, and some even share this with the public at large. More than a few have even bothered to publish their meditations and other verbal products - mostly poets, writers, philosophers, publicists, and even a relatively small number of scientists in the various psychological fields.

Our culture - the culture of the industrial societies at the end of the 20th century - does not encourage the acquisition of emotional proficiency. More often it even discourages steps that are taken to achieve it. Most of the views and ideologies of the modern world (including a few of the religious ones) are based on the supposition that man is basically a rational being. These views, as well as those of less modern world views, do not encourage a synthesis between the emotions and rational thinking.


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As a result of the split between emotion and logic, we are not used to paying attention to our own emotions and to those of others unless they are prominent. Because of this split and neglect, we are not used to sharing actively our ongoing emotions with others. The various shades and nuances of the quality and strength of our emotions remain, usually, unknown to family members or even to our dearest friends.

It is amusing to see just how minimal a part the subject of emotion plays in the educational programs of various schooling institutions. It is even more astonishing how small is its part in the programs of the institutes which specialize in education and psychology, that deal directly with human emotions. The most astonishing of all is the lack of sufficient attention paid to the bodily sensations felt during psychotherapy.

As a matter of fact, all the bother of writing this book and the development of the technique is dedicated to repairing the cumulative results of the estrangement between us and our emotional system.

Like many processes and phenomena of the human body and its ways of life, which are a source of amazement with regard to their complexity, so are those of the emotional system and the ways in which they express themselves. Although it is not customary to acknowledge it, the fact is that the complexity and refinement of this system is what mostly differentiates us from the lesser developed animals* (including other primates so similar to us).

*Many people regard the emotional system as the main component of the automatic mode of the mind processes, and thus as having a lower status. They contrast it with verbal thinking and the abstract processes of problem solving which are the main component of the willful awareness mode, regarded as having the higher status.

Actually, the overlapping between "hot" emotion and the automatic mode, or between "cold" cognition and the willful and awareness mode, is only partial. As a matter of fact, there are many "cold" cognition processes that we are unaware of (most of them). Moreover, the will itself - aware and unaware - is one of the main emotional processes... and sometimes is very "cold".

This system - and not the higher abstract and verbal thinking processes of problem solving, which receive more credit than is due them - enables us to navigate through the storms of life and survive them all... except for the last one!

Of the different phenomena in our lives, we are most amazed by those that are the result of the swift changes between the two main modes of activation of our life systems - the automatic mode and the voluntary mode. The way our respiration is regulated is a good example of this: usually our breathing is automatic and out of the focus of awareness.

Most of the time we do not pay it more than passing attention. Sometimes we pay attention to the sensations that result from the automatic functioning of the respiratory processes. Only on special occasions and mostly for very short periods of time, do we exercise a limited amount of will power over the different characteristics of the breathing process-stopping it, deepening it, regulating it, etc.

The relations between the emotional processes, and the automatic versus the non-automatic mode, are not static. In infancy and in early childhood, the influence of the automatic innate mode is overwhelmingly dominant, and more so with regard to the emotional processes.

During growing and maturation, new components join and integrate with the original ones (and with acquired ones that joined the original ones before them). Part of these new components tend more to the automatic mode but a growing part involves awareness and will. In young adults, the components involving will and awareness have already reached dominance in daily behavior.

In the system of mature adults, most of the subjective experience of emotion and nearly all its verbal and nonverbal expressions are subject to the supervision of the "advanced" non-automatic processes and programs. Very often, especially with intensities that are not extremely high or low, the influence of the "mature and advanced" components is decisive.

It is heredity itself that decides, during each level of maturation and experience, which processes can be released from the absolute control of the innate (and acquired) routines of the automatic mode of operation. Usually, even will combined with focused awareness, cannot claim the right to access (and thereby directly influence) basic maintenance processes.

Last Updated: 22 July 2014
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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