I began this series by beginning with the “7 Truths about Emotions” that we present in a good many of the Neuro-Semantic Trainings. Here are two more.
These “truths” about emotions pick up on the theme to continue grounding this subject so that we know what we’re talking about and in that way we can create a good operational definition of an emotion. Once this is complete, then I’ll present some skills for handling emotions from an NLP/Neuro-Semantic perspective for emotional mastery.
Emotion versus Feelings
3) Emotions are functions of the body as well as the mind.
When we talk about “emotions” in NLP, we distinguish between a feeling and an emotion. When I first learned this in NLP, I found this distinction and insight very useful. Later when I check numerous books on anatomy or books in psychology, I saw this distinction again and again. An emotion is a combination of a feeling and a cognition.
First is the neurology which is the “feeling.” More technically, this is a kinesthetic distinction. It could be inside kinesthetic (a proprioceptive sensation) or an outside kinesthetic.
- Relaxing- tense, tight
- Cold- warm – hot
- Rate of heart beating
- Skin sweating – shivering
- Eyes dilating – degree of
- Rhythm of movement
- Pulsating … quiet
- Rough – smooth (texture)
- Cold – warm – hot (temperature)
- Slimy – dry
- Hard – soft
- Thick – thin
- Wet – dry
Then, once you have a “feeling,” add a cognition to it (which gives it some meaning) and then you have an “emotion.” This explain why four of the most basic emotions are the same in terms of the neurological sensations and differ not in terms of what’s occurring in our body, but from the differences that we compute in the mind. The neurological state is called the “General Arousal Syndrome.” It is what you may more commonly recognize as the Fight- Flight- Freeze Pattern.
At the level of neurologically and physiology, the four emotions begin with an arousal that causes the heart to beat faster, the lungs to pump oxygen harder, the glands to release adrenalin, the sweat glands to be activates, eyes to dilate, and so we are in general arousal syndrome. But what “emotion” is this? If the trigger is undesired and unwelcome - then it could be fear or anger. If you think you can handle it, anger; if not, fear. If the trigger is desired, then excitement, and if sexually desired, then lust. So four emotions- fear, anger, excitement, and lust all involve the same “feelings” in the body. The distinguishing variable is that of the cognitive understand and meaning. Hence again, number one definition: a relationship between mental map in one’s head and one’s experience in the territory of the world.
“Emotions” are somatic responses of the mind-body system which also explains why our emotions are susceptible to so many of the physical factors in our lives such as sleep, eating, exercising, health, illness, etc. What and how you have been eating influences emotions as a contributing factor, so does your sleep habits, your exercise patterns, etc.
The “motion” part of an e-motion is the action of the motor cortex sending a message when we experience an emotion to move-out from where we are to some other place. Hence the original word, “ex (out) motion.” Emotions move us to move out from where we are. They give us the somatic boast of energy to move.
Where do emotions come from and what are they? As e(x)motions, they are inner urges, activated by the motor cortex, moving us out from where we are. Neurologically, an emotion is “an action tendency” generated by the information in our context that activates our motor cortex and other brain structures (amygdala, thalamus, hypothalamus, adrenal gland, etc.). Understanding emotions in this way enables us to hold the tension between several realizations that are all simultaneously true.
As a neurological process, an emotion is not a thing, it is not solid and static. It is an activity going on within our mind-body system and so produces it each moment as energies move us from where we are at to another place.
4) Emotions are just emotions, not commands from heaven or our destiny.
In the end, however, emotions are just emotions. As the difference that we register in our body (soma, hence somatically) between our map of the world and our experience of the world, the emotion is just the motion generated in the body by the feeling of our meanings. As such emotions are secondary and derivative of- mind-and-body. This makes them symptoms of the functioning of our mind-and-body. And that leads to the next understanding.
If “emotions” move us out from where we are because of the cognitive meaning within them so that they give us information about what fits or does not fit our sense of reality, then they are information, movement, energy, somatizing of meaning, but they are not commands from heaven. They are not orders about what to do. They do not set our destiny. They are just emotions- the symptoms of our mind-body in action. Emotions are just emotions and so if we treat them as mind-body symptoms then we can effectively discover how we create them in our mind-body system.
L. Michael Hall, Ph.D.