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About emotions

      No aspect of life is more important to the quality and meaning of human existence than emotions.

Emotions and feelings are not the same thing and are certainly not philosophical concepts or random thoughts crossing our minds. Traditionally, emotions were seen as the voice of the soul! So, academically speaking, what is a feeling? What is an emotion?

The academic literature provides us with as many definitions as there are models and theories of behavior in the social sciences, and authors to promote these schools of thought. The lack of scientific consensus on the functioning of the human brain has fueled many controversies on the nature of emotions and, in particular, on the causal relationship between thoughts, cognition, perception, emotional feelings, emotions, state of mind, decision making, and behavior. A widely accepted academic view defines emotions as coherent, deeply rooted psycho-physiological experiences.

While thoughts are pure mental experiences and feelings are sensory experiences, emotions are defined as the result of a process of cognitive reading, or mental reflection (mirroring) of emotional feelings. Thus, animals do experience various feelings, including fear, joy, compassion, and more - and react accordingly without really thinking about it, therefore without (technically speaking) experiencing emotions as defined by human standards. Behavioral reaction patterns are deeply rooted psycho-physiological scripts (software) governed by the subconscious mind and appear to be determined by how we feel rather than what we think about our feelings.

However you define them, your emotions are the most significant aspect of your quality of life and the most undeniable proof that you are not a soulless, heartless, and purposeless biochemical machine but a sentient human being in search of meaning, purpose, and happiness! Of course, everyone wants to be happy. But since there are unhappy and sick people everywhere, life's reality does not seem to emerge from people's desires. Although you can eventually use your willpower to control an emotionally driven behavior (and therefore be held accountable for your actions), I wouldn't bet on willpower alone being able to suppress intense emotions. You can pretend, but I doubt that you can feel happy or end pain just by wishing for it!

Although emotions are mental experiences, it does not mean intentional thoughts can create emotional feelings out of sheer will. The belief that intentional thoughts could create or induce emotional feelings is nothing but a false popular belief. Of course, your thoughts can induce certain "states of mind" by selectively triggering or awakening emotional feelings related to your emotionally significant life experiences. However, of the 82 scientifically recognized models and theories of behavior, none claim that intentional thought could create or induce emotional feelings. The human brain is hardwired in such a way that sensory inputs always pass through the emotional centers of the brain before reaching the frontal cortex - the place where rational thought occurs. It is therefore physically impossible for intentional thoughts to create emotional feelings through willpower alone.

The mind is the immaterial set of faculties comprising various cognitive and non-cognitive aspects called consciousness and respectively the subconscious mind. Consciousness is the accessible part of the mind that governs rational thoughts, intelligence, factual memory, judgment, and coordinates thoughtful actions. The subconscious mind operates as an autopilot guided mainly by intuition, instincts, habits, and feelings. Although they work so differently, your consciousness and subconsciousness work together as coherent software to help you face life's challenges, survive and thrive. However, although from an academic perspective, the concept of mindset has not changed over time, its popular perception has undergone several changes.

When Lao Tzu, the founder of Taoism and the author of the famous "Tao Te Chin", assures us that "If you correct your mind, the rest of your life will fallow", he refers to "the mind" and one should not wrongly assume that by "mind" he meant "brain" or "intellect". When it comes to brain and intellect, Lao Tzu is crystal clear on how to get the most out of it when he suggests that you should "Stop thinking and put an end to your problems". It seems that Einstein understood this message because on several occasions he declared: "I think 99 times and find nothing. I stop thinking, swim in silence, and the truth comes to me."

State of mind plays a major role in people's daily experiences as well as in their physical and mental well-being. In their constant quest for a better state of mind, people have always known that the best the brain can do to the mind is to read accurately its state, not determine it. Because if it were possible for the brain to determine the state of mind by inducing by pure will the desired emotional feelings, then everyone could have focused their brain on the self-induction of pleasure, serenity, well-being and happiness, and live a joyful life forever. However, in real life, whether we like it or not, "the heart" always has its reasons that reason does not understand!

Traditionally, the heart was seen as the seat of the soul and its state reverberated in the physical body in the form of sensory experiences, commonly known as "feelings". This traditional view of feelings was dominated by the belief that whatever feeling arises against your will, it will not succumb to your reason alone. During the 19th century, the concepts that harmful thoughts are not only induced by harmful feelings but can also generate undesirable states of mind, as well as the concept that states of mind have their distinct chemical (hormonal) footprint, have gained in popularity.

Meanwhile, under intense political pressure to secularize society, in informal discourse "feelings" have gradually become "emotional feelings," and nowadays, "emotions." The same forces have shifted the initial focus of Psychiatry and Psychology from the mind and soul to consciousness and the brain. At first, "psychiatry" was known as the medicine of the soul or spirit, etymologically evolving from the Greek words "psyche" - soul/spirit, and "iatry" - treatment. The concept of "psychology" has evolved from "psyche" - soul/spirit, and "logos", meaning speech or study in greek. Thus, until the end of the 19th century, "psychology" was known as a branch of "philosophy".

Thus, because of endless controversies regarding the nature of emotions, it was only after 1844 that psychiatrists gradually imposed their treatment as a first-line intervention, and psychologists after 1892. Moreover, the first DSM wasn't published until 1952. When cognitive-behavioral models were first launched, their enthusiastic proponents assumed that intentional thoughts alone could control emotions and behavior. These models ridicule the concepts of the soul and the emotionally sensitive heart while emphasizing the brain as the probable source of all emotions. Although cognitive models are still popular, the main cognitive theories are only three of the 82 contemporary theories of behavior.

After the enthusiastic wave of cognitive models, the traditional concept of feelings has restored its popularity in light of the scientific recognition of several contemporary models of emotional behavior, particularly the somatic marker behavioral model developed in the early '90s by the American neuroscientist Prof. Dr. Antonio Damasio and Prof. Dr. Joseph LeDoux. Today's view of emotions is that they are experienced at four different but closely interrelated levels: the mental or psychological level, the physiological level (the chemistry of your body / brain), the somatic level (bodily emotional feelings), and the behavioral level. These complementary aspects are coherent and present in all human emotions.

From a biological and neurophysiological perspective - whether they are genetically determined, or result from a chemical, physiological or cognitive process - emotional responses are at the heart of life's regulatory processes for all living creatures. When present, emotions always include a bodily feeling called a somatic component, a chemical (hormonal) component, and a cognitive component - which is the meaning your mind makes of your emotional feelings. It is good to know that any thought that crosses your mind without arousing any feeling is nothing but a thought, not an emotion.

As you already know, your state of mind has a strong grip on your thoughts, your behavior, and on the symptoms of your illnesses. When angry, people tend to think, say, and do silly things. Yet, most people who regularly say or do silly things are not necessarily angry. Indeed, intense emotional feelings control thoughts and behavior, not the other way around! Definitely, your thoughts have the power to awaken your emotions. However, even if you manage to control to a certain degree the behavior driven by emotions awakened by your thoughts, I would not count on reason alone to suppress powerful feelings which have become a constant presence in your life.

In real life, feelings that arise against your will are unlikely to succumb to your reason, for only that which is born of reason can be banished by reason alone. Yet, whether they arise from your reason or against your will, emotional feelings will always have cognitive meaning, in the sense that your brain will know that your butterflies or the knots in your belly are not real but are there to tell you when you are in love or when you are afraid. When you do crazy things against your rational will, it's not that you lack judgment but rather that your feelings have taken over your decision-making process.

Since there is a certain amount of feelings involved in each decision you make, it appears that living a fulfilled life is much more about emotions, feelings, and beliefs than about intellect or thinking. The quality of your daily life decisions does not depend upon your IQ or on the level and quality of your academic instruction. The quality of your life depends on the quality of your decisions that rely mainly on your education, beliefs, wisdom, values, and above all, on the quality of your emotions. This is good news actually because while your IQ is an inborn gift that declines with age, your emotional intelligence grows as you mature and deepen your spirituality.

Generally speaking, other than your thoughts, things don't really happen in the brain. Through your sensory perceptions, the brain takes note and makes sense of what is happening in your world. When your eyes see an image or your ears hear a sound, what gives meaning and aesthetic value to images and sounds is your brain. However, you understand that the images and sounds are in the environment, outside of you. Likewise, I hope you understand that emotional feelings do not happen outside of you and not in your brain either – but inside of you. They inhabit you and you have no doubts about it because you feel them.

You can't create your emotions by sheer will. You observe a situation, perceive a danger, and feel fear. You think in words, sentences, and images, but you experience your emotions as emotional feelings, as physical sensations or "somatic markers" in your body. The practice of Somatic Hypnotherapy is focused on these emotional feelings and identifies them in terms of either good/pleasant, or bad/unpleasant feelings. Although, by analyzing the cognitive component of emotions, the study of conventional psychology as well as the practice of cognitive therapies describes many distinct emotions.

Your emotions are mostly the result of your life experiences filtered through your belief system. This process of filtering reality and assigning an emotional meaning to the observed world is called perception. Through various spiritual teachings, we learn that there are only two basic emotional feelings, two primal roots of all emotions: love and fear - which are correlative concepts such as light and darkness. Every human thought, word, or deed is based in one emotion or the other. You  have free choice about which one you want to welcome in your life.

Love is the most powerful force in the universe. Love is life’s most powerful healer. If science tells us how the world was created and how it works, the spiritual teachings tell us that love has been the driving force, the reason the world has been created. Using the same recipe, we can create happiness through the expression of our unconditional love, a love that transcends all cultures and understanding. Love is the energy that allows your mind to expand, open, shine, reveal, share and heal.

Fear is an unpleasant feeling and it turns out to be the worst thing we should fear, because once installed in our life, fear rules over all our thoughts, decisions, and actions. To put it simply, fear can make the difference between success and failure in life. Fear is the killer of the human heart because it's impossible to be happy, or to make people around you happy if you're afraid.

Fear clings to all that we have, love gives everithing. Fear wraps our bodies in clothing, love allows us to stand naked. Fear grasps, love lets go.

...to be continued.... :)

Whatever your fear may be, don't allow it to cripple your life.

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Disclaimer: The above article may contain statements that reflect the opinion of the author. It is intended for general informational purposes and does not constitute psychological or medical professional advice. I don't diagnose conditions, nor do I interfere with any treatments given by your medical professional.

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