Fundamentals #4: Feelings, Thoughts & Emotions
So far I’ve spoken about what we’re left with from our journey through our pre-verbal period of childhood. In review; if we haven’t received the nurturance and attention that we need or require during our pre-verbal period we are left with a feeling of emptiness or lack, a heightened focus on the external world and a diminished focus on our inner world. This makes us lean more in the direction of an exterior locus of control (L.O.C.) or toward the feeling that our life circumstances are controlled almost solely by forces external to us. If we have received most of the nurturance and attention that we need or require during our pre-verbal period, which is not as likely as it might seem, our feeling of emptiness or lack will be much less leaning us more toward a balance between internal and external locus of control (L.O.C.) and the feeling that our life circumstances are controlled almost equally between our efforts and the outside world but with a small degree more toward external (remember Adler’s inferiority complex). In dealing with only our feelings this seems to be a fairly clear distinction between perspectives. But when we add the developing working of the mind, or slowly shift away from a pre-verbal phase and gradually into a verbal phase, a curious thing happens. We begin making rational memories of our new cascading experiences and our pre-verbal experiences become overshadowed by the new and usable “clarity” of our verbal development.
It’s difficult enough not receiving the attention and the support we need to develop our Self-Trust and Confidence but in furthering our understanding of our inferiority complex to a degree passed our simple feelings of pre-verbal lack and unanswered need opens us up to a new avenue for personal diminishment and/or improvement. This occurs during and through the acquisition of language and our thinking skills. Our sense of time, language and thinking develop in codependent partnerships with each other. Each pair needs the third member for its definition and discrimination. They are completely interwoven and interdependent. The mind and language work together by the principle of separation which is enabled through learning and utilizing the concept of past, present and future. This may seem difficult for some of us to comprehend but suffice it to say that as these three develop together our nebulous and undefined pre-verbal experiences slowly fade into our subconscious. As we do so those experiences become virtually unreachable due to the fact that they’ve never had thoughts attached to them. So, during this time there is a major shift in our perception and a window of time where verbal reinforcement might compensate for any previous lost nurturance or attention affecting our growing Self-Trust and Confidence.
Being drawn into the physical world was just the first step in beginning to distance ourselves from what we’re feeling and simply reacting to. Now we begin to use a tool that adds structure to that distancing by talking about our experiences and feelings. Remember, when we talk about what we’re feeling we’re no longer aware of having the experience of feeling. We’re distancing ourselves from it. But at this point you might say, “But, isn’t it good to be able to talk about our feelings?” and I would say yes it is but it’s also good to be able to compare and discuss those feelings with another person. Why? Because in having that ability to deal with them mentally enables us to prevent being swept away by them…at least for the moment. The key to the mind’s potential and effectiveness is in “detaching” us from our feelings so that it enables us to pull away from solely reacting to them. Think about it. If you’re no longer having a feeling there is less possibility for you to simply and “mindlessly” react to it. This doesn’t eliminate our feelings. It just enables us to refocus on something else. That something else is literally another head space that allows us to see a bigger and more rational picture. This is the essence of our growing awareness. Remember, we begin as spirit. Being born into a physical body is a traumatic experience removing us from our safe and self-contained environment. Our birth now adds or incorporates an animal nature into our larger “self.” In developing our mind and its language we are providing a means of mediating the “heaven and earth” and “spirit and matter” that we have paired together by being born. This merging often takes a lifetime just to learn to be able to navigate through it. Both body and spirit have their own “urges” and our lives are, essentially, a battle over which one has dominance. The key is that we must “grow them” to work together. The mind is an intermediary and a tool that can facilitate that goal.
In learning a language you might say that learning it will put us all on the same page when it comes to having meaning. That may be true but only partially so. Where it’s true is where it aligns with dictionary meanings, contemporary social traditions and expectations. Where it will be different is where it is attached to each of our individual and personal experiences. For example, the first day of school will be a different experience for each of us. So when we are asked about school we each will have a different way of describing it depending on what we’ve done and experienced. In the same vein of difference and what is not as obvious is that we will each have one or a combination of a small number of elementary feelings (no pun intended). From a different perspective and since different experiences can be “paired” with the same feelings, our feelings will be described differently for each of us as language is absorbed and incorporated into our awareness. Some feelings may be described with slight differences and others may be described with radical differences. Recognizing this is an important component of compassion. The feelings that move through us are few in number but universal. How we describe them is not. Awareness for recognizing these few and elementary feelings has been researched and documented by Dr. Paul Ekman (Ekman, 2003).
There are only six universal human feelings: surprise, fear, disgust, anger, happiness and sadness. All feelings occur involuntarily. Yes. I said involuntarily. They occur spontaneously like a wave moving through the ocean. We have no control over the movement of them but we do have control over which ones we perceive through changing our thoughts and, thereby, inducing the movement of an alternate feeling. We, also, generally have a choice as to whether they’re expressed in “public.” When they are not projected openly, whether due to defensiveness, an intentional cloaking or self-consciousness, they can still be recognized through micro-expressions or through short bursts. Micro-expressions are facial expressions of our feelings that are projected involuntarily and for only one fifth of a second before our desired facial expressions are returned to what our mind says are appropriate for our experience in the current situation. The micro-expressions occur because the arising and movement of our feelings are involuntary. They “leak” through our persona. Once “flashed” the mind quickly recovers control and returns to our “preferred” or expected expression. We can train ourselves not to show them but we cannot avoid having them. The key to managing them lays with our acquired tool the mind. When our thinking becomes involved, the opportunity for forming emotions is created. Now you’re probably saying to yourself, “Feeling…emotion…aren’t they the same thing?” The answer is no. Let me explain how.
After physical senses, our first domain of inner movement is feelings. They occur spontaneously and like a wave. When they occur with an experience pre-verbally they are “paired” and stored as a rudimentary memory in the form of an “instinct.” As a pre-verbal child there is no capacity to describe it, let alone, share it with anyone else. As we learn language and begin to form the mind, our second inner domain, new language is substituted for the “instinct” and the “pairing” and becomes much more controllable and accessible for change through the mind and its thoughts. The vocabulary that is attributed or “paired” with each feeling allows the potential for us to re-experience the feeling through repeating the thought and verbal trigger. This “pairing” of a feeling with a thought is called emotion. Emotions are our internally generated repetitive triggers. This makes sense in light of the fact that emotion is defined as e + motion which means to evoke (e) movement (motion). So, an emotion triggers an inner movement or reaction becoming our third domain of inner movement. So now, it must seem quite apparent that if we change the thoughts we attach to our feelings during an experience, our emotional triggers can be reprogrammed so we can perceive and react to the same experience differently. The next time the experience occurs, an “updated” emotion or “pairing” of feeling and thought triggers a different reaction. If the thought “paired” with the feeling remains the same, our next reaction to the experience simply becomes intensified.
So to recap, feeling is our first domain of inner movement. Then language develops becoming our second domain of inner movement as thoughts and then emotions are formed from their “pairing” as our third domain of inner movement. Our thoughts can change how we perceive our feelings but feelings always occur first. If you don't agree, then remember, we had them in utero before birth.
There are two other points I’d like to mention before I close this section. First, it is important to know that the switch from “pairing” a feeling with an experience and creating an “instinct” pre-verbally toward “pairing” a thought with a feeling and creating an emotion after developing language skills happens gradually and with overlap. As words are slowly learned some of them are “paired” with feelings to create emotions but when words aren’t yet available or learned the feelings are still “paired” with the experience to create the pre-verbal “instinct.” Eventually, new words will be learned and applied and the “instinct” pairing recedes into the unconscious as a nondescript memory. But even there it still retains tremendous potency and relates to our vehicle of intuition…a subject for a much later discussion.
The second point is that this “pairing” process works across the board with developing both an internal locus of control (L.O.C.) and/or external locus of control (L.O.C.). For those of you with some knowledge of psychology you may see a similarity to Carl Jung’s work and the initial building blocks of the Myers Briggs Compendium of Types forming in the different stages and components of what I’ve described. Determining which mode or “pairing” an individual might feel the most comfortable operating with may offer some insight as to which careers and callings are answered in our professional life choices and paths as delineated by the results of Meyers Briggs testing. And as we know, the careers and paths that catch our interest and those we follow are inherently related to and involved with our motivation, Self-Trust and Confidence. Learning to become comfortable and learning to utilize and balance all three inner domains of inner movement makes fulfilling our life’s wishes clearer, easier and more “well rounded.” After all, they do become part of who we are. It’s just that our contemporary world puts so much more emphasis on our mental faculties and reason than what we feel or intuit.