Emotional Awareness Part 2: Where do Emotions Come From?

Have you ever been so immersed in an emotion that’s all there is, the emotion?  It’s a natural reaction to the birth of a wanted child, for example, or the death of someone we have loved.  But emotional “swamping” is not always proportionately related to life events.  In the throes of disproportionate emotional reaction, our Awareness can be so overcome by the feeling itself, there’s no room to look at where that emotion comes from.  Yet, uncovering the source of our feelings is the foundation for managing our emotional life.

Emotions are felt in the body—they have physical components such as crying, shaking, a racing heartbeat.  In the 1880’s William James, one of the first psychologists to study human emotion, believed the physiological phenomenon gave rise to the emotions. We don’t cry because we feel sad, we feel sad because we cry. Over the decades since James, scientists have put forward a range of theories: emotions are caused by physical responses to events…or by the way we interpret those physical responses…or by interpreting the events themselves through the prism of our past experience…or by the body’s release of hormones…or by all of the above.

Certainly there are strong physiological elements to emotions – lots of chemical changes in the brain that ignite responses throughout the body.  But what triggers the change in brain chemistry?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy links emotions to our thought patterns.  If, for example, I think people are out to get me, I may feel anxious and fearful.  If I think everyone loves me, I am likely to feel joyful or happy.  And therein lies a powerful strategy for managing emotions.

Here’s a simple emotional Awareness exercise:

Recall a time when you felt you could not manage an emotion.  (It’s easier to begin with remembered rather than current feelings.)  Now ask yourself:  “What was I attached to?”  Keep answering that question until you run out of answers.  Here are some examples:  I was attached to being right, to not being alone, to feeling attractive, being a success/a failure… If you have recognized your attachment in this emotion, you can easily identify the thinking that underpins the feeling.  For example, if I’m attached to being a success, I am likely to think that I am a failure/have a high potential for failure/am less valuable unless I’m a success or variations on this theme.

For information on emotional overwhelm:  https://catherinedowling.com/emotional-awareness-part-1-emotional-overwhelm/

Want to share the results?  Please put them in a comment.