Facts about emotions you probably didn’t know. Part 3: Functions of emotions 6 through 10.

Just to recap, in my last post, I discussed 5 functions of emotions.  What I have called functions are labelled as “aspects”, “values” or “purposes” of emotions by authors Michael A. Jawer and Marc S. Micozzi, M.D., Ph.D. in their book  The Spiritual Anatomy of Emotion   from which this list is taken.

The comments on each function are a combination of the two authors and my own take on the specific function being discussed.

6. The Motivational Function: Emotions are a barometer of needs unmet or goals unfulfilled.

This is the very essence of what emotions are.  They are motivators and, by evolutionary “design” prepare us for action and “propel us toward acceptance or rejection of whatever external reality (we) (are) encountering” (The authors).

7. The Ethical function: Emotions facilitate socially acceptable behavior and serve as a powerful reminder when one fails to live up to standards whether held internally or externally.

Emotions such as guilt, shame, pride, and embarrassment appear in our children around the ages of 2 1/2 to 3 1/2.  They appear once the child had the cognitive ability including memory capacity to conceive of himself as a separate being in time and space.  These emotions are called self-conscious emotions.

These emotions alert us to our views of ourselves and our behavior often in the context of our goals (pride), and how we measure up to internal and external standards (guilt, shame, embarrassment).

The message of embarrassment is that we have violated some standard.  The message of guilt is that we have done something wrong which we regret.  The message of shame is that there is something wrong with us as a person.

The ethical function of self-conscious emotions is to alert us to when we have crossed some internal or external line of appropriate behavior and to motivate us to take action to  correct the transgression.

8. The Developmental Function: Emotions are essential to personal development and self-actualization.

The authors note that emotions alert us that we are in the middle of a difficult situation so that we can learn from it much like a fever alerts us that we are fighting off an infection.

9. The Evolutionary Aspect: The emotional feedback loop, which involves the recognition of what we and our fellow individuals are feeling, is the driver of our species’ progress.

As I have noted in my books and my posts, emotions evolved to help us survive as a species.

The authors note that the emotional interaction between human beings      “(drives) our species’ rapid intellectual and cultural development”.

10. The Qualitative Function: In tandem with thinking, emotions determine the quality, value, and, ultimately, the meaning human beings place on their lives.

I teach an Introductory Philosophy Class and one of the topics I cover is what makes each individual unique.  One of the examples I discuss is a man who was very interactive, emotionally expressive and involved with his family and his surroundings.  Following a brain tumor, he was unable to experience emotions.  He would look at a picture of a man emaciated by hunger and note that he was looking at a “very skinny man”. Intellectually, he responded to the picture but he was devoid of emotion.

Emotions add color to our lives. Emotions allow us to experience  an interaction in addition to understanding it.  The technical term for these experiences is qualia.   A physical example of qualia is the difference between knowing about and seeing a red apple and experiencing the essence of a bright red apple.

Your emotions allow to experience many different aspects of an interaction. You go to a lecture. While I can video the lecture and record the content, what you take away from the lecture will be very different if you are bored than if you are excited.  This difference is entirely based on the emotions you experience.  This is qualia.

The authors quote Psychiatrist Elio Frattaroli who states, “The simple act of paying attention to your inner world, to the finely tuned layers and qualities of inner experiencing… crystallizes the core meanings of your life.” (citations noted in the book).

The qualia in your emotions creates your experience.

I welcome your comments.

Facts about emotions you probably didn’t know. Part 2: The Functions of emotions 1 through 5.

There is a book entitled: The Spiritual Anatomy of Emotion  by Michael A. Jawer and Marc S. Micozzi, M.D., Ph.D. in which the authors list 10 values of emotions.  The authors refer to these values as “purposes” or “aspects”.  I think a better term in function.

In this post, I discuss purposes 1-5.  I will discuss the values 6-10 in my next post.

Disclaimer: The “functions” are taken from the book. The commentary is a combination of my take on the “function” and the authors.

  1. The Self awareness Function: Emotions enable individuals to discriminate “us versus them”.

When we become aware of our own emotions and those of others, we can use the contrast between what we feel about a situation and what others feel to improve our sense of self and learn about how we are interpreting a situation.

Have you ever had the experience of sitting down to a meal, eating too much, and commenting, “I didn’t realize I was so hungry.”  In this example, you are “learning” about your own internal state by observing your own behavior.

When you experience an emotion and analyze the nature of the perceived threat, you can learn about your own values.

2. The Adaptational Function: Emotions enable the individual to react quickly and expeditiously to changes in his or her environment.

This was, and is, the basic function of emotions.  Emotions evolved as primitive threat detectors to help us survive as a species.  This is the “fast track” process I write about in my books and my posts.

3. The Collectivity Function: Emotions enable individuals to communicate something of importance to one another.

A very important function of emotions is to inform others about how you perceive a situation and give them the opportunity to respond accordingly.

The emotion of anger communicates that you are ready to go to war.  When we lived in caves, or even today, an angry face and body posture clearly says “Back off, I am a force to be reckoned with.”

In the process of mastering your emotions, awareness of this function of emotions lets you both read other people and use other’s reactions to you to help you determine how you want to effectively deal with the interaction in which you find yourself.

4. The Interpersonal Function: Emotions cement bonds between people, especially between parents and children.

The authors note and tone of voice are crucial to the healthy development of an infant.

You also experience this function of emotions when you tell you significant other or your kids that you love them. And, you can see how emotions work when people come together in times of emergencies, shared experiences of mourning or distress or joy. Ever watched a sporting event when the home team scores an important point?

5. The Continuity Function: Emotions are integral to memory and learning.

The authors note that memory and learning is strongly reinforced when accompanied by strong emotion.

There is a concept known a “flashbulb memories”.  A significant event occurs about which you have very strong emotions and the memory including everything about your situation at the time is solidly burned in.  For older readers, like myself, the Assassination of President Kennedy is such an event.  For younger readers, it might be the death of  Princes Diana.  For all of us the 2001 bombing of the the Twin Towers certainly qualifies.

The same phenomenon can occur whenever an event is accompanied by strong feelings.

Functions 6 -10 will be discussed in the next post.

I welcome your comments.

Facts about emotions you probably didn’t know. Part 1: Some emotions have a “flipside”.

In all of my posts, I talk about mastering emotions and strategically deploying feelings (remember that feelings and emotions are the same) to improve your life and your relationships.

You master an emotion when you understand the emotional process, validate your specific feeling, give yourself both physical and psychological distance from the threat, analyze the nature of the threat, and choose a response.

If the threat is valid, you use the energy of the emotion as motivation to effectively deal with the threat.

All of this is very good information, but there is something I haven’t told you about emotions…

I want to introduce you to a different way to understand some of your feelings.  Emotions such as anxiety and anger, which may be experienced as hedonically negative and which focus on a threat to be eliminated have a flipside which has a similar message to the original feeling and provides motivation but which transmutes the original feeling into a hedonically positive emotion and focuses on creating a desired outcome rather than eliminating an unwanted outcome.

Think of the two sides of a coin.

  • On one side, you have “heads” and on the other side you have “tails”.
  • The two sides, while different, are not opposites.
  • There is no positive side and there is no negative side.
  • They are two sides of the same coin.

Now, let’s think of emotions. Each emotion…

  • conveys a message about how you perceive the situation in which you find yourself.
  • prepares your body to “deal” with the situation as you perceive it to be
  • can be mastered when you learn how to read the message and strategically deploy the energy of the emotion to the situation.
  • like a coin is neither positive nor negative.

Two widely experienced emotions and their “flipsides”.

Anxiety

Anxiety is a future based emotion the message of which is: There might be a threat out there which could be harmful to me.

Anxiety is an early warning emotion which alerts us to a possible upcoming event. Because anxiety is hedonically experienced as negative or uncomfortable, it motivates us both to choose how we might deal with with the threat and to take action. Note that anxiety, per se, is not negative (there are no negative emotions) but it is experienced as negative as you would want it to be.

Anxiety can become toxic and debilitating if..

  1. you can’t easily identify the nature of the possible threat you think you perceive.
  2. you can identify the possible threat but do not believe you can do anything about it
  3. you procrastinate and do not use the “warning” as a motivator to prepare for action
  4. you deny the validity of the warning

In all of these examples, anxiety can be labelled as distress.   Anxiety in this form is debilitating and will tie you up in knots. Another word for anxiety in this form is stress.  When chronic, stress can harm you physically. By the way, this is the anxiety that most people experience and want desperately to avoid.

If you choose to listen to the warning, use the energy of anxiety as motivation to take effective action, then your anxiety become eustress.

This is what happens when my students get anxious (nervous) about an upcoming exam and get motivated to study.

The “flipside” of anxiety.

Very few writers talk about the flipside of anxiety.  But it exists.

The flipside of anxiety is an emotion that is.

  • future oriented
  • hedonically pleasant to experience
  • prepares you to look forward to a desirable future and take whatever action you need to insure that this future occurs.

This emotion is called anticipation or desire.

The energy of anticipation is the same as that of anxiety and, therefore, is just as motivating. However, you are upbeat, sitting on the edge of your chair waiting for the specific event to occur, and you are motivated to engage with and facilitate the desired future.

So, let’s look at an upcoming exam.

The good student notes the scheduled exam and gets anxious.

Choosing to master his (or her) anxiety, he heeds the warning of his anxiety as eustress and uses the energy of the emotion as motivation to study. The exam is still a “threat” and he is using his anxiety to prepare so as to eliminate the threat.

Doing all that he can, he knows he is prepared. He can now engage the flipside of anxiety and can effectively anticipate doing well on the exam.  If there is any residual concern about what might be on the test, and there might be, it is diminished.

You don’t need to experience anxiety to engage anticipation.  Whenever you are looking forward to an event such as Christmas, the arrival of a friend, taking a trip, you engage anticipation.

Anger

Anger is an in the moment emotion, the message of which is that you perceive a threat that you believe you can eliminate if you throw enough force at it.  You are prepared for battle and believe that when you engage the threat, you will be victorious.  The threat can be to your values, your family, your sense of right and wrong, your goals and so forth.

My second Amazon Best Seller book Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool specifically focuses on the emotion of anger.

The flip side of anger is the emotion of determination.  When you are determined to do something, you focus on the task or process at hand and you are highly motivated to succeed and get the task completed.  It is the same energy that you experience with anger but there is no threat.

To put it another way…

Anger prepares you for battle.  Determination prepares for engagement.

Anger is certainly energizing but it doesn’t always feel hedonically positive.  Determination is both energizing and experienced as hedonically positive.

Chronic anger can be physically harmful. “Chronic” determination can make you successful.

I welcome your comments.

 

 

Tips for Parenting an Angry Child- my two cents

A recent LinkedIn Post highlighted the following post “Tips for Parenting an Angry Child” .

The Philippi Center website recommends to parents who are attempting to deal with an angry child to 1. Take a break, 2.Model appropriate expressions of anger, 3. Practice empathy and 4. Get help.

While these suggestions are good, the Emotions as Tools Model and Anger Mastery Approach add additional information that can help frustrated parents master their own and their children’s anger.

Take a Break

As I discuss in my book Beyond Anger Management:Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool, once you become aware of your anger and how you are about to react, your best option is to manage your anger by creating some “space” between you and your angry child.  You do this by taking a step back from your child (create physical space) and taking a deep breath to lower your arousal level (create psychological space).  Physical space prevents from doing something you later regret and psychological space enables you to assess what is actually going on between you and your child.

Practice Anger Mastery

When you “practice anger mastery”, you are “model(ling) appropriate expressions of anger and “practic(ing) empathy”. I am just going into more detail and coming at the topic from a different point of view.

Using the space you created by managing your anger, your next steps in mastering your anger are to assess the nature of the perceived threat and choose a response.

There are two perceived threats in your interaction with your child.

The first is the threat that you perceive in your child directing all this anger at you.

It is important to acknowledge that you may react with your own anger to an angry child.

The threat you might perceive could be to some goal you are trying to accomplish that is being impeded by your angry child, your belief (conscious or unconscious) that your child’s anger is challenging your authority as the parent, your sense of vulnerability because you are not sure how to deal with the child’s anger or calm your child down and so forth.

The second is the threat that the child perceives in the situation that is eliciting (not causing) his (or her) anger.

Remember that the message of anger is that a threat is perceived that the anger person believes they can eliminate by throwing enough force at it.  While this is easier to see in an adult, your child’s crying, yelling, fussing, or throwing a tantrum (or something else) is a show of force.  He may not think about overpowering you but he is upset that something he thinks should be happening is not happening and his anger is his attempt to show his frustration and change the situation.  Whether he is aware of this is not the issue at this point.

The response you choose should match the nature of the threat.

In the case of your own anger, your response should be to validate your own anger by acknowledging your anger and the “threat” that you perceive and then switch your attention from yourself to the child.

This does not mean that you ignore your anger.  It only means that your child needs some adult attention right now and you are the parent. You can attend to your needs later.

This where your “empathy” comes in.

Remember that the anger you see is your child’s best attempt to resolve his discontent, discomfort or disbelief.  It is not the best that can be done in the situation…. Only, his best.

So, talk to him and try to find out what the issue is for him that is eliciting the anger.

Note: Ask him “You look angry.  What are you angry about?” Do not ask him “Why are you angry?” Please click on over to September 2016 archives for my post talking about the difference between “What”and “Why” questions.

Once you have a good idea of the issue, you can choose a response including (when appropriate):

  • Resolving the issue by giving in.
  • Distracting his attention away from the specific issue
  • Helping him to gain an understanding (at his level) of what is going on
  • Giving him a hug and comfort him
  • Ignoring his anger and maintaining the status quo
  • Seeking help from someone with more experience than you have.

When you have mastered your own anger and attempted to help your child with his (or her) anger, you have done the best you can do.  Later, you can reflect back and assess whether the action you took was effective or not and learn from your experience what to do next time.

I can assure you that there will be a “next time”.

I welcome your comments.