Why You Should Read This: About 5 minutes
Emotional control and emotional management are one of the earliest skills we learn, with development peaking around 18 months of age.
“The dimensions of early child development that matter the most are the physical, the social/emotional, and the cognitive/language. How a child develops across each of these dimensions, from before birth to school age, influences each of health, well-being and competence for the rest of life.
A young child’s brain is an ‘environmental organ’ just like the lungs or the skin, growing and developing according to the amount and quality of stimulation in the child’s immediate environment.” Clyde Hertzman
Our ability, or inability, to handle our emotions determines, to a great degree, the quality of our life. Learning how to think more accurately, and in ways that don’t create so many negative emotions, changes our lives significantly.
When we have an experience, our brain stores everything about that experience, including the physical sensations, feelings, we were having at the time.
Feelings are the physical sensation part of a memory. As a child, feelings are experienced directly as part of an experience.
Emotions are the meaning we associate with a feeling. We can have feelings without emotions, but we cannot have emotions without feelings.
A child’s brain handles emotions like a primate. Their brain associates a feeling with an experience, and they store those associations like a catalog of experiences to compare the incoming stimuli to, apply the “meaning,” and respond as their environment programmed.
Children and adults handle emotions differently. By the time we are 17, we have “translated” our experiences into word stories about the experiences and can no longer even access the childhood memory of the experiences.
As adults, we have converted feelings into emotions as part of our library of stories we use to define situations. The original experience may well be lost to recall, but the connections to the feelings remain because that is how the old brain functions.
Because emotions contain the physical sensation part of our memories they have more physical energy than just thoughts, so they “feel” more real. The reason is that emotions are the “feelings” part of a memory. When we think of something that contains emotional content, our brain re-creates those same chemicals and we actually feel the same sensations as we did then.
That’s the reason scary movies make us feel anxious, happy movies make us laugh, sad movies make us cry and hot, steamy, sexy, romantic movies make us hurry home.
Emotions are just as likely to become automatic habits as any other kind of data. Anxiety, depression, and road rage are three excellent examples of negative emotional habits.
Our memories alone cannot create the full blown physical reaction just by thinking about an emotional scenario but, in the long run, chronically thinking negatively can obviously create enough harmful chemicals to cause significant damage to our health. That’s why 47% of adults in the US are on prescription medications for chronic health problems.
Any of the chronic emotional states such as depression, anxiety, pessimism, road rage, guilt, and shame are the result of making a habit out of specific types of negative thinking. These states can be changed by changing the thinking process that creates them frequently enough that a more functional thinking habit simply replaces the old one.
The idea that a certain amount of anxiety is good for us, is a simple way to justify remaining a slave to it. Mankind does have the “fight or flight” mechanism, but is the only animal that worries as a habit, even though there is nothing to fight, and no reason to flee.
It is important to remember that none of your thoughts or emotions come from anywhere but your own mind. You may choose to react to another person’s actions or words, but the choice to react and how to react are yours. Choosing not to react is a skill we must all learn.
Viktor Frankl was a concentration camp prisoner during World War II. In his book, “Man’s Search for Meaning”, he writes, “The only thing they can’t take from you is your choice of attitudes in any given circumstance.” We choose our attitudes. We choose our reactions according to the meanings we find in our data base of experiences. Most of the time we are our own worst enemy, but we can learn not to be.
With practice, it becomes a lot easier to choose thoughts that are not negative or to choose not to respond at all in a given situation and avoid the emotions entirely.
Getting rid of the negative baggage, conclusions. and symbols also frees up a huge amount of energy for joy, happiness, advancement, fulfillment, completion, exploration, expansion; all kinds of cool things for which we do not currently have the energy.
Upgrading our emotional skills from the ones learned in our Environmental Genome can free us from the trap of negative emotions.
Next: Making a Choice.
© 2017 Douglas McKee