• Karen O'Moore

Emotions and feelings in Relationships 2. The causes of emotions.

In last Month’s article we looked at the difference between feeling and emotion. In this month’s article we are going to be exploring sources of emotion. In general, there are several sources and before looking at some of the underlying factors I am going to reproduce them here:

Automatic Appraisal is the most common, it is usually the source for universal emotional responses. It’s immediate, automatic, and awareness occurs after the fact. Reflective Appraisal is not automatic and occurs when a situation isn’t directly related to your immediate safety. It occurs after the event when you consider what happened, and you experience an emotional response.

The mind is a major source of emotion and Remembering is a huge reservoir of emotional response. When we think about a situation that has been experienced, the emotion at the time can be re-experience the emotion however we can obsessively think and worry about the past we see ourselves as defined by it. In a similar fashion to remembering Imaginingan emotionally evocative situation can elicit an emotional response, but we risk becoming addicted to an emotional state thinking ourselves into states of fear and doubt. Talkingabout an emotional situation can bring back the strong emotions, but telling same story over and over again simply recycles the old emotions. Empathy is powerful, watching someone expressing feelings or even reading about someone having strong emotions can elicit and emotional response. However, it may not be the emotion that they are experiencing: You may feel fear if the other gets angry for example.

Symbolic Appraisal occurs when we are told how to feel, or we see someone (like a caregiver) react emotionally to a situation and usually, this learning occurs when we’re very young. We also learn societal rules as we develop and accepted modes of behaviour. We can have an emotional response when we perceive those rules to be violated, these areNorm Violations.

. There was an interesting, very famous, psychological experiment published in 1920 which demonstrated how we can learn emotional responses and do so at an early age. So without further ado, let me introduce you to “Little Albert”. The “Little Albert” experiment was conducted by John B. Watson and Rosalie Raynor. At the age of 9 months, they exposed a child (Albert B.) to a series of stimuli: a white rat, a rabbit, a monkey, masks, and burning newspapers, Little Albert showed no fear. The next time Albert was exposed to the rat, a loud noise was made and the child began to cry. After repeatedly pairing the white rat with the loud noise, Albert began to cry simply after seeing the rat. Further Albert feared not just the white rat, but a wide variety of similar white objects as well: Rabbits, fur coats and a Santa Claus beard for example. The ethics of this experiment aside, it demonstrated not only how an involuntary emotional response can be conditioned in response to an external stimulus (classical conditioning) but also how stimulus generalisation occurs (the same emotional response to similar stimuli).

Both Diana and Michael Richardson (Tantric Love: Feeling Vs Emotion) and Harville Hendrix (Getting the Love You Want: A guide for Couples) look to our childhood as an original source of our emotions. Both look in slightly different ways at childhood wounding: The Richardson’s theorise that as we as children are instructed what to do and say, when and when not to do and say it we end up repressing our feelings to please and to get our conditions met. Further in the absence of love, or the presence of conditional love we are left with scars in the form of memories and tensions within the body, what Eckhart Tolle calls the emotional and pain body (The Power of Now), and these are cumulative. Furthermore the childhood repression of feelings becomes a habit into adulthood and we carry these unexpressed feelings around as baggage in our lives ready to unleash the emotions in response to the right trigger. We hold memories of every psychologically and physically traumatic event we experience our body stores the fear, memories and unexpressed feelings. The Richardson’s argue that when feelings associated with the trauma, such as Physical and Sexual Abuse or Sexual Violation for example, are released and expressed at the time then the long term influence and “damage” is lessened. Unfortunately for many children, for example, such feelings are bottled up and repressed leading to a potent source of emotion in later life.

Harville Hendrix believes that even in a safe nurturing environment, there are childhood scars and that from birth we are complex, dependent creatures with a never-ending cycle of needs, which no caregivers are able to respond to totally. The infant exists in a state of “Original Wholeness” within the womb. Post birth the Child reaches out to the mother to recapture this original spiritual union or “eros” (Originallly Eros had a broader context and meant: “The life force” as opposed the more common definition of romantic love we give it). Later in childhood this reaching out extends to others in the family and wounding occurs, as we cannot meet infant demands fully, we also pass on our childhood wounds to our children as well as the emotional inheritance of generations. Thus the old brain, not having linear time may be considered to be still trapped in infantile perspective. With Socialisation, emotional injury stems from hiding parts of ourselves from consciousness, in response to being told that there were thoughts and feelings we could not have, behaviours we had to stop and aptitudes we had to hide, that we must cover our bodies in gender specific ways and not to talk about or touch our genitals.

The upshot of this for Harville was that we split into aspects of self: The Original self, The Lost self (parts of your being that you had to repress because of the demands of society), The False self (The facade that you erected in order to fill the void created by this repression and by lack of adequate nurturing) and the Disowned self (The negative parts of your false self that met with disapproval and were therefore denied).

The parts that you are aware of, that form what you would describe as personality, belong to the remaining parts of your original self and the false self. The lost self is totally outside your awareness, with almost all connections to these repressed parts being severed, and the disowned self lurks just below your level of awareness, threatening to emerge. To keep it hidden, you deny it actively or project it onto others. When we are looking for a relationship partner, we are looking for that original wholeness, looking for our lost self, our full range of feelings.

Remember too how the old brain works, past, present and future all co-exist: The infantile perspective, repressed feelings, yearning for wholeness of self, classic and operant conditioning all combine to give a potent mix of emotions lurking just below the surface of our consciousness ready to arise and temporarily take over our body.

Remember too how the old brain works, past, present and future all co-exist: The infantile perspective, repressed feelings, yearning for wholeness of self, classic and operant conditioning all combine to give a potent mix of emotions lurking just below the surface of our consciousness ready to arise and temporarily take over our body.

The Body level, The Mind Level and the most subtle of the three and most difficult to identify The Emotional level. Remember that emotions are so that they activate on the physical level: In the connective tissue and the solar plexus. But the awareness of when such sensations and feelings began to occur can in itself give pointers to the triggers that resulted in the emotional experience.

In next month’s article we will be looking at ways of Dealing with Emotions in Relationships.

Mark Sutton April 2014

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