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A Theory of Emotions

A Theory of Emotions

Some years ago, I was studying  Psychiatry and wanted to learn more about "Mood and Affect". This was the section designed to examine the emotional state of the person in front of us, but unfortunately, when I read back through past medical notes, so often all that was written was a comment such as "Normal", "Depressed", or even a somewhat insulting "Irritable". I went further to look into different emotional theories but I couldn't find one that I liked - so I wrote my own! This is of course frowned upon in academic circles, but I enjoy reinventing the wheel, and I have researched and tried to use as much as I could. But I think I have learnt more from my own patients. 

This theory is written in the style I use when chatting to my patients, and incorporates most of my handout sheets that we developed together. Hopefully given time, I can rewrite this in a more Academic style, with quotations to justify the basis of the theory, as of course, nothing new is written here. However nothing has been "proven" - a theory needs to first be stated and proposed before it can be developed and properly tested. This is the purpose of my writings.

Please Note: This is not a "Theory of Everything", and in fact is technically not even a "theory" - merely a proposition of ideas which will hopefully grow over time. It is far from being complete, and has many gaps. But I am trying to remove as many inconsistencies as I can. Please help if you have any suggestions.

Emotions are important!

They act as drives and motivators - humanity is made up of rationality and emotions combined. Emotions are not part of our primitive ancestry, or animal instincts to be subdued and tamed, but to be understood and utilised. Without them, we are just robots with no sense of individuality or compassion. Emotions also act as a key pad for memory to enable us to recall and place things in our world, both physically and internally, and link the many parts of ourselves into one being.

There is a range of emotions from more to less pleasurable as a spectrum, not opposites to fight against each other.

More pleasurable may be perhaps positive, in that they speed us up, but not so much as "good". They speed us up as accelerator and reinforce our learning and behaviour

Less pleasurable is perhaps negative, but not always "bad" in themselves. They act as sign posts, warnings, and punishment that themselves may be bad, and provide us with boundaries and limits, telling us where we have overstepped the mark and point the direction to possible solutions. They slow us down, question us, and give the energy to change, although they themselves do not act as 'unlearners' of learnt behaviour - punishment does not help us to unlearn - but they may help us to avoid repeating our mistakes.

On the other hand, pleasurable emotions often positively reinforce some "negative" behaviours and habits, which is why we get trapped into such strange habits as smoking, gambling, use of alcohol or drugs, or even shoplifting.

But the positive and negative are both needed together, like the accelerator and brakes of a car. Both are needed to drive and prevent disaster .

Together they are also necessary for social and interpersonal skills that allow initial learning of these skills, interpretation and feedback so we can "know" the social rules and use them fluidly.

Emotions need to be experienced to be learned, like other brain processes. Initially this needs to be done deliberately and consciously such as the learning of a new language, before they then slip into an automatic pattern that often falls into unconsciousness - and hence many of our habits both helpful and unhelpful.

Emotions need to be expressed and are never static, and cannot be suppressed for long without adverse effects. Expression is most common through language - hence the talking therapies - but there are so many other ways of expressing our emotions, including through drawing and art work, music, dance, crafts, designs, garden, and so on, although safety and responsibility are first necessary, and they must be expressed through socially acceptable channels so they can be accepted and acknowledged by others. In many ways, they then begin to shape our identity.

Emotions also need to be tested and understood as although they are always valid, they are not always accurate and not always in the right amount, or connected to the right place (or person) or words.

Emotions are also the key ingredient in any relationship - communication is not just with words, but also with our feelings.

Strangely, we often try to keep our feelings and sections of our lives separate and do whatever we can to keep them apart. At times this happens automatically in self defence, but we also use drugs both social and medical quite willingly. 

By beginning to understand our emotions better, we begin to better understand ourselves, those around us, and even the world we live in.


Before we can go on -

Please understand that Emotions can be tricky - and at times we awaken unexpected feelings and reactions.

So before we go one, we need to first go through the Basic Rules to help us with our discussions about Emotions:

1. Rule Number 1 continues to be - Keep It Safe!

If your emotions and yourself are not settled, examining them may cause them to become more unstable. Most often, this needs another person who is close to you and can offer support. While we can never fully guarantee to keep ourselves safe, we can still "try". If we can no longer try, we must find some way to get help before we become unsafe - for example by calling Lifeline as per Links on the Top Banner.

2. Own Your Own Emotions - or Mind Your One Business!

Whilst we continue to push blame for our emotions onto other people - usually those closest to us - we can never learn to use them for ourselves. Our emotions belong to us - they are part of our own body makeup and our own warning systems. They can never be "caused" by someone else, unless we allow it, and then it is usually a blessing. First own your own emotions, and then you can see if an emotion may have come from outside.

3. Find a Safe Way to Express Yourself.

Madonna told us to "Express Yourself" - and that is what we need to do. We may express ourselves by talking to someone (or anyone), by writing, painting, singing, dancing, building, making, creating or even dreaming. We all have a unique way to be able to do this - and we need to start with a way which is easy and safe for us.

4. Emotions themselves are not Good or Bad.

We tend to say something is "good" because it was pleasurable, or if it was unpleasant, we say it was "bad" - but it is what caused the feelings that we should be considering as good or bad, not the feelings themselves. More about this later.

5. Emotions are NOT Black and White, or All or None.

We most commonly seem to react to our feelings as though they are all on or all off, but in fact they exist in a huge range from being very quiet to extremely loud. We need to find a way to get the balance right.

6. Emotions can be learnt. 

We so often believe that emotions are just what they are, and even say "I couldn't help it, it was just how I felt", but we can learn to use and modify them for our own benefit. If not, they will surely creep up and trip us up. Emotions are part of our body makeup - in the same way as perhaps our eyes, ears or even language. We can learn to observe, taste, speak or even perform some unlikely physical task - so why not do the same with our emotions. They, too, have a centre in the brain to register and modify them, just as do these other tasks.


Next: What are Emotions

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