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Summary to Date:

Ok, So this is alot to take in! Perhaps its time for a summary of the basic elements to our developing emotional theory:


Basic rules to be remembered  when discussing our emotions:

 • Keep it safe

 • Own your own emotions

 • Learn to feel and not act (impulsively)

 • Emotions are not good or bad

 • Emotions are not all or none

 • Learn to use more constructively


Please remember - “There, but for the Grace of God, go I” - try not to judge how others may be thinking or feeling


We learn to use our emotions with:

Three ways of interpreting the world:

The Physical World where "what you see is what you get" with straight forward, direct physical interpretation

The Thinking World where we continually think and examine the world trying to make up rules for how the world works

The Feeling World where we have heart and feelings to interpret what is going on - but it is fuzzy logic

None are sufficient by themselves and we ned to learn how to combine them

We all seem to prefer one way of living


Four different emotional types based on our body's workings

Pleasure - which we instinctively  immediately want to have but best delayed 

Pain - which makes us just want to give up, but in reality is just where we have missed the mark in reaching our goals, or where we have lost something dear to us.

Anger - which leads us to fight, but is only energy for effort in reaching our goals

Fear - which makes us want to run away and hide, but really just there to slow us down and prevent us rushing in


Five Different levels of experience growing starting from basic instinctual reactions

Survival / instincts - where we respond automatically at a basic level

Getting help / Family - where we are protected and kept safe while being shown the ropes

Social / Peer - when we enter the real world and mix with groups

Academic / Teaching - when we want to learn more and develop our own rules

Mastery / Wisdom - where we all want to be, and we are all wise in some ways, but seem to so rarely enter


But we do have ways to control the levels of our emotions so we can learn to use them more helpfully.

Our sense of pride, and sense of ourself, is based on our understanding and development of our emotions.


A Shorter Version putting it all together:



Emotions are important! In the study of psychiatry and psychology, it is hard to not be amazed by the power that emotions have in people’s lives, and yet there is no true unifying theory that brings together our understanding of emotions to assist us in our clinical practice. To effectively bring about change in a person’s life, it is necessary not just to change someone’s behaviour or thinking, it is necessary to bring about a change of heart. 


Emotions are a function of the brain, and like other functions can be accessed and changed by conscious effort. This takes practice and learning, perhaps in the same way as it takes to learn to wiggle our ears. However to do this we need to consciously identify our own emotional patterns, and for this reason we need a simple model to use in clinical practice. Finding the right words is often difficult both clinically and in writing, as words themselves carry many different meanings. It is tempting to merely redefine old words for the sake of discussion, but this only tends to bring about a new language that only a select few can understand. For this reason I will attempt to use a simple language that we can all use.


There are many great thinkers that I have drawn upon in this model. Principally, I have to recognise the work done by Sigmund Freud and the Post-Freudians, who have long recognised the importance of the emotions. Secondly, although Learning Theory is primarily based on behaviour, the principles can also apply to emotions, perhaps best seen in the Moral Learning Theory of Kohlberg. Maslow and Erickson have also contributed much to the understanding of Development, which requires the growth of emotional processes in our lives. Finally I draw much from all my teachers who have contributed many small points that come together in big ways.


In discussing the Emotions, it is wise at the beginning to mention that much of our learning (especially scientific knowledge) is based on the laws of logic, which in many ways follow the principles of a digital computer. 

We therefore need to be careful in using words that are too “logical” in discussing emotions. It is a matter of understanding our own heart, not following reason. This is necessary if we wish to help bring about change in clinical practice. Emotions are thus exceedingly complex and difficult to categorise, but to discuss their nature, we need to at least make an effort. Proof for any of the areas I therefore suggest will never be possible by standard methods, but this does not mean that the discussion should therefore finish, as future proof may yet evolve from the very discussion itself.


2.Dimensions of Emotions

Emotions have many aspects that combine and build together in our lives through experience. 

2.1.The Three Worlds

Firstly emotions exist as one of three worlds in our lives. We initially grow up understanding the physical nature of the world and learn to function in this way. We then go to school, learn how to think and learn the knowledge passed down through the ages, as well as the rules of life we need to live in our culture. Finally we learn through experience in way that allows us to “do it with feeling (caring)”, creativity and with the right attitude. Each of these worlds exist and need to be learnt independently of each other. There are many examples of people who are good at “doing” but not thinking and vice versa. We also know of many examples of many businesses that are well “organised” but that “lack heart”. To learn to be a true master of life, however, we need to learn to be able to live effectively in each world. 


An example of this is seen in building a house. In the physical world, we have a builder hitting nails into wood and erecting walls from different materials on a block of land to build the house as a structure for someone to live in. However materials alone are never enough as seen by anyone who has tried to construct a cubby-hut as a child without a plan! To build a house we need not only the design and organization necessary to build the house, but we also spend a long time thinking and contemplating the structure long before it is erected. Well is this enough? No. To create a “home” a house needs a family with all of their emotions and relationships to fill the walls (“Home is where the heart is”). This last area lasts much longer than even the building itself, as seen by the work of archaeologists. 


3.Inner and Outer Worlds

The three worlds mentioned above cross the boundary of our selves. The physical largely represents our outside world and our bodies, the thinking world incorporates many of the functions of our mind, and the emotion represents much of our inner world. Information comes from the outside to the inner world through our body and brain, and it is the function of our brain to regulate this process. For the purpose of this discussion, I wish to presume that emotions are essentially chemical in nature (as witnessed by the effect of different drugs and the time they take to react / respond, and that they are long lasting), and that thoughts are essentially electrical (speed and brevity). Consciousness may be they area of the brain that is “lit up” the brightest electrically (perhaps in a similar way to the function of the pacemaker area of the heart), and that the cell connections are the fixed patterns of electrical / chemical flow that represent memory. Emotions therefore have no fixed “home” in the brain, and are perhaps best thought of as being the “stuff” that is processed in the same way that binary numbers are processed by computers.


So, is the brain a computer? In simple terms no, but if we could imagine an old fashioned “analogue” computer immersed in a chemical soup and was self programming, then we may get close. (An analogue computer is the one with wires hanging out the front and looking like an old-fashioned telephone exchange, but good enough to get man to the moon and back!)


These three worlds exist like layers in an onion, and information has to filter through these layers with different responses at each level. Responses in the physical world are direct and mechanical – pull the lever and the door will open. When activity is monitored through the thinking world, we an indirect response with programming in a robotic way, but eventually cause predictably results in effect. Once information enters the emotional world we have an emotional reaction that may just do nothing but accumulate till sufficient emotion (chemical) is built up to produce a reaction. This gives the flexible and unpredictable response that is typically human, giving us choice and freedom as to whether to react or not.


Information passes from the physical world into our bodies through our senses, and information can be selectively focussed upon, or ignored by our consciousness. Information then has to pass through our thinking world, which can selectively filter out information depending on the “rules” we set about the world (our world “map”). We also have an ability to think about our emotions without any response to try to interpret them (“come to an understanding”). Our thinking also provides a filter for our emotional responses so that the response can be channeled and utilised in a more processed way (ie our own personal rules and morals”). Finally once a behavioural response has been made our senses detect the change and provide an ongoing feedback loop. One of the most important functions of our emotions in our brain is to act as a link between the different parts and provide a sense of “self”, unifying not only different brain functions, but also associating different outside events, as well as activities in different places in time, and also to other people. 


Most of our responses are automatic and we seem to be not aware of the “little rules” that we carry about life, and even less aware of the emotions that underpin our behaviour (so that some may consider that they are not important at all). This may be for two reasons. Firstly, although I am stating that emotions can be directly accessed and even modified through conscious control, this takes time and practice, just as it does for any other brain function. As we are not practiced at accessing our emotions, trying to do this is as difficult as trying to wiggle your ears if you have never done this before. Secondly, most of our emotional responses act in a largely instinctual way, which are fairly predictable, and if ever examined, mostly “animal”, not very pleasant (as we will discuss later) and easily ignored. Emotional learning helps us not only to accept these instincts but also to modify them in a way that gives us more choice and flexibility so that our responses become more refined. Speech also gives us the ability not only to talk and share with others about our “rules”, but also to talk to ourselves and modify those rules internally.


All these worlds co-exist together and cannot be separated, but each seems to follow different rules. Each appears to be just as important as the other, but in our society we seem to have forgotten the importance of the emotional world. All three also exist in our selves. Is the true “self” our body, our mid or our feelings? None can be excluded. Our body certainly represents our physical self, and our brain represents our mind. But where do our emotions exist? In the past this has been answered by the theories of Cannon-Bard and James-Lange who argued that our feelings where created in our mind and represented in our bodies, and vice-versa. It would seem that both directions are important, and that perhaps our emotions are best thought of as the link between body and mind. We “feel” our emotions in our body (eg our “heart”) and presumably this occurs through the actions of our non-voluntary nervous systems such as the autonomic and hormonal systems. Again emotions are acting as a link within our body.


4.Types of emotion

Before we go any further, it is important to try to describe the different types of emotion. There are thousands of words in the dictionary describing emotion, but when asked to describe how we feel, few of us can say any more than a few simple words. (Even consider the simplicity of the Psychiatric Mental State Examination the usually resorts to the terms “Euthymic, depressed or elevated”) So how can we categorise emotion? For the sake of simplicity I believe there are four basic emotions that combine in different ways to give us “emotional colour”. These four are Pleasure, Pain, Anger, and Fear, each existing in a spectrum from nothing to all. 


These are based on the baby facial studies (excluding “Surprise” as I believe this to be a function of a rapid change in all of them), and each has it’s own physiological mechanism / pathway in the brain. These then roughly fit into two groups Pleasure and Pain are input emotions (ie like and dislike), and Anger and Fear are output emotions (ie go = accelerator and stop = brakes). Also Pleasure and Anger are positive (ie they speed you up) and Pain and Fear are negative (ie they slow you down). When unmodified through experience, each operates in an instinctual manner according to ?built in mechanisms. Anger means fight, Fear means run away, Pleasure means desire for immediate gratification, and Pain means Give-In. Obviously in these forms they are mutually exclusive, and each operating in an all or none capacity. However if we can “lower the volume”, we can combine these spectra into useful groups that give us greater choice and response in life.


4.1.Pleasure Spectrum

We all want to be happy and the pleasure spectrum contains the all important “carrot” in our lives without which none of us can survive. But it is a bit like money, if you spend it straight away it will never accumulate and you will always be poor. So why do we do this with happiness? Pleasure can range from a mild sense of satisfaction / contentment to excitement and ecstasy. It is the most dangerous emotion due to its ability to seduce us into thinking we “want” something immediately, and that there is no “harm” in that (the power of advertising). Unfortunately when we are “happy”, we achieve the least, have least sense of reality, and seem to be lulled into a false sense of security. However, funnily enough, most people do not know there own “sense” of pleasure, and are most fearful of loosing it once found. But if we can learn to “like” (a verb – something that takes practice) and we can then learn to develop our own goals (goals based on other’s likes give other’s pleasure when we achieve them, not us!) This means that to accumulate any pleasure we have to put it off and “look forward” to it. Then it grows and comes back with interest. Ultimately, pleasure offers us a path into the future and a sense of direction in our lives.


4.2.Pain Spectrum

Pain comes from what we don’t like, and is based on a loss of pleasure or a physical hurt. The brain does not seem to be able to separate internal and external sources of pain, making us look externally whenever we are “hurt”, trying to find the “blame”. Pain comes in a range from mild disappointment to extreme agony, but any form of pain seems to be avoided (rather than avoiding the cause of the pain). The saying in the gym goes “No pain, no gain” and to a certain extent this remains true emotionally. True learning comes from understanding our pain and not repeating it. Possibly pain can also lead to healing (diseases where there is little pain often become more life threatening).


4.3.Anger Spectrum

Anger is the best emotion – it is the only one that actually “does” anything, but we usually know it only as a destructive force. But anything that destructive can also be constructive – it is only when we are frustrated about something that we actually do something about it, and the anger gives us the energy to do it (if channelled into the task at hand). Anger can range from a quiet annoyance to murderous rage, but in the extreme form is difficult to control or direct. It can simply mean giving someone “feedback”, saying “no” or simply just backing off. It is possibly more useful if used more quietly at the lower end of the spectrum, but sometimes we need a strong force to move us. Ultimately anger is the source of our creativity (for example - stand in the rain long enough and you will work out how to build a shelter).


4.4.Fear Spectrum

Fear is the hardest emotion to understand, and the one we most often forget. We want to “conquer” our fear, and believe that fear is a weakness, but to have “no fear” is extremely dangerous (for example “rushing in where angels fear to tread”). Fear is the basis of our care and caution and exists from a gentle concern to a paralysing panic. Strangely enough, “trust” appears to be a reciprocal of fear, so that a “basic trust” means that you are not so scared of someone that you cannot go with them. Some fear is required to keep our feet “on the ground” and remain alert. Ultimately fear provides for us a sense of protection (eg intuition) and even reality. When lost we become insecure and loose touch with reality.


5.Range of emotions

As can be seen above, emotions do not exist in an all or none state, although an instinctual response may operate this way at times. A range of emotions is possible along any spectrum, so that, for example, anger can exist as a mild resistance, building up to an annoyance and frustration, and become a murderous rage. As it gets “louder, the anger becomes harder to utilise usefully and more likely to be instinctual, although not enough anger will lead to insufficient action. This is seen in the classic study of performance versus anxiety in students preparing for an examination. It was found that the result was bell shaped, where insufficient (ie didn’t care) or too much anxiety (ie avoidance / procrastination) led to poor results, and a certain amount of anxiety gave the best results. The level of the emotions can also be changed through a variety of ways. These give us many possibilities in finding the most useful level of an emotion for any given situation. Also note that it is easier to increase an emotion than decrease it (have you ever tried to slow your heart rate consciously?)



Of course, these emotions do not exist by themselves, but exist in a balance together, perhaps in the same way that our eyes can only “see” three colours, but can interpret over 16 million different shades. This can only happen consciously when they do not act instinctually and are blended together at the lower ranges of the emotions. In all experiences, all four of the emotional types are represented. For example, we may be angry with someone yet still want to like them, so we need to be firm yet nice at the same time. However to act on these in a blended way takes conscious practice. I believe “Love” is actually a positive combination of all four emotions, and a loving relationship shares not only pleasure, but also hurts, offers security and combines strengths. 



Emotions and time is an extremely difficult area to discuss, as we know little about the nature of time as we are caught up in its flow. But I believe emotions and time are integrally related, best exemplified by the fact that emotions rarely disappear over time (even though memory may) or that love means being “together forever”. In fact emotions may be our very link to time outside our physical reality, again a complex philosophical problem. For the sake of this discussion, two relations to time are important – Experience and Goals.


Firstly, experience is a concept that does not exist with a computer – it will continue to remain flawed for as long as it runs. As humans however we have the chance to grow and develop, hopefully learning from our mistakes. In their instinctual form, emotions carry little direct learning, although we see non-verbal animals learning in different ways (but is a large amount due to the influence of humans?) Animals learn to adapt to their environment. Humans change their environment to suite themselves – sometimes for the better, sometimes for worse. Learning through experience is best seen by thinking about learning to play a simple game (with strict rules and boundaries) such as chess. When first played we struggle to even finish a game, struggling to survive and discover the rules. If we continue for long enough and like the game, we wish to learn more, and temporarily leave the game, read a book or seek tutoring and practice some basic skills. If we learn enough, we join a club and start to play in competitions, wanting to play and win, but being prepared to loose and learn. If we are good enough we may seek further tuition, learn to develop our own strategies and even become a tutor ourselves. If we are really good, we then play representing the country and become known as a chess “master”, where we have flare and finesse that comes with the art of chess (ie knowledge by itself is no longer useful). This learning through experience relies on using and engaging our emotions progressively over time. I will discuss this more later.


Secondly, to effectively use our emotions, we need to put them back into time in a useful manner. In their instinctual form, the emotions remain largely in the present in a mutually exclusive form. We want pleasure in the present and if we miss out we become angry and fight to gain our pleasure until we are hurt and give in or we run away as we are too scared (from pain in the past). The way to get around this problem is to learn to please ourselves by putting our pleasure in the future (as a goal or reward); our anger as effort in the present to gain our pleasure; our pain from missing out of the pleasure with an appropriate new understanding into the past; and redirecting our efforts with our fear in the present. Easier said than done, but by letting go of pleasure in the present we are “banking” it in the future to make it grow with “interest”. Putting pleasure into the future helps us to “look forward” in some way helping us to have a better “view” of our future.


8.Multiple Streams

Logic usually exists in a singular and linear fashion. We rarely look for more than one reason as to why something happened (“Entia non mulitplicanda praeter necessitatem”). And yet clearly we can have mixed motives for our actions. Emotions are not only mixed but exist in many multiple streams continuously. Think of the roles that we play in life as a parent, professional, club member, car driver, male/female, etc) that can co-exist simultaneously. In fact these streams are continuously running through our, with some experiences functioning at full capacity and others where we are struggling to just survive. These threads in our lives tend to start and stop all the time, perhaps in the way in which a conversation with a friend may resume after many months of absence. Of course we can only handle a few at any one time, and can only be actively conscious of one thing at a time, but behind the scenes the threads go on. If we think of these threads all carrying emotional colours, I guess we are describing the “tapestry of life”.


9.Life experience

We have already said much about experience, but before closing the discussion, it is worth looking at how this experience builds up through life. As a baby, we struggle to survive and have trouble mastering only the basic physical functions in life. We have little memory of these preverbal days, but we know that the emotional patterns that develop in this period tend to stay for life. As we grow old enough for school, we learn through copying others and learning to play, that is find search and find what is enjoyable for ourselves. As we become teenagers and start to survive on our own, the task is to not only to continue to find pleasure but to learn to share and yet protect ourselves at the same time. As we develop we wish to learn more and often lead others either through work or becoming a parent. At some stage we may grow to a level of expertise that gives us a degree of mastership in some area of life. But, also as we grow we take on new areas, need help, need to share and protect, and need to teach as well. And yet even for the most basic person, there remains a little mastery and wisdom. So these levels are not hierarchical, but accumulative, and we need to be accomplished at all levels to succeed well in life.


10.Self and Other

Probably the most important use of our emotions is with sharing with others. We start life with emotions being our only form of communication with others, and with time we learn to add words to our feelings. The main problem is that we therefore spend most of our efforts focussing on the emotions of other people, wanting them to please us and wanting them to take our pain away. But our emotions are our own feedback from ourselves and the world, so trying to focus on others’ emotions is like trying to tow a second bicycle while riding your own. And while focussing on others, you never learn to ride your own. So life is a constant balancing act between being dependent on others and learning to be independent.


11.Homeostasis and Change

The concept around homeostasis is that all things return to average, and this is also true of emotions. The patterns we develop in childhood tend to remain ingrained in our later life, and most attempts to change our behaviour tend to revert back to the old patterns. If we wish to change, we need to not just change our behaviour by putting on a new act, or merely changing the way we think about something, but we need also to change our heart. This takes time and practice, and a real desire to change. Without change we cannot grow. It is funny that the term given to adults by children is the “Grown-Ups”. This is not just true of our height, but often our behaviour. Most of us change throughout life, but as the saying goes “The only evidence of life is growth”. The problem is that growth can be either forwards or backwards, and it is only by knowing ourselves well enough that we can tell the difference. Helping those with problems to change is even more difficult, but in my experience it actually requires finding the child within – ie that part of us that can still grow.


12.Integration – The need to bring it all together 

Emotions are important, and work in combination together. However each experience is a balance between the different types of emotion at different ranges together with our thoughts (that filter our senses and behavioural responses) and our actions. Also our experiences develop over time in association with different streams of our life and in co-ordination with other people’s emotions and experiences. This all leads to a complexity that becomes rather daunting, and it is no surprise that some of us may focus on just a small part of this puzzle (for example developing physical prowess but not social capacity). Also in this complexity, the emotions are often forgotten, with many people trying to solve their problems merely in a “rational” or logical way. But to truly develop as humans, we need to develop all these areas together in an integrated way. The purpose of this theory is to focus on the importance of the emotions in our lives.



Next: Pride

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