Emotion: Fear and desire
Imagine! Someone is holding a loaded gun to your face. You look down the barrel and see the glint of the chambered rounds. Instinctively you fear for your life and from that fear; you desire escape. Unbeknownst to your alerted consciousness, at the most basic molecular level, brain cells are starting a chain reaction of communication, vis-a-vis a cellular network, to various interconnected regions of your brain and body. This action is a coordinated habituated effort of stimulation and inhibition. Depending upon the cellular network sequencing, you either find yourself frozen in time or lashing out in fight or flight. At play is your emotionality. What you physically experience is real, and yet what you experience is not a single emotional response, rather a continuum of emoting.
Within the physical experience of emotion, and in keeping with its limited physicality, there exists only a continuum in range of fear and desire. Out of the physical sense of the moment, what is experienced along this continuum is the excitement of avoiding fear and approaching desire. The fact of the matter is, the human organism can produce only that which it can physically produce. In the stimulation of excitement there must also exist countering sedation. If the body did not have the ability to be depressed or stimulated, one could take all the depressants and stimulants in the world and not experience either. The same is true of emotion. At our most basic molecular structure–the cell–a cell by release of its’ neurotransmitters either excites or inhibits a response. In terms of real threats, the response is innate and yet through exposure and conditioning innate responses can be influenced. In other words you experience what you know. After all, to experience the world is to know the world. Another way of saying this is, “At our most basic physical nature, we either are innately motivated to approach (excite) or avoid (inhibit) within the cellular level and through that level of networking we experience through behavior, that is through our thoughts, feelings, and action.”
The human body is an extremely intricate complex organism, and yet in terms of its physical responses it is quite simple. Physically, the organism either approaches or avoids.
When a person senses that which is occurring, the information is processed through the thalamus of the brain and passed onto the amygdala. In situations of real threat, the body will respond accordingly. Unique to the human organism and its cognitive capabilities, there really doesn’t have to be a real threat like someone putting a gun to face. The human organism also has the ability in a top down fashion to cognitively threaten ones survival position by way of perceived threat. In other words, we can think ourselves into the drama of avoidance of fear and want of desire. From this fact alone, production and advertisement companies spend billions. Taking this concept one step further, we have as our physical make-up a nervous system that comprises the autonomic nervous system. This system which controls heart rate and muscle contraction is broken down into the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. Taken together, these subdivides of the autonomic nervous system act as a negative feedback system. In a situation of a trigger threat (relative word), the sympathetic nervous system responds and the organism experiences fight or flight. Such an excitatory state is hard on the human body, specifically the heart; considering the heart is a muscle. To lessen the distress of the fight or flight response, the parasympathetic nervous system releases the necessary impulses to lessen the elevated response. What makes this interesting is the fact that regardless if one is mugged on the street or deep in passionate lovemaking, the sympathetic response is the same; another factor to the continuum of fear and desire.
One last point. Think of the capability of emotion like that of language. We are all born into this world with the capability of language, and yet no one is born speaking a language nor experiencing an emotion. Like language, emotion has to be cultivated, harnessed, defined, refined, and regulated; hence the continuum of fear and desire.
But what of feelings? Feelings are not fear and desire. From a bottom up top down fashion, feelings are thoughts of what one is experiencing emotionally. For example, “I feel good today” is not an emotion, it is a thought born out of the neutrality, sort of the midpoint to fear and desire. Here, the person is neither fearing or desiring, rather copacetic in his or her emotional homeostasis. Understanding that feelings are nothing more than thoughts of what one is experiencing emotionally opens the door to an elevated state of personal power of control. After all, the one thing we all have total control over is our thoughts. No one, absolutely no one controls how one thinks, therefore feels. What is however experienced is the surrender of one’s control over to an event or a person.
Case in point: I have never met a person who under a particular situation does not know how to handle his or her anger; anger being a feeling. The power of control here is in the person’s thoughts. I have however met hundreds of people who surrender power of control in situations out of ignorance. There is nothing negative about ignorance, it simple represents the idea of not knowing. Take for another example my hypothesis on guilt. Guilt is not an emotion, it is a thought of doing something wrong. Applying the fear and desire continuum to guilt, at one end is the fear of being judged by some esoteric higher order, which of course only exists in the confines of the human psyche. Then as social interactionist, there is the desire of wanting to be accepted into the ephemeral modalities of a social group. In conflict, the thoughts of doing something wrong, being a bad person depresses the compensatory nature we all share, and in so doing out of want of independence the involved is dependent, and out of the want of competence he or she is anchored to the darkness of incompetence. In all of its irrationality tending toward dysfunction, there is nothing healthy about guilt as it tends to the self degradation of shame. And yet, so many “feel” guilt, when the fact is that as a human experience it is only a matter of one’s perspective.
The matter of fact outlined here is your human nature and how you experience your innate nature. So what does all that psycho-babble mean. Here is a practical perspective:
Think of a continuum. At one end there is fear and the other desire.
First, the word fear. Words, like “fear and desire,”have been created to express, communicate what a person is experiencing. In terms of emotion, emotion is physical. Say for example, you walked down a hall and you “thought” you were all alone and out of the blue someone opens a door and walks out in front of you. Alerted, you say, “You scared me.” But how did you know you were “scared.” In this situation, mentally you were caught up in your thoughts of what you had to do, something out of the ordinary occurred, you absorbed the information through your senses and their connection to the thalamus deep in the lower center regions of your brain. This information was then passed onto limbic center and its regions such as the amygdala, hippocampus, and hypothalamus which in turn found the sensory information relevant to your survival instinct and sent it onto lower regions of the autonomic nervous system. Here, your sympathetic and parasympathetic (i.e., fight or flight) networks kicked in and the body was prepared to act, but of course, as you noticed, your actions, better put your emotional reaction were regulated by your perspectives. This process is what I meant by top down (i.e., higher cortical functioning such as thoughts) and bottom up (i.e., lower emotional functioning).
In keeping with the concept that emotion is physical, what about desire? In this case, you have been wanting a certain car, computer, house, and yes partner for quite some time, finally the opportunity is there for you, your heart starts to beat, your muscles contract, you feel the blood rush to your face, you are experience the same but different automatic nervous system response as you did when startled. The difference is in whether more of your sympathetic response is triggered over your parasympathetic response. Within the peripheral nervous system, these subdivides act as a negative feed back system much like a common thermostat. In terms of heat, you set a base level of not too cold not too hot. The temperature in the room dictates whether more or less heat is produced. Similar for the parasympathetic system. We all have a biopsychosocial threshold of arousal. When certain events trigger a stress response, either the sympathetic (emergency) or parasympathetic (nonemergcy) is excited. In a desirous response, the parasympathetic nervous system kick in and the body is prepared to act. Then as you start evaluating the situation through your higher cognitive functions, your thought, logic, and rational you become wanting. At the same time, the sympathetic nervous system is being influenced by your thoughts to either let the parasympathetic response continue or reduce its influence, hence negative feedback.
This interplay between fear and desire or sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system, as influence by your thoughts, results in what we call feelings. In this case, feeling are nothing more than thoughts about what we are emotionally thinking about. Given this, I can broaden my continuum as follows:
The fact of the matter is you cannot have hurt or frustrated feelings without hurtful or frustrated thoughts, you can however have emotion without thoughts.
So ask yourself, “What is my deepest fear?” Then ask yourself, “What is my deepest desire?” Then think about those emotions and identify the feelings that you trigger. Yes, you trigger, for all feelings are in your power of control through the validation or invalidation of your particular thoughts.
How does the MyDiscover Model for change differ from others in relations with emotional conflict? Well, start with the name: “MyDiscover.” From your perspective it very well could be “Your Discover.” Think, which statement makes better sense? Statement A: I want to ”discover” new knowledge that is in keeping with the fact that what I have done up to now has not worked for me, so I want to do things differently. Statement B: I want to “recover” old knowledge that is in keeping with the fact that what I have done up to now has not worked for me, so I want to do things differently. Of course statement A makes practical sense. Choosing statement B is impractical because it, the old knowledge is what lead the way for your life not working for you. In terms of framing a novel perspective on how you experience life, you need a unique perspective, a perspective not of lost power of control to change, rather embracing the opportunity to change and Select Emotional Alternatives Cognitive Application Processing (SEACAP) is that perspective.
Bear with me for a moment. SEACAP is the cognitive-social underpinning to the MyDiscover Model; call it it’s discipline in psychology. Practically speaking, “psychology” is the study of human behavior. In keeping with the cognitive-social discipline of psychology, behavior is defined as a patter of thinking, feeling, and action. SEACAP makes a distinction between Select Emotional Alternatives (fear and desire) and Cognitive Application Processing (thoughts and feelings). Cognitive Application Processing or applying thought to emotion influences emotion. Select Emotional Alternatives is just that, the alternation between fear and desire or the “survival response.” With this point made, the question was posed to me:
Can you live a life free of anger?
Can you live a life free of anger? At first response my answer would be yes, but then again it would all depend upon what your definition of anger was. If you are asking about the anger that most think of, like the loss of control in a stressful situation or situation of conflict then of course you can. If you asking about the visceral threat experienced in face of a perceived or real threat, then no. As in all feelings, they exist along a continuum of intensity as regulated, influenced by your perspectives of thought. If your perspectives are formulated around categorical imperatives like must, should, need, have to’s, then you will indeed experience the negative side of anger as a response, however if your perspectives were more fluid as preferences then you would be experiencing the positive side of an anger response. It is all in the perspective. Case in point, in cognitive psychology there is a well known idiom that states: “It is not what happens to me, rather how I respond to what happens that makes the difference.” The how you respond is through your perspectives of either needing or wanting to be.”
Let me digress for a moment and write of guilt. My hypothesis of guilt is: “Guilt is the thought of doing something wrong.” Thoughts trigger feelings, and when the thought/feeling cycle is so intense as to trigger the emotional interplay between fear and desire the result is guilt, why because of the experienced, or validated thoughts of doing something wrong. In this regard, to suggest that “the result is guilt” is not accurate thinking, for guilt is not an event, a product, or outcome to something, it is a fluid experience of feelings born of the threat to our survival instinct of fear and desire.
Now, consequences are outcomes, they are products to behavior. Once the outcome is experienced there really is nothing you can do, you eight surrendered or embraced power of control. And yet, when it comes to feelings there is a hole lot you can do because feelings are fluid and not products. For example, “I overwhelmed by guilt.” In this context, guilt would have to be a product, but it isn’t for the simple fact that it is your thoughts of doing something wrong that is influencing not producing the feelings.