Emotions – do they control us or do we control them?

Why is it that we can get stuck in a bad mood for what feels like forever but find it hard to stay in a good mood? Why is it that emotions have such a huge impact on our lives? What even are emotions? The truth is, no one really knows. Science answers ‘how’ questions and philosophy answers ‘why’ questions, only it seems no one from either field has really worked out what emotions are. Except we know that there are two types of emotions: ones that connect us with life and ones that disconnect us from life.

There is a lot of debate on whether or not emotions have any quantitative properties and if the phrase ‘on the same wavelength’ has any truth to it. We know that emotions are a hormonal reaction to different stimulus but the thing is, stimulus is different for different people depending on the upbringing a person has as different upbringings create different emotional triggers.

For example, two or more people who experience the same stimulus will have a different emotional reaction to one another. One person might feel personally threatened due to learnings from previous life experiences but another person might not have learned those lessons and therefore won’t have the same emotional triggers and reactions.

What’s got me thinking is if two people can have a different reaction to the same stimulus, why can’t one person have different reactions to the same stimulus? Well, you can and I think a lot of people would agree when talking about something like public speaking, something that is an emotional trigger for a lot of people. If people can overcome their initial negative emotional response and train themselves to have a positive emotional response, why can’t we do so with everything?

The James-Lange theory suggests that when you see an external stimulus, that leads to a physiological reaction (sweaty palms, racing heart, lump in throat, etc.) and then your emotional reaction is dependent upon how you interpret those physical reactions. (i.e. ‘I’m trembling and my heart is racing, I must be scared.’). However, the Cannon-Bard theory disagrees with this and says that the psychological and physiological symptoms of emotion occur simultaneously so one cannot cause the other. There are other theories but I feel that the ones I’ve listed have the most relevance.

Whichever comes first doesn’t really matter, what matters is the fact that the emotion is interpreted by the individual experiencing it but what does it mean when the person can’t identify the emotion? Does that mean they choose what the emotion is? What does that even mean???

Ecstatic happiness, being in love, depression, fear, etc. All of these emotions need immense energy and attention to exist but if you don’t give them energy or attention, you won’t feel them or at least not as strongly. In a previous blog post I wrote about emotional numbness and how you can suppress emotions and how it’s not a good idea to do so, that instead you should acknowledge what emotion you’re feeling and what’s causing it. This is sort of how you can choose which emotion you let yourself feel. By acknowledging whether an emotion is ego based or authentic, you can determine if it will connect or disconnect you to your life and whether or not you want to give it attention.

I wanted to speak more about the science behind this but I’ve had to admit to myself that I don’t know enough on the subject yet. I could let this get me down because I didn’t get to actually write about what I wanted to but instead I’m excited because it means that I get to learn about it!!!!!

“…for there is nothing good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” – William Shakespeare

Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.” – Charles R. Swindoll

My point is, it’s natural to have a negative reaction to a negative situation or a positive reaction to a positive situation but wouldn’t it make more sense to have a positive reaction to every situation? By realising that situations are always neutral and that it’s your perception on the situation that gives it meaning, you give yourself complete power over your happiness and that’s how to have a truly happy life. You choose the kind of chemical reaction you allow yourself to feel in response to whatever stimulus. Just from acknowledging an emotion and being honest with yourself about where it’s coming from, you can literally choose which emotions come, go and stay.

You can retrain your brain!

Until next time.

Namaste xo

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