Emotion is one of the least understood, and most complex of the human systems.
It wasn’t until the nineteen nineties that technology allowed us to even begin to understand how the emotional brain works. However, through a flurry of neuroscience research in the past two decades, we now understand a great deal about the emotional brain.
The Limbic System
For starters, emotions are created from the limbic system. This is a subcortical system that is deeply embedded in our brain. The limbic system produces most of our emotions as stimuli come in through the eyes, ears, nose, and touch, as well as thought.
Another thing we know is that the limbic system processes information faster than the neo-cortex (the outer region of our brain with all the squiggly lines that helps us reason, plan, and assign meaning to our experiences). Therefore, we usually have a feeling before we have a thought.
The next important thing to know is that your body is the best mechanism you have for understanding how you feel. Our feelings are first “felt” in the body, and then they are processed and understood cognitively. This means we can have a feeling without even knowing it and act on those feelings before we are conscious of having that feeling at all.
Blocking Our Feelings
Where the difficulty in understanding and controlling our feelings and emotions comes in, is that we often block our feelings, especially the painful ones. This is one of the ways we protect ourselves against painful emotions and thoughts.
However, these painful feelings can often be good for us. For example: if we lose someone close to us, and we feel the grief of their absence. Allowing ourselves to stay with this grief is healthy and adaptive, if not painful. It allows us to grieve for the loved one, while moving through the mourning process—it’s when we block the feeling that we get stuck.
Because of the painful emotion, we no longer want to hurt; therefore, we use defenses to prevent ourselves from hurting. This is a universal principle all over the world. We are born to reject pain, and enhance pleasure.
No one wants to feel bad. Yet when we do, we want it to end quickly. Understanding our feelings is the first step in being able to control our feelings and emotions. Taking time to check in with your body and get a “gut check” on what you’re feeling is one of the quickest ways to use your feelings to guide your actions and solve daily problems in living.
What to Do Next
Are you controlling your emotions or are your emotions controlling you? When your feelings become so strong that you can’t remember the last time you had a “normal” day, the smartest thing to do is to make an appointment with licensed Tulsa therapist Tom Philp. Request a counseling appointment online or call 918-398-7678.
- Tom Philp, LPC, NCC