The analysis of emotions has been ineffectual up till now since they are very difficult to identify, except for a few such as fear and anger. Many years ago I began an intense psycho-analysis (which I did on my own). It took me five years of constant awareness to finally identify the range of emotions that I usually experience.
This article is the first of three on emotions.
The peculiarity of any particular emotion is that, whilst it is just an emotion, it is nevertheless intimately associated with specific mental attitudes and ideas that have become characteristic of that emotion. In general, I found that each emotion acts as a nucleus for pre-set ideas about the world. This fact gives rise to a notable phenomenon. As one emotion fades away and the next one is generated, so the ideas in a person’s mind automatically change : the fresh emotion brings with it its associated ideas.
A person is always experiencing some emotion at any time, since when the present emotion fades away so another emotion will take its place and be felt by him / her. No single emotional response can be permanent. When any emotion, such as anger, is experienced the person can stay angry only for some time; eventually the anger will fade away and a fresh emotion will arise.
Many people orientate on feeling responses to the world: an abundance of good feelings, and emotional satisfaction, become the criteria for a successful life. However, emotions present problems for the ego (which is just the personality). When emotions become intense they neutralise intellectual concerns. In fact, common negatively-valued emotions such as self-pity, fear, anxiety, as well as moods like depression, actually tend to inhibit rationality – in particular, intense anxiety seems to produce a mental fog in one’s mind, making it impossible to study.
Understanding the nature of emotions has profound implications for psycho- therapy. In this set of three articles I present my ideas on emotion. In the subsequent set of five articles on abreaction I focus on their relevance to psycho-therapy and the development of self-awareness.
Feelings are not the same as emotions. This fact is not clearly recognised, especially as definitions of them tend to be ambiguous and vague. Confusion often abounds in ideas and articles about them.
One area of confusion is that feelings are often loosely equated with emotions. This is all right for colloquial use. I can ask a friend how he is feeling today; it would be awkward to ask him how emotional he is being today. Some people might take offence if they were thought to be emotional, whereas it is acceptable for them to show feelings. However, there are fundamental differences between feelings and emotions.
There are a multitude of emotions, but only three feelings.
There are just three feelings : the pleasant one, the unpleasant one, and the neutral one. This is the Buddhist understanding and I verified this fact directly during the time when I used to practise meditation. In the past, some moral theorists believed that the neutral feeling is only an equal mixture of both pleasant and unpleasant feelings, so that the net effect is zero. But meditational awareness disproves this assumption.
The importance of feelings is that they help give rise to emotions, that is, the bases of all emotions are the three feelings.
Model of Emotions
Emotions are partly derived from feelings. To explain how this derivation occurs I use a model of consciousness that is a traditional one : consciousness has three modes, those of will, mind, and feeling. Past variations on this model substituted action for will, and emotion or sensibility for feelings. In this model I distinguish between consciousness and mind. Consciousness is the totality of the person, whilst mind is only one feature of it. However, my model has an innovative feature: the three modes are separate, but they interlock by the production of desires and emotions.
In this model, mind has two aspects, intelligence and intellect. Intelligence links to will and to feeling, and intellect is the source of abstraction. The former expresses the activity of the mind, whilst the latter is an indication of the degree of maturity of the mind. Mind is the key to consciousness. Mind, in fact, is the ‘cement’ that keeps all aspects of consciousness together. [¹]
Now the mind helps to produce desires and emotions. In this aspect of mind we use ideas or concepts.
I give definitions of desire and emotion that brings out their reliance on concepts.
Will is a pure striving, an undirected effort. When will is united with mind, it generates desire. Desire is the activity of will directed into a mental concept. The concept governs the use of will. The concept directs the will.
For example, will plus the concept ‘social status’ gives rise to the desire to achieve social status. Will plus the concept ‘fame’ gives rise to the desire for fame. Without the presence of desire it is very difficult to sustain the use of will; if a person tries to renounce desire then he / she is quite likely to become lethargic.
When feeling is united with mind, it generates emotion. Emotion is the activity of feeling directed into a mental concept. The feeling energises a conceptual response to a stimulus. Feelings are primarily either pleasant or unpleasant; rarely are they neutral. Hence there are two possible conceptual responses to any stimulus, which in turn leads to two possible emotional responses.
For example, feeling plus the concept ‘domination’ gives rise to the emotions of anger and fear: anger arises because the pleasant feeling makes domination of others acceptable to me, whereas the unpleasant feeling makes fear arise when I become subject to domination by others. For another example: feeling plus the concept ‘identity’ gives rise to the emotions of love and hate. Here the pleasant feeling makes a social identity acceptable to me, since I am the same as everyone else: identity produces love. The unpleasant feeling makes me reject a social identity – I prefer to be different and have an individual identity: difference produces hate.
The mental concept that is associated with an emotion actually creates the boundaries of that emotion. If the mental concept changes, the emotion does not change; instead, it fades away and a different emotion arises, one that fits the current mental concept. The mental concepts of emotions are not normally a part of our awareness. Emotions are not unique to any particular individual, so the mental concepts that underlie them come from the unconscious mind. Since the mental concepts are unconscious they are extremely difficult to identify. The mental concept is normally unconscious, so I call it an unconscious concept or an unconscious idea.
At this point I need to clarify my usage of two important terms.
I use the term ‘subconscious mind’ for what is personal to the individual, and the term ‘unconscious mind’ for what is general to humanity. [²]
An emotion is not unique to any particular individual, so the mental concept that underlies it comes from the unconscious mind.
Now an unconscious idea has two values : it is good or it is bad. The good value generates the pleasant feeling, the bad value the unpleasant feeling. This division leads to two choices. One choice gives rise to one emotion, the other choice to its complement.
In general, the definition of an emotion is that it is an unconscious idea powered by either a pleasant or an unpleasant feeling.
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Copyright © 2002 Ian Heath, owner of a map of psychological spirituality suitable for modern times.
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