The Affliction of Emotions

We have no problem in recognizing, or staking claim to the fact that we are highly evolved thinking beings (our conscious cognitive state) who also possess a strong free will (our conscious volitional state), both of which take significant time to develop.  What we severely underestimate and often fail to recognize, to our detriment, is the strength and influence of our innate emotions (our affective state of consciousness), which is there from birth.

Given that we are social beings and that our emotions are both innate and the primary motivators of our lives, the question arises, “How do we, our emotions, a situation, and other people merge together in one instant of time to result in a particular emotional episode?”

Part of the answer, I think, lies in a more fundamental question, “How do our innate emotions get carried along during our development into thinking, free-willed individuals, and then get expressed when we later behave in “particular” ways in various circumstances?”

Working with an earlier concept that describes the main factors in the progress of our development,

An inherited Genotype (Nature) + Environment + Triggers (Nurture, Events) + Chance + Choices (free will) determine our expressed Phenotype (who we are),

I propose combining the primary universal emotionsidentified by Edman in Emotions Revealed, into a hypothetical answer to the question.  Before getting to the result, some simple explanations might be useful:

Nature– refers to the biological/genetic “predispositions” we are born with and their impact on our human traits.  This is where we begin: our DNA, genes, genotype, and what is genetically endowed to us.  Among other things, it defines a temperament, including some level of each of the 14 primary emotions.

Nurture– describes the impact of learning and other influences from one’s Environment. These are the external factors that influence who we develop into through some of the actors below.  Nurture acts on Nature’s temperament to develop personality through both positive and negative events and environments.  It also generates conditions where we would share/experience emotions with or against others.  The actors are,

  • Family, which strongly influences personality more or less by imposition (Regression to the Cultural Mean)
  • Friends, Others, and Events. Their influence is primarily acquired but could be imposed
  • Opponents, who would have a negative emotional influence

The net effect of Nature and Nurture is the creation, development and maintenance of our Comfort Bubble – our preferred circumstances, situation, and/or Cultural Environment that provide safety and positive emotional situations and/or a defense against negative emotional situations.

A Person– You and me, as individuals who experience our temperament, personality, and values developing by broad and varied influences from both Nature and Nurture.  Our emotional activity, these fast automatic and potentially cascading appraisals, are run by a subconscious Affect Program that can be either,

  • Open – learning, engaging, or
  • Closed – which can then be either
    • Isolating (a Flight reaction), or
    • Confronting (a Fight reaction)

Affirmation– this, honestly, is the basic human need for received emotional support or encouragement that results in a positive emotional feeling about ourselves.  (“Affirmation” here is a family of related desires of varying strength, including esteem, respect, recognition, etc., usually received from external sources (received external validation), while self-respect and self-esteem are learned and felt directly (self-validation).)  Affirmation can also come indirectly through Altruism where one serves others or has a giving nature, or through ControlControl appears to be expressed in two ways: the first is neutral or potentially negative in its influence on others, and the other as purely negative.  In the negative mode it appears we are primarily observing the taking of external validation behaviors,

  • Power Over others, or
  • Denigrating others

In seeking to find an answer to the earlier more fundamental question, combining the universal emotions with a description of our development into thinking, free-willed individuals seems appropriate.  Simplifying our development statement as follows,

Nature plus Nurture form a Person who chooses to seek Affirmation through Behavior,

and then asking how the 14 emotions might be expressed or developed in various scenarios, results in a 2 dimensional chart.  It looks like this (click here to open a new tab, then click on the chart to enlarge, click again to be able to scroll),

I decided that positive emotions towards the top should be green and negative ones, going down the bottom, red.  These “assessments” are based on both Ekman and personal experiences.  (You can also think of green for constructive growth upward, and red for blood spilled from destructive behaviors.  Just a thought…)

I made some assumptions, and am still processing how valid these may be:

Nature, through our genes, is assumed to endow all the emotions with equal probability (the left column in the chart).  Once temperament begins to be expressed, differing emotional profiles can then be seen.

Environments are more complex and have multiple components,

Family is assumed to influence the development of positive emotions more often (or at least it should), although there is ample evidence that negative emotions and events are also experienced.  After all, none of us is perfect.

Friends are assumed primarily to influence positive emotions, i.e., that’s what friends are for.

Others and Events are more or less neutral and could influence both positive and negative emotions depending upon the circumstances.

Opponents, by definition, influence negative emotions not positive ones (except perhaps when you defeat one).

A person will develop, experience, and respond to situations from their Comfort Bubble (see above).  Emotional triggers arise from both within and without our Bubbles, and the type of Affect program that helped to define our Comfort Bubble will influence these responses,

An Open Affect Program, with which we will gravitate toward positive emotional experiences (and learn to avoid negative ones), or

A Closed Affect Program.  We could choose to be Isolating (Flight response: avoiding either extremes), or be Confronting or Destructive (Fight response). This latter response seems to be more adept at creating or experiencing negative emotions (until the person wins).

Ways that Affirmation can be received include,

Altruism, referring to those apparent “selfless” acts that to an extent benefit ourselves not materially but by providing positive emotional experiences indirectly through serving others (received external validation).  Recall that there’s always a bit of “Self” in everything we do (here).

Since the so-called negative emotions are not always experienced as unpleasant (here), it is not surprising that Controlling personalities, at least by broad experience, appear to experience some measure of internal positive emotions by exercising/expressing outward control over others, or in a more extreme case, denigrating others (taken external validation).  Overall, this is surely a Negative Sum behavior.

Some Generalities

Looking at “general” trends on the chart (granting that it is my hypothetical creation but based on other’s research and years of personal experience), the following seem to be a pattern:

  • Positive emotions and experiences (ecstasy, joy, happiness, wonder, contentment) tend to be developed or significantly reinforced in environments with family, friends, and positive events (towards the upper left of the chart in various sections). This is not to say that family environments are all and always positive (realistically, how many family members are integral members of your own Comfort Bubble?).
  • The negative emotions and experiences (agony, fear, contempt, anger, and disgust) tend to be developed or be significantly reinforced in environments with opponents (actors) or negative events (circumstances) (towards the lower right of the chart in various sections). Here again it is unfortunate to remark that sometimes family situations fall into one or both of these two categories.
  • A person with an Open Affect Program (more able to control their emotions) seems generally to experience positive emotions and experiences more often. (And yes, we experience the immediate negative experience of failure, but generally extract the long-term positive experience of something learned.  But it takes work.)
  • A person with a Closed Affect Program can either be Isolating and have a Flight response, in which case they probably would consider the relief of escape to be very positive… or Confronting and/or Destructive (the Fight response). In the latter case it appears that while negative emotions prevail in their expression, the unexpected revelation that experiencing these may actually be positive if not unpleasant must also be considered.
  • And that brings us to received Affirmation. With some thought I think it can be agreed that people who are in some way giving, who can at times practice an Altruistic attitude, can indeed benefit with positive emotional experiences indifferent to any material benefit (received external validation).  The oddity in the pattern is that Affirmation for controlling people appears to come through their power over others, or even worse, through their denigration of others (taken external validation).  In the latter case the negative emotions of contempt, anger, and disgust stand out.

It has been said that just before we die, as our physical abilities and consciousness fade, the emotions still remain.  They are there at the beginning, and they are the last to pass.

In between, we have a choice.  Either we succumb to this ever-present “affliction” and let our emotions control our lives, or we can minimize the “affliction” by learning to recognize and manage them and turn them into a strength.  Some “learnable” patterns and lessons emerge from the chart above.  The next question is, “Can, or will we choose to learn the lessons and apply them?”

We’ll look at some current observable consequences of both choices in the next post.

About Jim Edmonds

I am a husband, father, mentor, who once was a chemist turned physicist turned marketer turned executive turned missionary turned professor. And survived it all.
This entry was posted in 00: Bubbles, 04: Games People Play, 05: People, 08: Observing, Listening, Learning, 11: Growth, 12: Character, 13: Values & Self, 14: Behavior, 16: Culture, 17: Choice, Gap Theory and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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