Anatomy of an Emotion
Have you ever stopped to try to understand yourself and your emotions?
Whether or not you are aware of it or have given it much thought, and no matter how much credit you give yourself for being reasonable, rational and pragmatic, your emotions are a visible, or sometimes invisible, part of your every experience, perception, and action.
Even though we think an analytical mind grasps the whole picture, in reality, the analytical mind only touches the surface of who we are.
As I contemplated writing about this topic, I asked myself, “What can I teach you about emotions?” After more than 30 years working as a psychotherapist, I am not, and do not want to be the expert on you! Rather, I aspire to give you the tools and insights you need to work toward being your own expert, on yourself.
What is an emotion?
We have all experienced emotion. Sometimes we have no idea our emotions are there but we experience the fallout when they come forth like a surprise volcanic eruption. At other times, we have some awareness of our emotions but do not know how to deal with them.
If we have not grown up in a household or culture that promotes emotional intelligence, we might navigate the minefield of emotions with a combination of projection, distraction, and resistance, taking refuge in analysis or rumination. The high road, learning to understand, assimilate, and then express our emotions constructively can be achieved by gaining awareness of our inner wounds, which are the main cause of our negative emotions. By working toward healing and the transformation of our deep-seated emotions, we can start to navigate more consciously and intentionally with our own emotions. We learn to express them more constructively. We can turn an emotional minefield into an enriching and healing path for ourselves and our loved ones.
Our emotions come from what Sri Aurobindo, the great Indian sage, calls the vital consciousness. In his model, the vital consciousness has four levels:
The vital mind – thought, words or other means of expressing emotions, desires, passions, sensations and other movements of the vital self.
The vital (emotional) self – the seat of diverse emotions such as love, joy and, hatred.
The central vital – the heart of vital desires and stronger reactions such as ambition, pride, the quest for glory, attraction, repulsion, passion.
The lower vital – It distracts us with the petty desires and sentiments that fill our daily lives such as the desires for food, sex, the little things we like and don’t like, disputes, attention seeking, the anger we feel when we feel that someone has criticized us and countless other little things that take up a lot of space.
Our emotions are an internal force that naturally emote from within us to outside of us. Emotions are dynamic by nature and can be an expression of both our vital and psychic (soul) nature.
Now take a moment to describe your emotional state as if you were a meteorologist. For example, “Today’s forecast is stormy with a chance of floods.” or “Sunny and cool.”
Why should we talk about our emotions?
We are exposed to countless emotional stimuli every day in television, music, and advertising. Media can easily evoke desired emotions in us in order to get us to subscribe to certain ideas or sell us products that we don’t really need. Emotional awareness can help us discern and maintain our right to choose our actions and opinions consciously.
When observed with objectivity, they can give us insights into who we are and how we function. We can understand our strengths, which come in the form of positive emotions and positive responses to difficult situations. We can also gain insights into our weaknesses and shortcomings and work toward greater self-awareness and self-mastery.
What role do our emotions play in our personal development?
Awareness of our functional and dysfunctional emotional dynamics is an invitation to heal, harmonize, and finally master our emotions. As we gain more understanding, self-compassion and emotional intelligence, we gain a more in-depth understanding of who we are. We naturally develop the ability to navigate consciously, constructively, and with clarity in our personal and even our professional relationships.
Do you have your emotions or do they have you?
Mindful awareness, journaling, self-introspection, and psychotherapy are useful means of developing emotional awareness and mastery. Untethered emotions lead to untethered lives. This leads to expending energy in emotion-driven thinking or even emotional outbursts with ourselves or our entourage. Emotions can scatter our focus, make us lose our clarity or change our perception of everyday situations. Our emotions, when unchecked, can scatter us, dominate us, and even take us over temporarily until the bubble bursts. On the positive side, our emotions can lead us to extreme highs.
How can I master my emotions?
As we become conscious of our emotions and our emotional dynamics, we build objectivity and self-understanding that leads to emotional mastery. I am not talking about exerting force onto our emotions but about going or seeing beyond the emotion, getting in touch with our core by either seeing our emotions objectively or by going through the emotion to the other side. This is done with ‘effortless effort’ and cannot be achieved by traditional effort.
We may easily be able to see and navigate with clarity situations with less emotional charge but when a zinger comes up, we can unwittingly lose our way and identify with the emotion and the ‘storyline’ that provoked the emotion such as: “He/she said/did this to me...” Looking outside at the storyline about what happened to us will never lead to resolution. Why? Because we cannot do anything about what has already been done. By focusing on the past, we render ourselves powerless. Standing outside of the storyline and looking inwards at the emotion in its raw state – without identifying with the emotion – is the key to regaining our peace of mind. Once we have identified and processed the emotion that is triggered, we can then choose, or not, to discuss the issue with concerned parties. When we confront others in a state that is charged with negative emotion, we are more likely than not to make messes. But when we have processed our emotions and confront with greater inner mastery, it is more likely that we can engage in a constructive and even healing dialogue.
What role do emotions play in our spiritual life?
Spirituality is not religion. Although, it is ideally the inner light of each religion. I define spirituality as our relationship with the divine spark that dwells within each living being.
The wisdom inherent at the core of many of the world’s religions teaches us to go beyond our emotions. Our human emotions prevent us from discerning and seeing clearly. For example, in the yogic path we are taught to transcend our emotions and master them so that they come to a place of balance and do not dominate or distort our thinking.
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Margot Borden has been working internationally as a psychotherapist since 1986 and has a long-term dedication to personal and professional exploration of the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual aspects of human consciousness. Margot is also an author, international speaker and seminar facilitator, adjunct professor, and coach. She offers both in-person psychotherapy, as well as online counseling, in both English and French. Based in Mumbai, Paris, and Scottsdale, AZ, Margot works with clients in Europe, India, Australia, and the United States.
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