What emotions are for

On the right are some photos taken by Duchenne du Boulogne in the 1850s. Both the man and the woman
have facial nerve damage which rendered them insensitive to the electrical probes attached to their heads. What the photos show is that it is possible to produce artificial smiles by stimulating certain facial muscles. Charles Darwin, in his book on Emotions, used this as evidence that human being are programmed by evolution to produce emotional signals automatically, through the nervous system.

Yet neither the man nor the woman are actually laughing, as is shown by the fact (if you look closely) that, in the man’s case his eyes are not smiling, while in the woman’s case only one side of the face is smiling.

You can’t fake emotions. Nor can you will them. Emotions surprise us because we can’t control them. And they are outside your conscious control for a very good reason.

The reason is that Bodymind (your emotional intelligence) uses emotions to signal that something unexpected has occurred and that there is something you need to do about it.

Joy, for example, tells you that things are going better than you hoped. Your body is telling you to carry on doing exactly the same as you were before (or even more of it) to get the same result. That’s especially important feedback when you are having sex with someone!

Emotions are also predictions. They tell you what is likely to happen next if you do not take further action. For example, if your Body creates an anger signal it is telling you that you (and/or the people you care about) are going to be exploited some more if you don’t assert your rights.

Here is a rough guide to what the other emotions are telling us, what they predict will happen next, and what Bodymind wants us to do about it.

  • Fear. You are under threat. You may fail/get hurt/or be rejected by other people. You now need to take evasive action and take steps to regain control and confidence.
  • Awe. You are in the presence of the divine. You are about to learn something important. You need to open up to new connections and powerful inspirations.
  • Sadness. You have lost something or someone you loved. You will remain lonely unless you do something. You are now required to reconnect to other human beings.
  • Disgust. You are being confronted with something repellent to your sense of what is proper. You could be harmed by dangerous people, animals or foodstuff. You need to distance yourself from the offender.
  • Shame. You have let yourself or other people down. You are at risk of damaging some relationships that are important to to you. You now need to make amends to other people.

Note: all emotions are positive in the same way that happiness/pleasure/joy are. They are all there to push us towards either protecting ourselves, becoming more profound, more honest, more balanced, or more fulfilled. There is no such thing as a ‘negative’ emotion.

Notice, also, that worry, resentment, guilt and anxiety are not emotions but mental states. I will write up more about these other states of mind in a later post. I will also be writing more soon about what intuitions, gut feels and hunches tell us about the world we live in.

3 thoughts on “What emotions are for

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