What is it? How does it work? How can you recognize it in others? How can I change it? Do I experience mood because something happens in the world around me (circumstance), or can I take control of my emotional reality and preselect my emotional states?
Emotion is associated with mood, temperament, personality, and disposition. The English word is derived from the Latin ‘movere;’ to move out. The word ‘motivation’ comes from the same base word. Emotions are mental and physiological states associated with a wide variety of feelings, thoughts, and behavior. The experience of emotion is a subjective experience that is determined from the point of view of the individual and has a bio-chemical and hormonal component. In this article, I want to discuss a few areas that are relevant to NLP or Neuro Linguistic Programming and what we can pay attention to in recognizing emotion and how that is useful.
In my NLP based A-I-S-B model for how a new behavior occurs, Attitude, Intention, State, and Behavior need to be aligned for action to occur. Attitude is a catch-all term referring to our basic programming including Values, Beliefs and Belief Systems, and Attitudes. Some models use the word Criteria in place of Attitude. Intention, in the AISB Model, is about choosing a direction. We decide we ‘want to.’ State is the sum of the emotional and physiological factors and can be described as ‘energy to.’ Still nothing happens until you ‘take action.’ By definition, ‘emotion’ is involved in several parts of this model and these can be correlated with specific areas of brain and nervous system activity. An hierarchy of brain and nervous system structures are activated and more or less in a particular order. Nothing happens until critical areas are activated and corresponding chemistry is contributing to effect of taking action.
Charles Darwin wrote a book, The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals in 1872. His book is a remarkably clear classification of emotional states into valence and intensity. Valence in Darwin’s model involves the 6-7 primary emotions including; happiness, surprise, disgust, contempt, anger, fear, and sadness. Intensity can be easily perceived by most people and expressed in percentages. On the happiness scale, a person exhibiting levels at 10%, 30%, 70% and 90% happiness will all look slightly different to observers when viewing facial cues. Darwin also postulated that facial expressions for basic emotions are universal. They are recognized across cultures.
Recent attention has been brought to recognizing emotion in others due to the work of Psychology Professor, Paul Eckman, PhD and the subsequent television drama program, Lie To Me. Dr. Eckman lists 7 basic emotions, anger, sadness, fear, surprise, disgust, contempt, and happiness. Dr. Eckman showed pictures of facial expressions to people in the US, Japan, Argentina, Chile, and Brazil and concluded that all these cultures judged emotion the same way. Even pictures of people culturally isolated from television and other influences were readily understandable to observers viewing photos. Emotions not only work inside out but they also work outside in. When people make facial movements that mimic expressions, they begin to feel the corresponding emotion.
In 1980, Robert Plutchik created a wheel of emotions including eight basic emotions and their opposites. These are Joy/Sadness, Trust/Distrust, Fear/Anger, and Surprise/Anticipation and their opposites. He also lists advanced emotions that combine states. Basic emotions lead to more complex emotions. Optimism is anticipation and joy combined. The opposite is Disappointment. Love is joy and trust. It’s opposite is Remorse. Submission is trust and fear. The opposite is Contempt. Awe is fear and surprise. The opposite is Aggressiveness. Disappointment is surprise and sadness. The opposite is Optimism. Remorse is sadness and disgust. The opposite is Love. Contempt is disgust and anger. The opposite is Submission. Aggressiveness is anger and anticipation. And the opposite of Aggressiveness is Awe.
In research literature, emotions can be divided between ‘cognitive’ (non-instinctual processed mainly in the ‘prefrontal cortex’ of the brain) and ‘non-cognitive’ theories (instinctual driven by the amygdale). Brain scientists say there are four (4) primary brain structures thought to be involved in emotion. The Amygdala orchestrates emotion. The Striatum interacts to create cognitive control over emotion in the prefrontal cortex, and finally the dopamine/amino acid system of the brain and body. In addictions to substances like cocaine, alcohol, etc., the action of the substance high-jacks the dopamine pleasure and reward system so that people want to get the effects of the drug at the cost of having a productive life. Dr. Eckman analyzed video of people who exhibited micro-burst facial movements lasting less than a full second. These micro-burst movements were of such short duration that most people would not have been able to detect the fleeting expression, but some other emotions seem to last over long periods of time and classification is difficult.
One skill that NLP coaching practitioners want to teach to their clients is the experience of being able to change negative emotions. Most people walk around believing that emotions just happen to them and therefore they are in one mood or another. NLP practitioners challenge this idea and further promote the concept that we can plan to be in empowered states much more of the time. When we can change our ‘base’ or ‘steady state,’ we experience having happier, more productive lives. The pattern below is simple and effective. You will have to put yourself fully into the exercise by accessing a couple of specific events from your life. Remember, no one else has your experience. You are an expert at being you and no one can do it like you do.
This pattern assumes that guilt is a negative emotion and has little or no positive purpose. If you think guilt helps you know right from wrong, aren’t there lots of ways to tell right from wrong without having the negative feelings in your body from guilt. That couldn’t be very good for you, could it? Here’s the exercise:
1. Access a time when you felt guilty about something. Remember a specific time when something happened that caused you to feel guilt or remorse. Pick a event with a specific beginning and ending; not the one that started with “I was born.” Notice how you feel and where you feel it in your body as soon as you remember the moment and feeling.
2. Great! Break state. Shake your arms and shoulders and focus on some objects in the room or other surroundings.
3. Now, access a good time, a happy time, before the ‘guilt’ event had ever even happened. Go back as far as you need to and find a specific moment that was a good time, happy time, at least a few hours, day, months or years before the other event ever even happened now. Be in that event feeling good and stay there for a few moments and notice: “Where is the guilt?” It should be gone completely or significantly reduced. If this occurred you are done with this step so go to the next step 4. If not, you probably didn’t follow the directions. Leave the guilt event in the past and then go back even farther. You may not have gone far enough back to find a specific good time, happy time and just be in the good time, happy time feeling great. Again, staying in the earlier moment, “where is the guilt?” It should be gone or significantly reduced.
4. Now, jump up over the past events and bring those good feelings to the present. Experience those good feelings in the present. Doesn’t that feel good?
5. Now break state again. Be in the present looking at some objects in your field of view.
6. Now, when you think of the thing that used to bring up the guilt feelings, notice that is doesn’t feel that way anymore or is so significantly reduced and it will continue to feel differently into the future. You can check it an hour from now, and again 4-5 hours from now and again tomorrow and the next day, and it will be gone or significantly reduced. Notice that you have learned to change your negative feelings.