Developmental Psychology, Psychology

Part 3 : How to be an Adult? : Emotional Thinking!

Life is impossible without emotions. We make decisions based on whether we are happy, sad, angry, anxious, or frustrated. We choose activities based on the emotions that they incite. Therefore, understanding emotions is one of the most essential elements of a high-performing adult.

What are Emotions?

Emotion is one type of effect. It can be understood as either states or as processes. When understood as a state (like being angry or afraid), an emotion is a type of mental state that interacts with other mental states and causes certain behaviours. Understood as a process, it is useful to divide emotion into two parts – perception of stimuli and bodily response, for example, changes in heart rate, and facial expression.

Renowned emotion psychologist and anthropologist Paul Eckman, along with numerous researchers, agreed on 5 primary emotions –

  1. Anger : When we feel mentally or physically blocked
  2. Sadness : When we lose something valuable
  3. Fear : When our safety or wellness is threatened
  4. Disgust : When we face something toxic or unpleasant
  5. Enjoyment : When we feel novelty or comfort

In later years, Eckman introduced other basic emotions to this list, such as, embarrassment, surprise, excitement, contempt, shame , pride and amusement. We have all experienced these emotions in various situations in our lives and it has impacted our thinking.

Emotional Thinking : The two-faced Janus!

We usually draw a sharp line between reason and emotion, assuming that emotions interfere with rationality and have nothing to contribute to good reasoning. In his bestseller book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman has elaborated 2 systems of thought in the complex human brain. The fast thinking system is emotional (unconscious) and the slow (deliberate) system of thought is the calculating, logical brain. And the idea that scientific (rational) thought is independent of emotional thinking is false.

Emotional thinking is fast thinking, helping us in quick decision-making using our ‘gut-feeling’, but it is not always the right thinking. One of the most baffling psychological problems is to acutely feel the reality of something without its having any basis in fact.

  1. In your relationship, you struggle mightily with feelings of jealousy. You can’t resist accusing your partner of infidelity
  2. You feel stupid, so you’re convinced you must be dumb, regardless of the fact that your grades in school were as good as (or better than!) others
  3. You feel lonely so you’re compelled to deduce that no one cares about you, and that you are unlovable

I knew it wasn’t too important but it made me sad anyway.

J.D. Salinger

Unchecked emotional thinking can distort realities to confirm ‘assumptions’ and thus, validating disproportionate emotional reactions. Cognitive Behaviour Therapists would encourage to avoid acting on these erroneous supposition that your feelings deserve to be appreciated as facts. You’d be instructed to, “scientifically,” put your unverified assumptions to the empirical test. But does emotional thinking really come from a matured adult mind or is it the inner child?

Can you trust your emotions?

Conventional Cognitive Behavioural Therapy remedies do not go deep enough to coalesce the adult reactions with awareness of the inner child, and therefore they often fail to identify the root cause. As we age we assume that we have left the naive, unsophisticated child far behind but we are often mistaken. Emotional reactions are triggering of an automated self-program that was written in your childhood. Isolated and fragmented, these ‘pieces of code’ remain frozen in time, refusing to mature with you, instead staying behind to caution you in case you came across anything ‘similar’ ever again.

  1. Incident of neglect or abandonment
  2. Incident of domestic violence
  3. Parents castigating the child as a ‘burden’ or a ‘mistake’

Unexpressed emotion will never die. They are buried alive and will return forth later in uglier ways.

Sigmund Frued

It’s your still unhealed child self—who suffered the hurt of not feeling wanted, valued, or accepted so it must be you yourself (i.e., the adult you) that reaches out to that much younger, suspicious part.  Can you empathize with that child, validate its “reasonable” doubts, sympathize with its fears, and only then attempt to convince it—with evidence beyond its years—that its biases (though totally understandable) no longer jibe with reality.

5 Steps to emotional adulthood : Revise the narrative!

  1. Create an environment and conditions for emotional safety – Express yourself freely!
  2. Validate your emotions and fears. It is an important part of you!
  3. Practise self-awareness – Become mindful of your emotional triggers and reactions!
  4. Use a meta-perspective in an emotional situation – Take a helicopter view!
  5. Seek therapy, as needed – Ego State therapy, Lifespan integration, Inner bonding, etc

Emotions are complex and their expression are social signals that affect almost all facets of our work as well as personal lives. It is imperative for a high-performing adult to develop cognition towards emotional intelligence to have a happier life.

Tell me, how are you improving your emotional thinking?

2 thoughts on “Part 3 : How to be an Adult? : Emotional Thinking!”

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