what we were taught about emotions - the myth

Emotions and reason are intertwined, and both are critical to problem-solving. – Damasio, 1977.

How does the family we were raised with affect our emotions? Our family affects our emotions in two ways. First of all, if they treat us as if we are important, we belong and we are precious, we develop a bright view of ourselves. Conversely, if they treat us as if we are insignificant and are in the way, we will develop a dim view of ourselves. This view of ourselves determines our general emotional state. It has been shown that people who are not well treated as children suffer more from depressions, phobias, anxieties and the like. And, secondly, the way they model their own emotions determine how we choose, on a subconscious level, to model and manage our emotions.

The way we are treated by our family, mainly our mother and father or our guardians, determines whether our basic emotional needs are adequately met. And the degree to which our first emotional needs are met determines how we feel and how we respond to, and behave in the world at large. These ways are the strongest learning that is laid down in our minds and in our bodies. How we interpret our world determines the way we respond to it emotionally. So, it is worth a deeper look at this area of our lives to help us understand ourselves as we are now. In order for us to develop into healthy, mature adults we need love as children and infants. The love we need is first shown by being fed when we are hungry, made warm when we feel cold, made dry when we are wet, and held and related to. We need to be held and interacted with. We need to be cooed to and spoken to and rocked and cuddled. We need to be actively loved. We need to be smiled to. Research has shown that if these needs as infants are not met sufficiently, we die.

John Bowlby, a researcher in the area of attachment, has done studies in orphanages that shows a high death rate among children who are not shown physical affection. There have been many studies of institutionalized children who have been deprived of normal contact of being picked up and cuddled, rocked, sung to, interacted with. They could not sit or walk at the usual ages. There was an increase susceptibility to disease. There was a much higher death rate from SIDS and illness. In short their physical, emotional and cognitive development were severely impaired.

The emotion and action of love is more important than we suspect.

Now, what happens when these needs are met but not enough to grow into healthy, mature adults? We develop into adults with a strong unmet emotional need to be loved. Those needs then drive our behaviour, usually subconsciously, to act in unhealthy ways to get our need for love met. The behaviour can range from a small degree of manipulation of other people to sexual or relationship addiction. When we feel like we have no control over what we do, you can be sure there is an unmet emotional need at play.

Our family also serves as our model on how to express and manage our emotions. If we were raised in a family that honours their emotions, expresses them when they arise and manages them in ways that will be healthy for themselves and for others, we will also do the same. Or if we were raised in a family that doesn’t discuss emotions, uses a lot of energy hiding them, and then have the emotions come out in behaviours that are manipulative and dishonouring to ourselves and others, be sure we will do the same.

The first scenario makes our lives easy, because then we don’t have to learn the skills of healthy emotional honesty and management in our adult years. We were lucky as children to have this modelled to us and then it becomes an automatic way of moving ourselves through the world.

Conversely, in the second scenario, it also becomes an automatic way of moving ourselves through the world, but it becomes an impediment to us. We behave in ways that are unhealthy for ourselves and for others and causes all kinds of hardship. In this scenario, if we wish to have a better life, one with less suffering, we need to understand, on a conscious level, how to get our needs met and how to manage and express our emotions. Then we need to find and implement new ways of behaving that move us to healthier ways of expressing and managing our emotions. Eventually, with consistent application, these new ways will become automatic and permanent changes that will have taken place to better our lives. Hiring a professional coach with a specialty in this area is a prudent and results-oriented way to accomplish these goals. Other resources include books, websites, audio tapes, video tapes, psychotherapy and workshops....

(an excerpt from Chapter 2 of
Honouring Your Emotions - Why It Matters
by Johanna Vanderpol)

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