The Mystery of the Emotions

The Mystery of the Emotions

Depositphotos_13777113_s-2015One of the puzzles of human ‘being’ is the uncontrollability of the emotions. The idea that the brain can just ‘will’ or ‘turn on or off’ the emotions is one of the delusions of the behaviourist/cognitivist construct. Why is it that some people have less fear than others? Why are some people less risk averse than others? Why do some people get uncontrollably angry? Why can’t humans just ‘self-regulate’ their emotions? Why do we cry when sad? Go to a funeral sometime and count the number of people wearing sunglasses.

You may hear some of these statements about the place that demonstrate the problem: ‘just wake up to yourself’, ‘stop crying’, ‘get a hold of yourself’, ‘don’t be anxious’, ‘you hurt my feelings’ and ‘stop being depressed’.

An emotion consists of an unconscious evaluation of a situation. Emotions move towards or away from something. This is why we call it an ‘e-motion’ and all learning is about movement. Our emotions direct learning. Emotions reveal the orientation of our unconscious, which of course cannot be controlled by will or some crazy neurological algorithm. The behaviourist nonsense now parading about Safety as neuroscience ( completely distorts the way in which embodied humans respond to ‘being-in-the-world’. Without emotions the world would be without meaning. Nothing would attract or repel us to act. All enactment is the result of an emotional movement. Without e-motion, there would be no living. Emotions could be better called ‘bodily affectivity’.

Our emotions are present at birth, well before the development of language or cognitive rationality. Babies ‘resonate’ with their mother’s smile and mother’s ‘resonate’ back. All humans ‘resonate’ with other humans through many gestures and expressions that take the form of semiotic language. We call this ‘inter-affectivity’. That is, we are all ‘affected’ by others because we are social beings. This complex process is the foundation of all empathy and understanding. The behaviourist idea that people can be ‘objective’ and disconnected from social context is nonsense.

Most emotions precede brain representation. That is, that decision making is made by the brain as computer that has to receive data, process it and give it representation before making a decision. Usually an emotion bursts in on the scene before one realizes (assesses and analyses) what’s going on. Emotions are not just ‘individual’ states within a person but are more often a ‘shared’ state in inter-bodily ‘affection’. That is, try as you might to will indifference, you will be affected emotionally by the emotions of others about you. This is why emotions are not controllable by individual ‘will’.

The idea of ‘will power’ is a delusion of cognitivism. Of course in Mental Health, depression is a loss of inter-affectivity. People with depression become ‘disconnected’ with the world and themselves, sometimes losing e-motion as ‘connection’ with others. Just as depression and anxiety are social constructs, so too is resilience ( ). The individualist/cognitivist construct of ‘pull yourself up by your boot straps’ doesn’t work. Similarly, one can’t just suppress an emotion through will power. Humans need supportive communities to escape from most human challenges including: addiction, mental health issues, fundamentalisms, loneliness and racism. And you won’t find ‘community’ through social media’. (Gabrielle Carlton’s work at Resilyence is based on this principle )

When things go well and someone is euphoric, the group becomes euphoric. When a cloud of depression comes over a few leaders and things unravel I’ve witnessed a whole organization drift into depression. Even as we witness the many defense mechanisms ( ) people exhibit unconsciously and daily we realize that many of the things we blame people for are not conscious. You will even hear the unconscious speak today when someone says: ‘you’re being defensive’, ‘no I’m not is the reply’.

What are the implications of this for safety?

1. We need to move away from individualist/behaviourist constructs that devalue the importance of the ‘social’ and ‘communal’ structures that provide identity, belonging and support. Unless the challenges of mental health are tackled through a asocial lens it is not likely that much will improve.

2. We need to drop the behaviourist nonsense that supposes disconnectedness as a good thing and start reshaping what we do through the lens of ‘being-together-in-the-world’. Eg. most incident investigations set up this notion of disconnectedness as beneficial making it impossible to ‘help’ in grave situations through pastoral care.

3. It would be helpful if safety people could step outside of the closed focus of the industry and step into a more transdisciplinary approach to understanding risk. I have no idea why we keep turning to regulators for vision in safety when their purpose mitigates against it.

4. Drop the safety slogan ‘safety starts with you’ and make it ‘safety starts with us’. Whilst you are at it, dump ‘safety is a choice you make’ and ‘all accidents are preventable’ or any other sloganistic rubbish that divides community.

5. Embrace an embodied sense of emotions and what constitutes ‘in-group’ and ‘out-groupness’. We need not be ‘afraid’ of emotions but rather need to understand the nature of the human unconscious much more.

6. Better understand social influence and how much of what we do is influenced by social dynamics ( ).

7. Start to investigate how things like: aesthetics, design, ‘somatic markers’, semiotics, place and space trigger emotions and uncontrolled decisions.

8. Make better use of expressions and gestures in the way we tackle risk.

9. Think more of the brain as a mediating organ and focus more on how the human ‘mind’ constructs ‘being-in-the-world’. This means dumping the mechanistic ideas and language in safety that suggest people can be controlled through behaviourism.

10. Start to give greater significance to connecting with the emotions of a group rather than thinking that safety is some kind of cognitive decision.

Dr Rob Long

Dr Rob Long

Expert in Social Psychology, Principal & Trainer at Human Dymensions
Dr Rob Long

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Dr Rob Long
PhD., MEd., MOH., BEd., BTh., Dip T., Dip Min., Cert IV TAA, MRMIA Rob is the founder of Human Dymensions and has extensive experience, qualifications and expertise across a range of sectors including government, education, corporate, industry and community sectors over 30 years. Rob has worked at all levels of the education and training sector including serving on various post graduate executive, post graduate supervision, post graduate course design and implementation programs.

5 Replies to “The Mystery of the Emotions”

  1. This is a great blog – I really enjoyed it. Perhaps I have guilt for not being able to control my emotions? What do you think of meta-cognition? My understanding of it is that the emotions come, but the idea is to recognize the emotion, stop, and rationally explore why you are having that emotion – maybe even verbalizing those thoughts, so you are not ‘controlled’ by the emotion. I recall a couple of years ago speaking to a group of peers, and I could totally ‘sense’ a problem – perhaps it was the lady looking at me with alligator eyes? But I pressed on with my point, was confronted by the alligator lady, and then found myself trying to flee the room – yes, I had such a strong flight reaction I tried to leave, but I was sitting in the middle row surrounded by others and couldn’t. I know that flight and fight responses can be psychological as well as physical, and I think neuroscience has helped us to establish that it is not just physical threats can trigger this response. I think of myself as an empath and totally can “feel” the mood of a group, but have trouble recognizing it and getting ahead of it, if you know what I mean.

  2. Thanks Suzanne. Unfortunately Safety through behaviourism has made the emotions the enemy. This is because it neither understands them and can’t understand them because this ideology turns humans into machines.

    Neither can Safety understand the human unconscious from such a worldview. So, under the construct of zero it blames humans for un-safety through all its silly behaviourist gestures and slogans.

    The idea that one can ‘control’ one’s emotions is a delusion of cognitivism and rationalism, both essential to the behaviourist paradigm, yes, we all have meta-cognition but this is not where we try to control the emotions.

    The trouble with the binary mindset is that it tries to separate the emotions off as the enemy of the self rather than accept emotions as embodied and integrated into the self. Emotions are not true enemy just as ‘fighting’ them is nonsense. The emotions are essential to the embodied self and intersubjectivity between humans.

    Your description of the room of people captures the fact that emotions are the key to social resonance. That feeling/emotion we have also resonates in others like an electrical charge, through mirror neutrons etc.

    So, where does this take us? Well, not very far in the Safety paradigm. Demonise the enemy and blame the human for doing things that don’t make rational sense. Creates its own special form of ignorance and blindness. And you guessed it, nothing changes.

    The current discourse of using neuroscience as behaviourism is an example of just how deeply this is ingrained in this industry.

  3. Bernard, there is s huge chasm between the quest for a scientific pathway to knowledge and the ideology of Scientism. The delusion of unbiased objectivisation is a special delusion of safety. The idea that my subjective experience can be objectivised and made applicable to others requires the most amazing religious-like gymnastics. Its how we end up with audits, inspections and investigations that masquerade as ‘objective’. Kuhn should be standard reading in any safety qualification of course it isn’t. Instead we end up will all these 5whys, 8steps, icams, taproots, bow ties etc that shut down critical thinking and create comfort in finding the outcome and blame someone wants.

  4. Maybe it’s why most civilised nations stopped the slippery slope to barbarism and legislated against capital punishment.

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