The Real Academia Española defines emotion as an “Intense and temporary alteration of mood, pleasant or unpleasant, that comes together with a certain somatic commotion”. Traditionally emotions are associated with a somatic situation, i.e., physical sensations that can come together or not with an image that the brain perceives in that precise moment or that it remembers. These memories can be conscious or unconscious and they are related to times when the brain was not completely formed, as it is the case with the time of delivery, but that frequently conditions our way of seeing the world and processing emotions.
Our perception of the circumstances is partly shaped by the culture and the memories, according to the classification the brain has made—“good” or “bad”—and their similarity with what the brain perceives at that particular moment. This will mostly determine the way we manage emotions. The significance of this mechanism is evidenced in the fact that for some persons a dog’s bark arouses pleasant emotions, whereas for others unpleasant sensations as a result of having had negative experiences with dogs during their childhood. All these memories and imagines determine progressively the way we react in different life situations.
Beliefs are an essential Factor in our Emotional State
Beliefs are too an essential factor in our emotional state. The greater risk of dying or becoming ill due to any of possible reasons is in a close relation with that what we believe or think of ourselves.
Two studies made with medicine students, one group in Harvard and the other one in the Duke University, evidenced the importance of our beliefs and emotions in our own health. The value and relevance of these studies reside in the fact that they were made with medicine students. It was a prospective cohort study in which the students were made a psychological profile. Their way of confronting the world in a positive or negative manner was observed over 40 years. After these four decades, statistics were made on what had happened to each of the two groups according to their belief systems. The pessimists looked at the world through dark glasses while the optimists were those that put their glasses off and saw the world in all its colours, which of course has a deep incidence on one’s health.
Optimists are established in life through a feeling of Self-Confidence
Optimists are established in life through a feeling of self-confidence, whereas pessimists are those who, as they trust neither themselves nor anything or anybody, feel themselves consequently as victims of themselves and others. Generally, people with a positive mind possess a relational pattern framed in an environment where they had an early adequate affective emotional support, as opposed to people with a negative vision who did not experienced such an environment and did not feel affection or love in critical moments of their life. Those who have a negative approach and have no confidence in life, seeing everything through dark glasses, have 4 times (400%) more risk of getting ill and of dying from any reason.
Normally psychology takes into account the events of life starting from the moment of birth. More modern psychology schools (transpersonal psychology, for instance) take into account the events occurring during pre-natal time and even before pregnancy, especially integrating the family and trans-generational dimensions.
Some authors go even further, as it is the case with Carl Jung who integrated in his therapy the concept of collective unconscious and the archetypes of the unconscious, stating that we are influenced not only by our own individual memories.
In oriental philosophy (as in Buddhism, for instance), they propose the existence of a human essence (soul) that exists even before birth: that which some refer to as ‘other lives’. In concordance with these criteria, those lives could influence our emotional responses to present issues and events. In these theories, a blocked emotion is sometimes nothing but a warning cry coming from the soul for us to pay more attention to some themes or situations, so as to be able to solve them in this life through meditational practices, compassion exercises, etc.
In the same way, in other millenary Oriental conceptions of the human being, such as the Chinese medicine and Ayurveda, among others, as well as in aboriginal traditions all around the world, the influence of the flow of the energy of the emotions is recognized and therapies that imply the moving of the energy are applied which can change emotional states. In millenary aboriginal traditions, initiation rituals are common where widened consciousness states are induced to facilitate the contact with the inner world, which reflects what Carl Jung described. These rites are applied to facilitate the release of energies and the easing of conflicts, so as to improve the emotional and physical status.
Certainly, thanks to science we have made a great progress in the field of health and healing. We are now able to know that a depression could be the consequence of hypothyroidism or a deficit in vitamins. In this way, some mental illnesses can be caused by a severe deficiency in vitamin B3. This can lead to dermatitis and digestive complications. On the other hand, alcohol abuse results in vitamin B1 deficiency which affects the brain and its way of processing emotions. Therefore, balancing our diet and avoiding environmental toxicity are key factors, too, in maintaining a brain that can manage emotions efficiently.
Even though the mechanistic vision of the human being and his brain has advanced emergency medicine and the symptomatic treatment of many mental illnesses, it is also true that it has reduced the possibility of exploring the inner world that is not external to the person and could give an answer to many kinds of emotional diseases which nowadays are symptomatically treated with drugs.
From the biological point of view, emotions serve as a thermometer to avoid or search for situations that are convenient from the biological and/or cultural standpoint. If when in a jungle we hear a lion’s roar, some emotions are normally activated in us which increase our heartbeat getting us ready to escape or attack. If our emotional response to this sonorous stimulus were neutral or relaxed, we would not activate the adequate neurological mechanisms to solve the task, and that—from the evolutionary viewpoint—would not be convenient.
Emotions are an accompanying or causing Factor in most Diseases
These ‘attack or escape’ instincts can be triggered in modern life by common everyday stimuli, such as driving our car along a busy street, being in a stressful situation at our job or with our family, feeling pressed by economic hardships, etc. Naturally, these instincts do not have the intensity of predator’s attack, but they last longer, among other reasons, due to our capacity to imagine future circumstances or remember past events. This is the reason why emotions are an accompanying of causing factor in most diseases; a fact stated in countless studies.
Speaking in informatics terms, it is as if culture were a software to which the hardware of the biological brain, in same cases, could not adapt. Culture evolves faster than biology can adapt itself in certain circumstances. Then, the question arises whether we should try to find the way of adapting ourselves completely to the exigencies of an industrialized society or precisely this stress is sending us a warning call to modify some cultural determinants that, among other things, are bringing about an ecological catastrophe and involve a wrong management of the economic resources.
How can we integrate all these visions in a practical manner without falling into fundamentalisms so as to be able to use the best of each vision of the world? This is exactly the idea of new emerging health trends that integrate complementary therapies, such as integrative medicine, neuroimmune endocrinology, holotropic breathwork of Stanislav Grof, psychosynthesis of Asagioli, tapping, and neuro-linguistic programming, to name a few.
In addition to the abovementioned alternatives and as an answer to that central question, there are other valuable tools to complement the conventional treatments of emotions, of which the following are worth taking into account:
- The work of Byron Katie
- Transcendental Meditation
- Different Yoga schools
More than 75 years of research of Harvard University on health and happiness
The psychology of the future will have to appreciate and comprehend biology, emotions, energy, geoenvironmental factors, nutrition and, as importantly, the soul as such, to be able to integrate the best of both the scientific discoveries and those of the mystics, so as to treat emotions more appropriately and efficiently.
It is clear that if therapists are sympathetic and loving enough, independently of the technique they use, they can help to improve the self-image of their patients and, in doing so, change radically the quality of their emotions and health.