Friday, October 15, 2010

A Look at Feelings: Part One

Fig. 1

Fig. 2

1. A subjective response to a person, thing or situation
2. An emotional state or reaction
3. The emotional side of someone's character,
emotional responses or tendencies to respond

There are a number of theories that have been proposed to describe and understand the nature of our feelings or emotions.

I think Richard Plutchick’s definition is one of the easiest to understand. His definition can be understood as more of a description of our emotions rather than an explanation of how our emotions work. Plutchik, an American psychologist, proposed that there is a basic set of emotions that all people experience. These emotions are a part of us and directly relate to our adaptive behavior that is designed to enhance our survival instincts, in the same way as the fight or flight response is designed to help us survive.

Plutchik's model is based on an emotion wheel with eight basic emotions, (see Fig. 1). Positive emotions are seen to have a positive impact on our health while negative emotions can make us feel ill. He suggests that we can experience a blend of emotions. These can be seen on the color wheel, which illustrates that emotions vary in their intensity, (see Fig. 2).

It seems to me, a majority of people experience feelings as black or white. For instance, if you’re not sad, you’re happy. I contend, for example, the opposite of love is not hate. The goal is: indifference. The ‘trick’ is how do I change my thinking to understand the ‘grey’ area between black and white and understand that this middle ground of feelings is both desirable and obtainable!

A drawback I find with Plutchik’s theory is that he provides little room for the cognitive thought process. Other studies, which have focused on the topic of emotions, believe this ‘grey’ area of emotional response to be an important component of the cognitive thought process. I support this type of integrative approach.

Enter, Stanley Schachter. He proposes that our environment, as well as, our thought process contribute to the type of emotional experiences we have in any situation. According to Schachter, we recognize the emotions we experience as coming from a number of interacting events. People must make an appraisal of the situation and then figure out which particular emotion(s) they are feeling. This process helps an individual appraise a situation, which in turn, affects the emotion(s) they experience.

Theories or no theories, the fact is we do have feelings.
I, for one, believe feelings do indeed interact with our thought process and subsequent actions. Therefore, feelings are vital to address in this context of Positive Adaptation.

More to come on feelings; how they serve us, what we can do to learn how to embrace them while at the same time, avoid letting them control us and/or our actions.

Until then...