a new way of understanding emotions

Chris Legg

Emotions – a new understanding (at least to me)

I have written that recently my understanding of what emotions are has grown – or maybe, rather, shrunk…

My understanding has grown simplified.

I think that our emotions are largely our heart and soul communicating with our bodies, especially

I have written more about this part of it… here

The basic is:

Anxiety (root is probably “fear”) – something is wrong and needs to be fixed – bend all energy towards figuring out what it is.

Enthusiasm (root is “happy”) – there is no immediate need evident for energy, so it can be “wasted”.

Depression (root is “sad”) – isolate withdraw to protect – pull back… hoard energy for what is to come

I have a new question I am working on…

I wonder how many emotions there really are?  I wonder if they might be understood better as just a few emotions, but with many various expressions along continuum.

I am not sure what I think of it yet myself.  So, I am posting it here for comments

I haven’t worked out the details yet, but I imagine when and if I do, I will come to the conclusions that there are only a handful of base emotions and that each of those then exist in a continuum of strength…


anger exists as the base – it might run from the extremes of:

<–Disappointment…irritation…frustration…anger…bitterness…rage…wrath –>

see what I mean (these aren’t that well thought out, but just meant to show the point)…

<–Concern…insecurity…anxiety…Fear…panic…horror…terror –>

<– Relaxed…upbeat…happy…excited…ecstatic –>

see what I mean?

Think in terms of the nurse asking you to rate pain 1-10.

or you could say…

<– irritating…uncomfortable…hurts…painful…awful…excruciating –>

If pain is an actual baseline emotion… see what I mean?  Like colors of the visible light spectrum – only there are essentially limitless colors along the continuum.

if the baseline is 5, but you are feeling 10, it is better to say 10, not 5, so we have words to indicate the difference.

When it comes to pure emotion, I actually wonder if these are the only base emotions – happy, sad, angry… pain is a maybe that I am still thinking about pain.  Is the emotional experience just an expression of the physical pain or is it actually an expression of fear?  Is emotional pain really the emotion of hoping to not to feel more pain?

I hope to hear feedback on this – are there more “baseline” emotions?  Am I limiting it too much?

It is important to note that one advanced understanding that can come from this is the challenges that it creates in communicating with one another.

If each person has a different pain tolerance – and they do… and thus would also have a different anger, fear, happiness tolerance, so to speak.  That would be my assumption.

so, when people tell you what they are feeling it is always subjective and very personal.

think about more somatic feelings (like pain) or cold:

<– Nippy…chilly…cold…frigid…freezing –>

I have a wonderful wife who uses, by habit, stronger words than I do, for example.

If you and I are going to Dairy Queen, she will ask, “are you excited!!?”

Internally, I would say “no, happy maybe… looking forward to it… but not excited.”

She meets with a friend and is super-excited!  Unless you have a large check for me or something, I am typically only “glad to see you.”

She is regularly “freezing” or “absolutely starving” or “completely exhausted.”

By the way, hers is by far the more common way of communication in the U.S.  And probably I do it as well in other ways that I am unaware of.

It can make communication a challenge.  If she uses a word it doesn’t intuitively mean the same thing to me… it can create confusion.

…but it can cause other problems too.  The reason?  Our bodies respond to our language.  If I use the word “upset” or “disappointed” we have a different physiological response to the situation.

If you come home, slam down my bag and say “Staff meeting was terrible!” then you will actually have much stronger physical response… as if your body believes you that it was like being trapped on a plane with Al Quaeda (which would be actual “terror”).

There is more about the effects of this issue in the article about emotions and REBT(rational emotive behavioral therapy).