The Strange World of Emotion

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Article E1 on Emotion

The Nature of Emotion

This is the first of three articles on Emotion.
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The analysis of emotions has been ineffectual up till now since they are very difficult to identify, except for a few such as fear and anger. Many years ago I began an intense psycho-analysis (which I did on my own). It took me five years of constant awareness to finally identify the range of emotions that I usually experience.

The peculiarity of any particular emotion is that, whilst it is just an emotion, it is nevertheless intimately associated with specific mental attitudes and ideas that have become characteristic of that emotion.

Sub - Headings
Model of Emotions
Unconscious Ideas 1
Influence of Value
Table 1
Unconscious Ideas 2
Table 2

In general, I found that each emotion acts as a nucleus for pre-set ideas about the world. This fact gives rise to a notable phenomenon. As one emotion fades away and the next one is generated, so the ideas in a person’s mind automatically change : the fresh emotion brings with it its associated ideas.

A person is always experiencing some emotion at any time, since when the present emotion fades away so another emotion will take its place and be felt by him /her. No single emotional response can be permanent. When any emotion, such as anger, is experienced the person can stay angry only for some time ; eventually the anger will fade away and a fresh emotion will arise.

Many people orientate on feeling responses to the world: an abundance of good feelings, and emotional satisfaction, become the criteria for a successful life. However, emotions present problems for the ego (which is just the personality). When emotions become intense they neutralise intellectual concerns. In fact, common negatively-valued emotions such as self-pity, fear, anxiety, as well as moods like depression, actually tend to inhibit rationality – in particular, intense anxiety seems to produce a mental fog in one’s mind, making it impossible to study.

Understanding the nature of emotions has profound implications for psycho- therapy. In this set of three articles I present my ideas on emotion. In the subsequent set of five articles on abreaction I focus on their relevance to psycho-therapy and the development of self-awareness.

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Feelings are not the same as emotions. This fact is not clearly recognised, especially as definitions of them tend to be ambiguous and vague. Confusion often abounds in ideas and articles about them.

One area of confusion is that feelings are often loosely equated with emotions. This is all right for colloquial use. I can ask a friend how he is feeling today ; it would be awkward to ask him how emotional he is being today. Some people might take offence if they were thought to be emotional, whereas it is acceptable for them to show feelings. However, there are fundamental differences between feelings and emotions. 

There are a multitude of emotions, but only three feelings.

There are just three feelings : the pleasant one, the unpleasant one, and the neutral one. This is the Buddhist understanding and I verified this fact directly during the time when I used to practise meditation. In the past, some moral theorists believed that the neutral feeling is only an equal mixture of both pleasant and unpleasant feelings, so that the net effect is zero. But meditational awareness disproves this assumption.

The importance of feelings is that they help give rise to emotions, that is, the bases of all emotions are the three feelings.

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Model of Emotions

Emotions are partly derived from feelings. To explain how this derivation occurs I use a model of consciousness that is a traditional one:

consciousness has three modes ; those are  will (or will power), mind, and feeling

Past variations on this model substituted action for will, and emotion or sensibility for feelings. 

In this model, I distinguish between consciousness and mind. Consciousness is the totality of the person, whilst mind is only one feature of it. However, my model has an innovative feature: the three modes are separate, but they interlock by the production of desires and emotions.

In this model, mind has two aspects: intelligence and intellect. Intelligence links to will and to feeling, and intellect is the source of abstraction. 

Mind is the key to consciousness. Mind, in fact, is the ‘cement’ that keeps all aspects of consciousness together. [¹]

Now the mind, in its aspect of intelligence, helps to produce desires and emotions. In this aspect of mind we use ideas or concepts.

I give definitions of desire and emotion that brings out their reliance on concepts.

Will is a pure striving, an undirected effort. When will is united with mind, it generates desire.

For example, will plus the concept ‘social status’ gives rise to the desire to achieve social status. Will plus the concept ‘fame’ gives rise to the desire for fame. Without the presence of desire it is very difficult to sustain the use of will ; if a person tries to renounce desire then he /she is quite likely to become lethargic.

Feeling unites with mind to generate emotion.

Feelings are primarily either pleasant or unpleasant ; rarely are they neutral. Hence there are two possible conceptual responses to any stimulus, which in turn leads to two possible emotional responses.

For example, feeling plus the concept ‘domination’ gives rise to the emotions of anger and fear : anger arises because the pleasant feeling makes domination of others acceptable to me, whereas the unpleasant feeling makes fear arise when I become subject to domination by others.

For another example: feeling plus the concept ‘identity’ gives rise to the emotions of love and hate. Here the pleasant feeling makes a social identity acceptable to me, since I am the same as everyone else: identity produces love. The unpleasant feeling makes me reject a social identity – I prefer to be different and have an individual identity: difference produces hate.

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Unconscious Ideas 1

The mental concept that is associated with an emotion actually creates the boundaries of that emotion. If the mental concept changes, the emotion does not change ; instead, it fades away and a different emotion arises, one that fits the current mental concept. The mental concepts of emotions are not normally a part of our awareness. Emotions are not unique to any particular individual, so the mental concepts that underlie them come from the unconscious mind. Since the mental concepts are unconscious they are extremely difficult to identify. The mental concept is normally unconscious, so I call it an unconscious concept or an unconscious idea. [ I first came across the term "unconscious idea" from my study of Freud's writings].

At this point I need to clarify my usage of two important terms.

I use the term ‘subconscious mind ’ for what is personal to the individual,
and the term ‘unconscious mind ’ for what is general to humanity. [²]

An emotion is not unique to any particular individual, so the mental concept that underlies it comes from the unconscious mind.

Now an unconscious idea has two values : it is good or it is bad. The good value generates the pleasant feeling, the bad value the unpleasant feeling. This division leads to two choices. One choice gives rise to one emotion, the other choice to its complement.

In general, the definition of an emotion is that it is an unconscious idea powered by either a pleasant or an unpleasant feeling.

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Influence of  Value

No feeling is permanent. There is a constant oscillation between the positive and negative feelings. Emotions are constantly changing, in part because feelings change, and in part due to the constant stream of ideas that flow in the unconscious mind. At the conscious and subconscious levels of mind we can focus on an unconscious idea and use it to pursue a trend or theme about something that interests us at that moment. Hence we can make an emotion last whilst we follow that trend.

The difference between the flow of ideas at the conscious and subconscious levels is mainly related to the issue of change. The conscious flow is easy to change, especially when we are in social company, but the subconscious flow seems to have a life of its own and is highly resistant to conscious attempts to change it. In social company or if we are idealistic we can give preference to our conscious ideas, and hence control our conscious emotional response. But on our own, without the influence of idealism, the subconscious mind usually exerts priority in emotional response. If the conscious mind is not dominant, that is, if we do not value what we are doing at any particular moment, then the subconscious mind is dominant (and so we may become subject to uncontrollable moods).

As I show below, emotions can be grouped into complementary pairs. I call these pairs ‘binaries’. A few lines above I used two examples of binary emotions. I paired anger and fear together, and then love and hate together. Another binary is vanity and self-pity. What determines the choice of either emotion in a pair ?  For example, what governs a person, at a particular moment, in their selection of either anger or fear as their response to something? The choice is not a random one. The choice revolves around the dominating influence of value.

We put a value on emotional experience. By either liking or disliking things, relationships, situations, etc we put a value on them. At any particular moment we may either like or dislike something ; but this liking and disliking can take many forms.

For example, the way that we like that something may lead us to choose between anger, love or vanity as our response. Anger allows us to dominate the situation ; love enables us to harmonise with other people ; vanity lets us feel important. The way that we dislike it may focus on fear, hate or self-pity. So if our desire to dominate is uppermost then we choose anger, whereas if our desire to avoid being dominated is stronger then we choose fear.

So at any particular moment we are focusing on a trend of thought, with a relevant emotion being experienced. Then there is some change in the situation that needs an emotional response from us. Sometimes we can consciously choose our response, particularly if the situation is a pleasant one. But more often than not we act subconsciously. The value that we place on the situation at that moment determines which emotion will be felt. For example, if we are feeling discontented, we will place little positive value on our present experience ; then when we have to respond to something we are more likely to choose some form of hostile or fearful response.

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As well as putting value on our situations, we also put value on our thoughts and ideas. Now an unconscious idea has two values : it is good or it is bad. The good value is supported by the pleasant feeling, the bad value by the unpleasant feeling. This division leads to two choices. One choice gives rise to one emotion, the other choice to its complement. Hence emotions can be grouped into complementary pairs, or binaries.

In general then, if we are free-wheeling in our thoughts, we can let our emotions be positive or negative according to whether the feeling is positive or negative. Otherwise, by placing value on our experience, we can generate positive or negative emotions as we choose. However, the generation of a positive emotion is often difficult if the feeling that is current is the negative one, and vice versa.

The unconscious idea enables all emotions to be arranged in pairs of complementary opposites. 

The one exception is that the neutral feeling is unique, it is not part of a binary. It is the basis of equanimity, the ability to be unaffected by any kind of stress. Equanimity should not be confused with indifference or even peace ; indifference is a protective mechanism of withdrawal from responsibility and is underpinned by fear, whilst peace is achieved by repressing internal conflict (that is, conflict that is within the mind of a person).

In psychological language, equanimity is the state of mind which denotes the absence of projection and introjection. When a person uses the mechanisms of projection and introjection, they are making value judgements about the characteristics of other people that they admire or dislike. When they cease making such value judgements, they thereby cease to desire anything of a personal nature. [³]

I list some emotions which are binary to each other :

fear - anger
love - hate
jealousy - narcissism
pride - guilt
vanity - self-pity
resentment - bitterness

Some emotions have an additional complexity : they are compound and consist of two simpler emotions (these two emotions are factors of the compound emotion). The factors do not exert their influence simultaneously ; only one is dominant at any particular time. I use the term ‘mode’ to indicate which factor is being dominant at that time, that is, to indicate the manner in which the compound emotion is being experienced.

For example, guilt comprises the two simpler emotions of self-pity and self-hate. So when the self-pity factor is being dominant, I describe this as experiencing guilt (in the mode of self-pity). Similarly, when the self-hate factor is being dominant, this is guilt (in the mode of self-hate).

I list some compound emotions and then I give a table of unconscious ideas that determine emotions.

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Table 1. Compound Emotions

Guilt = self-pity + self-hate.
Pride = vanity + hatred of other people.>

Narcissism = love + vanity.
Jealousy = love + self-pity.

Resentment = guilt + idealism.
Bitterness = pride + idealism

Repentance = regret + guilt (mode of self-pity).
Sadness = regret + jealousy (mode of self-pity).

Paranoia = fear + pride (mode of vanity).
Anxiety = fear + vanity.

In the compound emotions of guilt, pride, narcissism, and jealousy, only one mode is felt at any one time – they are never experienced simultaneously. For example, guilt is felt as either self-pity or as self-hate.

How do I know that some emotions are compound ones?   Guilt was the first one that I identified. Once I learned to detect guilt by empirical awareness I became puzzled by the fact that it seemed to exhibit contrary impressions : it seemed to give rise to two different kinds of response. Then I realised that this difficulty could be explained by postulating that guilt consisted of two factors. It then became an empirical task to see if I could detect these two separate factors – and I did.

Now guilt equals self-pity plus self-hate. This arrangement of the two emotions within guilt has three other possible combinations, by taking the binaries of self-pity and self-hate (that is, vanity and love). So if my factorisation of guilt was correct then three other compound emotions should also exist, with their factors being:

self-pity + love
vanity + love
vanity + hate

Eventually I realised through intuition that these compound emotions represented jealousy, narcissism, and pride. Then again I empirically verified that my theorising was correct. The hallmark of a compound emotion is that it produces ambiguous responses ; the ambiguity always falls into two categories, thus indicating that two factors are present and need to be separated.

For example, in sadness there is sorrow (from the regret) plus a sweetness (from the jealousy). When the jealousy factor is highlighted, then I always find that sadness is a lovely emotion in which I often like to linger, whereas the sorrow element makes sadness unpleasant.

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Unconscious Ideas 2

Now I turn to unconscious ideas. Deriving them was not easy. Some emotions occur three times ; for example, self-pity occurs on its own, as a mode of jealousy, and as a mode of guilt, and each one produces a different response. To work out the underlying idea, the overall theme or motif of the emotion needs to be considered, that is, what the emotion is trying to express. Also, in a compound emotion, one unconscious idea needs to be harmonious with the other one. Below are the results that I derived.

I use the word ‘implies’ to indicate the central idea that determines a particular emotion. These ideas are focused on relationships. When a relationship is not the issue, then different responses may occur. For example, the vanity mode of pride, when applied to crafts, produces the satisfaction of doing good work.

Table 2.  Unconscious Ideas

The motif of guilt and pride is punishment / humiliation
Guilt is self-punishment
self-pity mode implies life is punishment.
self-hate mode implies I deserve punishment.

Pride is punishment / humiliation of other people.
vanity mode implies you are inferior to me.
hate mode implies I despise you / I will punish you.

The motif of jealousy and narcissism is responsibility
Jealousy is social responsibility.
self-pity mode implies I need a reward (from other people).
love mode implies I reward other people.

Narcissism is self-responsibility.
vanity mode implies I will do it my way.
love mode implies I do not depend on anyone.

The motif of self-pity and vanity is help
Self-pity implies I need help.
Vanity implies I do not need any help.

The motif of anger and fear is domination
Anger implies I need to dominate other people
Fear implies the world is dominating me.

The motif of love and hate is identity
Love implies I am the same as everyone else.
Hate implies I am different from everyone else.

The motif of resentment and bitterness is disgust
Resentment implies people are repulsive.
Bitterness implies life is repulsive.

The motif of paranoia is the betrayal of trust
Paranoia implies I trust no one.

The motif of anxiety is a sense of oppression by one’s conscience or by other people
fear mode implies do as you are told / control yourself.
vanity mode implies I am uneasy in the presence of other people.

Depression arises from self-pity ; there are three forms of the latter, so there are three forms of the former.
The most common type arises from jealousy (mode of self-pity) and is the depressive stage of manic depression (also known as bipolar disorder). Guilt-based depression (or ‘endogenous ’ depression) has its source in the infant’s traumatic experience of parental relationships and represents a response to the feeling of being rejected. Depression that arises from self-pity may be seen in political refugees denied asylum, and in anyone who is a victim of injustice. [4]

The motif of manic depression is victimisation
depression mode implies I am a victim.
mania mode implies I help victims.

The motif of guilt-based depression is self-denigration
Depression implies I am a sinner.

The motif of depression based on self-pity is equity or fairness
Depression implies there is no equity, no fairness in life.

End Note

These ideas enable me to state how motivation is usually handled by the subconscious mind.

Subconscious motivation usually means the influence of the current subconscious mood and its associated ideas.

By dwelling on an associated idea, an emotion becomes prolonged into a mood. Since moods change frequently, this form of motivation is short-term. Long-term subconscious motivation requires a subconscious desire, but unless this desire is powered by idealism it is likely to be much weaker as an influence on the ego than any mood.

The specific mental attitudes and ideas that have become characteristic of each emotion are the subject of the next article: Emotion 2.

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The number in brackets at the end of each reference takes you back to the paragraph that featured it. The addresses of my websites are on the Links page.

[¹]. A comparison of the differences between intelligence and intellect is outlined in an article Reverie and Dreams on my website The Subconscious Mind. [1]

[²]. The use of these terms is illustrated in the article Characteristics of a Psycho-analysis, section Levels of the Mind, on my website The Subconscious Mind. [2]

[³]. To understand the ideas of projection and introjection, and how they form a mental loop, read the article Projection & Introjection. [3]

[4]. I analyse depression in detail in the article Depression & Autism & other states of despair, on my website Patterns of  Confusion. [4]

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The articles in this section are :

Emotion 1.  The basic model + a table of unconscious ideas

Emotion 2.  Characteristics of  emotions

Emotion 3.  Identifying emotions

The copyright is mine, and the articles are free to use. They can be reproduced anywhere,
so long as the source is acknowledged.

Copyright © 2002 Ian Heath
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Ian Heath
London, UK

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