The Strange World of Emotion

Home Glossary List of Articles Abreaction A1 Emotion E1, E2 

Article E3 on Emotion

Identifying  Emotions

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Two Procedures

Identifying emotions is very difficult. And what complicates the difficulty even more is that a person experiences two emotions at once, one being from his or her present consciousness (what I usually call the surface consciousness) and one being from the subconscious mind. To these two we can add a third one that is often present as well, that being anxiety.

Note. Although emotions have their origin in the unconscious mind, they are used by both the surface consciousness and the subconscious mind.

Sub - Headings
Value of these Ideas

My procedure for identifying my surface emotions had to be different from the procedure that I used to identify my subconscious emotions. The reason for this was that my subconscious emotions were hidden from my normal state of awareness. I usually had to become familiar with my surface emotions before I had much chance of pinpointing my subconscious ones.

Surface emotions

To identify my surface emotions I read biographies and autobiographies. I would compare the reactions and motivations of the persons being described with my own reactions and motivations. Rather than try to identify many emotions at a time, I would pick just one and try to correlate responses that seemed to be relevant. I would try to pinpoint the emotion underlying dominant attitudes and beliefs in politics, religion, sexuality, morality, etc. I would puzzle over which emotion these responses sprang from. Then intuition would lead me eventually to the correct identification of that emotion. Then I would understand the various ways that that emotion could manifest itself. But each intuition had to be checked and cross-checked in order to remove occasional errors. Then I would correlate the intuition against my own experience. In this procedure, empiricism backed up my intuitions.

When using biographies and autobiographies for the purpose of identifying emotional responses, it is essential to read about outstanding people, irrespective of whether they are good or bad. Such people have their emotional responses accentuated in their own particular speciality – this gives a ‘sharp edge’ to their personality, and reduces the choice of possible emotions that may be influencing them.

Subconscious emotions

The procedure that I adopted to identify my subconscious emotions was to use a thesaurus or synonym dictionary. The subconscious mind would only let me get a vague approximation to what the present subconscious emotion was (after all, the contents of the subconscious mind are hidden ; easy identification is not to be expected). So I used the thesaurus to look up synonyms of the approximate emotion. An intuition would then enable me to pinpoint the exact emotion. In this procedure, my intuitions backed up my empiricism.

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Body symptoms and mental attitudes

Having identified an emotion I then looked for body symptoms and mental attitudes that are associated with that emotion. Once such correlations are found it becomes easy to determine my emotional responses when they are intense : I can identify the emotion direct, or indirectly through the symptom or attitude that is currently expressing itself. Low-intensity emotions can only be identified indirectly.

For example : my nose produced regular colds and catarrhs for most of my life, at any time of the year. By repeated observation I found that my left-side nostril produced a runny nose when I felt hate (usually as a mode of pride) ; the right-side nostril when I felt self-pity.

Other examples : resentment increases blood pressure and usually causes a headache on the left side of the brain, whilst fear causes a headache on the right side of the brain (when the resentment is very intense, the pain may be felt as a band of pain around the whole head). Bitterness causes a headache at the rear of the brain, in the area where the skull joins the neck. Pride is one of the causes of neck pain, in the cervical vertebrae furthest from the skull. [¹]

There is no short-cut to identifying emotions.
It is a long and hard process of becoming more and more aware of the influences that are associated with important beliefs, attitudes and behaviours (minor beliefs, attitudes and behaviours do not carry much emotional weight and so will be exceedingly hard to examine). Insight /intuition is needed. And the development of insight /intuition is a slow process, requiring perseverance and single-mindedness. [²]

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As an example of empiricism I give an analysis of the effects of two common food chemicals.


I use caffeine to illustrate the influence that mood has on the ingestion of drugs, particularly mood-changing ones. Contrary to popular belief caffeine does not give energy ; caffeine just makes the person use up their reserves. By experiment I found that the effect of it on the nervous system depends upon the psychological mood of the person at the time of drinking the tea or coffee or cola.

The intensity of the reactions above depends upon the amount of caffeine that is drunk and the intensity of the person’s mood. For myself, during the high-stress period of my psycho-analysis when pride (mode of hate) was intense then two cups of moderately strong tea would often generate incipient heart pain.

Vitamin C

The other food chemical that I experimented with was vitamin C. Many nutritionists consider that high level dosages (500 milligrams or more) of vitamin C are harmless. This is not my view. During my 30s and 40s my gums were always a problem: they were in poor condition, receding, and bled easily, often swelling up. This was in part a sensitivity to acid fruits and to vitamin C tablets. What confused me for a long time was that vitamin C is often recommended as a treatment for bleeding gums – but the more vitamin C that I took the more gum trouble I had. I found that drinking acid fruit juice upset my stomach and furred up my tongue. Apart from making my gums bleed, acid fruits and drinks and vitamin C (in excess of about 50 milligrams) affected my biting pressure: chewing became painful. Once, on holiday, I breakfasted solely on a half litre of grapefruit juice ; when lunchtime arrived I almost cried with pain as I chewed my salad.

By experiment I finally resolved my gum difficulty. If I took too much vitamin C (100 milligrams or more) the gums bled easily ; if my intake of vitamin C was insufficient then the gums became puffy and swollen, and my tongue became sensitive to the sharp edges of the teeth. A tomato a day was usually sufficient to keep my gums healthy, except in winter when I had to supplement it with the occasional vitamin C tablet (50 milligrams). Then once my gums improved I found that I could tolerate a higher level of vitamin C, up to 250 milligrams. Tomatoes remain the only citrus fruit that cause me no problem.

Therefore, high levels of vitamin C are only beneficial to the gums if the gums are already healthy. The poorer the condition of the gums, the smaller the dosage of vitamin C that is tolerated without harmful effects.

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The Value of these Ideas

What is the use in identifying emotions?  By being able to identify our emotions we can begin to acquire first-hand knowledge of the mind’s influence on the ego.

What is the value of identifying emotions?  This knowledge is essential if we want to understand the meaning of sorrow and mental pain. So this knowledge lays the groundwork for clearing confusion and self-deception from consciousness.

Once we can identify our range of emotions we can begin to investigate, directly through our experience (that is, by empiricism), questions concerning truth and falsehood, and questions concerning ethics. We will then find that our empirical experience will challenge all traditional attitudes to these questions. G.E. Moore summarised a certain perspective in philosophy derived from Immanuel Kant (Moore, 1903) :

"... just as, by reflection on our perceptual and sensory experience, we become aware of the distinction between truth and falsehood,

so it is by reflection on our experience of feeling and willing that we become aware of ethical distinctions."

By considering what perception and sensation mean "we may discover what properties the world must have, if it is to be true". So, too, by considering what feeling and willing mean "we may discover what properties the world must have, if it is to be good or beautiful ".

The way that I interpret this quotation is that the first kind of reflection develops self-consciousness, whereas the second kind of reflection develops a moral consciousness. [³]

More importantly for the therapeutic point of view, the identification of emotions enabled me to establish that the unconscious mind works in deterministic ways. Some emotions flow in invariable sequences – these sequences underlie the major problems that present themselves to consciousness during a psycho-analysis. In a long psycho-analysis, these sequences will bring into awareness intense states of resentment, bitterness and anger. 

The emotional sequences form part of the traditional concept of abreaction, which had not been clearly delineated till my investigations. The analysis of abreaction, and why it ends in resentment and bitterness, is the subject of five articles, beginning with Abreaction 1.


Emotions are just concepts which are energised by feelings.
The concept introduces the factor of mind and so each emotion has its own cluster of ideas associated with it. Once a person learns to identify their full range of major emotional responses, then they can use them to clear confusion from the traditional debates about truth and goodness.


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

[¹]. More body symptoms and mental attitudes are described in the article Psycho-Somatics, on my website Patterns of Confusion. [1]

[²]. In these articles on psychology I treat insight and intuition as equivalent terms. However, I separate them in my article Reason & Intuition on my website A Modern Thinker[2]

[³]. There is an additional comment to this view in the article Self-Awareness, section Value of These Ideas, on my website The Subconscious Mind[3]


Moore, G.E. Principia Ethica. Cambridge 1903. (sections 78-79).

Home List of  Articles Links Top of Page

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

Copyright © 2002 Ian Heath
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Ian Heath
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