“Those who know that the consensus of many
has sanctioned the conception that the earth remains at rest
in the middle of the heavens as its center,
would regard it as an insane pronouncement
if I made the opposite assertion that the earth moves.”
~ Nicolaus Copernicus
Before I present our new theory of emotion, let’s take a moment to tease out some of the assumptions and implications of the current paradigm.
EVENT → EMOTION → RESPONSE to the Event
An Event triggers an Emotion which in turn triggers a Response to the original event. This paradigm assumes that:
- EMOTIONS are caused by EVENTS and, by implication, our emotional state is a function of our circumstances.
- The purpose of our negative EMOTIONS is to move us into a predetermined RESPONSE to the EVENT.
- Our options, in responding to a negative
- Expressing this predetermined emotional response or
- Suppressing this predetermined emotional response.
Let’s look now at our new theory and its radically different assumptions regarding the cause and purpose of emotion.
NEED → EMOTION → ATTENTION to the Need
A NEED appears. This NEED gives rise to an Emotion. The EMOTION draws ATTENTION to the NEED. This paradigm assumes that:
- EMOTIONS are caused by NEEDS and, by implication, our emotional state is a function of what needs are up for us and whether or not we are attending to these needs. Negative emotions arise when we are not attending to a pressing need. The purpose of our negative EMOTIONS is to draw our ATTENTION to those needs of ours that are not getting the attention they deserve.
- Our options, in responding to a negative
- Attending to the pressing NEED (at which point, you will be in a state of choice regarding when and how to go about getting this need met) or
- Dismissing the pressing NEED and, (as we’ll see later), risk being compelled by “shadow” expressions of this NEED.
Let’s contrast these two theories in context of an example. Let’s say that you are home alone and your gaze falls upon a picture of a close friend. As you think back to some of the happy moments you have spent with your friend, you notice that you are feeling ‘lonely’.
According to the new paradigm, you feel ‘lonely’ because you have a need for ‘companionship’. Your loneliness was not caused by seeing the picture of your friend, rather the picture simply stimulated awareness of your unmet need for companionship. The feeling of loneliness is your body’s way of drawing your mind’s attention toward your need for companionship. Once there, you might decide to call your friend or, if she is not available, to call a different friend. Alternatively, you might go out to a nearby coffee shop or bar in search of companionship. You might even (as I have) find companionship by standing in grove of redwood trees. Once you recognize that you are needing companionship, a world of possibilities opens.
In contrast, if you are operating in the old paradigm, your possibilities are fairly limited. If you believe the picture is the cause of your loneliness, you can put the picture in a drawer (like that will work). If instead you believe that the absence of your friend is the cause of your loneliness, you can call or meet with them – except in the case that they are unavailable, in which case you are stuck.
My guess is that you already operate in the new paradigm much of the time. It is, as my daughter said to me after hearing this theory, “obvious once you see it” (but, as I pointed out, not obvious before). I chose ‘loneliness’ for this example because it is an emotion where the underlying need is relatively easy to see. But what of ‘anger’? What need is calling for your attention when you are experiencing anger (hint: it’s ALWAYS the same need)? What of anxiety, guilt and shame? People tend to have much more difficulty connecting to the needs behind these emotions.
In the posts that follow, I’ll reveal the needs behind these and other emotions and show you why, once you have connected to the needs underlying these emotions, these emotions cease to be problematic and, in fact, become great aids on the path to well-being and effectiveness.
Return to the HOME page to begin exploring these posts.
© Copyright 2009, Charles M. Jones. All rights reserved.