“Many of our emotional responses can be traced back to our childhood, where they served a highly valuable function: to make sense out of the earthling experience. We may have found out, for example that we would get what we want, if we throw a temper tantrum. Or, the expression of anger may not have been allowed in our family and we learned to stuff it. Crying could then be a way to hopefully get our needs met, or depression may result from the unexpressed feelings.
On an evolutionary note, emotions in general serve as a feedback system, and along with our rational faculties, guide our decision making process. ‘Emergency emotions’ such as intense fear or anger originate in one of the older brain parts, the amygdala. The function of these feelings is to protect us, ensuring our survival: fear can prevent danger, and anger gives us the strength to defend ourselves.
Most of our emotional experience is greatly influenced by thought. We can process our feelings and decide on a course of action. However, there are those times when we become intensely ‘triggered,’ and it may seem as if our responses are completely out of control. (Daniel Goleman in his brilliant book Emotional Intelligence calls that ‘Emotional Hijacking’).
In the instance of an angry outburst a protective mechanism takes over. In that moment, the amygdala or emotional brain directs our action without first going through the thinking brain (neocortex). For cave humans this was an advantage – they could immediately react to danger. For us modernites reacting socially before we think can get us into serious trouble. However, our biology hasn’t changed that much in the last 10,000 years.
This is where emotional evolution comes in: we may not be able to change the parts of our brain, yet we hold the key to our personal development through awareness and choice. Evolution has become a conscious, self- directed process, up to you and I.
In case of an “Emotional Hijacking,” slow down the time between emotional trigger and response. When you notice you are getting worked up, do something – anything – to not respond right away: take a deep breath, go outside, hang up the phone – give yourself time to think about it. Chances are your results will be much more constructive.
The great work of personal evolution challenges us to bridge the gap between emotions and mind. We need to learn how to marry older and newer parts of our brain, valuing our emotions as much as our thoughts. It is through integration that mastery can be achieved.
For sunrise and sunset both announce the beginning of something new, one could not exist without the other. And who is to say that the sun dancing on the ocean waves is more beautiful than the exquisite elegance of moonlit silver in the night…”