GETTING CLEAR ON WHAT AN EMOTION IS – Meta Reflections 2013 #26

June 4, 2013

Emotional Mastery Series #1

Just this past week I presented the Seven Truths that we Speak to Emotions. In Neuro-Semantics, we present this when we work with the Crucible Change Model, the Meta-Stating Troubling Emotions pattern, the Emotional Mastery training, and various other trainings.  These ideas are also in numerous books, Unleashed, The Crucible, and Meta-States.  Several suggested that I present the material here on Neurons, hence this series.

Today talking about emotions and working with them have become much more acceptable and welcomed especially given that a new field has arisen in the past two decades- Emotional Intelligence or E.Q.  Today we recognize that leadership is emotional and requires emotional intelligence.  Today we know that business is emotional and that managers, customer service, even research and design requires emotional intelligence if a company is to produce products, services, and information that fit for customers.

Today also we know that there is a feel of a semantic meaning within the human mind-body system.  What is the feel of meaning?  It is an emotion. When you have an emotion, you are experiencing what a meaning feels like. And that’s because of what an emotion is and how it works.

Emotions- The Feel of Meaning

If we ask where and how does a person register the feel of his or her meanings, what is the answer?  The answer is that you and I feel “meaning” in our emotions.  That’s due to the first truth about emotions.

1) Emotions measure the map / territory difference; they are felt meanings.

What are your emotions saying about the map and the territory?

To have an emotion you have to have an internal map of understanding something, expecting something, believing something to be the case, and so on and then an experience in the world where you use your skills to act on your inner mental map.  What then happens results in an emotion.  If the balance between what you think (map) and what you experience (territory) is an emotion.  If the scale tips downward so that you are not getting what you want, expect, understand, you experience negative emotions: upset, stress, frustration, irritation, annoyance, fear, anger, loss, disappointment, etc. If the scale tips upward so that you are getting what you want, expect, and understand, you experience positive emotions: delight, joy, surprise, contentment, excitement, passion, love, empathy, compassion, etc.

If the scale tips down, your experience feels like it is violating your map. Your primary tool for navigating reality (your inner mental models of understanding, knowledge, belief, etc.) is called into question and so that is what “hurts.”  When we say that emotion or feeling hurts me, the feeling doesn’t hurt.  What’s been hurt is one’s sense of reality- due to one’s map being made wrong or inadequate.  Hence the negative emotions.  Something is wrong with our sense of the world.  And that’s why we don’t like it.  That’s why a negative emotion registers that inside us something is wrong with the world.  So like the brakes in a car, the negative emotions inhibit our neurological responses and moves us to “stop, look, and listen!”  Something is not right.

What’s not right could be our map.  What’s not right could be our skills in the experience.  So we can change our emotion by updating our map or up-skilling our skills.  And in this way we can change the emotion.

So the Neuro-Semantic definition of an emotion is this- an emotion is the difference between one’s mental map of the world and one’s experiences of the world or territory.

2)  Emotions are important as information signals.

Given that emotions indicate how our map is operating in the territory, emotions provide “signals” or “information” about how we are doing.  Are things going well according to our ideas, understandings, beliefs, intentions, etc.?  Or are things not going so well?  Positive emotions indicate the first, negative emotions the second.  But this system is a relative one.  It is relative to the accuracy and adequacy of our mental maps.  If our mental map of understanding and believing is off, our emotions will not register that.  It will only register whether our actions in the world are actualizing our hopes and dreams.

This explains why and how emotions can be false, wrong, and completely off-base.  If you expect that you will never make a mistake, fail, or be embarrassed and then you do make a mistake.  The emotions you experience will only tell you that you are not fulfilling your mental map, they will not tell that you have an erroneous map in the first place.

L. Michael Hall, Ph.D.