Emotions are very useful physical molecules
Have you noticed how much attention is given to the word “emotion” in the media, in many forms, from advertisement, to subliminal mentioning in political speeches, to tv series and movies, newspaper articles, etc. etc.? Love, hate, sadness, happiness, disgust, fear….All these words seem to have a strong impact on our mind and heart…rate.
If in an article or advertisement one slips a word identifying an emotion, or its subsequent feeling, like for example love, and attach it to an object, let’s say a diamond, we have an instinctual subconscious connection between that emotion and that object. So the diamond becomes the emotion itself, objectivises it, represents it, so that without it there is no love. That is exactly how the most famous diamond producer did several decades ago when he invented such a connection, so that many millions of women and men fell in this ‘promise-of-love’ attestation. A simple trick to the brain.
Beside this manipulative use of emotions, we do need them and need to face them in order to understand their message and follow their suggestive direction for our benefit, a mechanism developed in eons of man’s evolutionary history.
Emotions are at the core of the intellectual thinking, as neuroscientists and psychologists agree in recognizing by now (Damasio, 1994). Emotions are at the basis of our decision making process. Therefore emotions are extremely useful.
We are not angry because we are evil, but anger is actually an emotion that helps us redefine our space, our boundaries in respect to others who might have crossed them (McLaren, 2013). Sadness and grief exist so that we go through the process of acceptance and detachment – without losing the memory - from a beloved one (or animal or thing) who is not with us anymore… And so on for all emotions.
Emotions always suggest an action, as their etymology indicates: e- motion, to move towards, to act, to do. We feel joy and happiness, because we want (and need) to stay and keep doing what we are doing to maintain that condition. Fear makes us run or freeze and hide in front of real or often imagined danger.
Emotions exist physically, they are chemical messages (neurotransmitters or hormones or neuropeptides or simply peptides = small proteins, to use a more general term) carried through the body to dictate a response. Such is the purpose of adrenaline and cortisol produced by the adrenals in a situation of fear or anxiety: they make us run, move, save energy from digestion and pump blood to the muscles and so on. Endorphins, our inner pleasure peptides, send a message of wellbeing and joy, for example when we do some physical activity (runner’s high), so that we keep doing it because it is beneficial to us for other reasons (improved blood flow, sweating, regularizing heartbeat, increasing breathing capacity to name a few). Oxytocin, the hormone or peptide of love, is released by the brain to create a strong connection between the mother and the child through specific behaviours.
Such messages or information molecules are released from the brain, as well as from other organs of the body like the intestine, the pancreas, the kidneys, the heart, the immune system cells (1) and so on. They are then carried through the blood or through nerves, to reach all parts of our body. On the surface of the cells we find receptors, or lock-in recognizing mechanisms, that connect to these floating molecules and respond to them with molecular modifications that in the end lead to behavioural changes.
What triggers their release is a physical signal (sensation) coming from the 5 senses. The message reaches specific nodal points throughout the nervous system, where the information is processed, filtered, prioritized and biased to cause specific physiological changes: the message is then translated into action, behaviour, movement, heartbeat, breathing and so much more. The processing of filtration is totally unconscious but when the message arrives at the frontal lobe we become conscious of it. The emotion is the unconscious recognition by the brain of the modification in the body through sensations. The feeling is the conscious recognition by the frontal lobe of this emotion.
The filtering process of the sensation is determined by past experiences, past emotions and learning. The final result and what we react to is not the reality but our interpretation of reality through this mechanism, managed by experience. However, receptors who connects to the messengers (the peptides) are not stagnant and can change, giving us potentiality to change our interpretation of reality and change our ‘story’ or fixed ways to react to sensations (M. Lascurain). Even when we are “stuck” emotionally, repeating the same behaviour without analyzing the emotion behind it, we can take advantage of a biochemical potential for change and growth.
When emotions are not listened to, as culture so often taught us in the past, and hopefully not so much in the present, we swallow the fear, the sadness, the anger, the frustration only to pay for the damage later. Indeed, when we do not react accordingly to the information transmitted by these ‘molecules of emotions’ (C. Perth), i.e. when we try to swallow that emotion, to hide it to others and to ourselves, we do get an over-flooding of these molecules and a blockage of some functions: our muscles tense – for long time-, our heartbeat does not normalize, our liver over-functions, our adrenals get tired…and the system progressively reaches a dysfunction or a locked condition. Such blocking, not only at the structural or musculoskeletal level (tight shoulder, contraction headaches...) but also at the organ level (the refusals of the stomach to digest when we eat in an angry state) in the long run is what carries dis–ease, unbalance, dis-function.
Many scientists connected unexpressed emotions with some sort of dis-ease. Perth believed that repressed or unexpressed emotions are stored in the body as physical memories, Upledger, the inventor of the craniosacral therapy, described these blockages as “somato-emotional cysts,” or pockets of blocked emotion held in the body, while Lowen found that posture and movement were determined by old emotions felt during development and growth.
In order to free the person from such condition, EMDR, cognitive and/or behavioural training, hypnosis, mindfulness meditation or any other sort of mental process is needed.
So now neuroscientists and psychologists suggest to face it, face the emotion, understand why it’s there, let it out in a safe space and manner when needed, but listen to it and rationally understand why it’s there and what it is trying to tell us for our own safety and wellbeing.
Training and workshops in meditation, or full awareness of not just mental but emotional and physical experiences, as well relaxation and breathing are offered at the studio to learn how to face, interpret and use emotions to our benefit. Contact for information on courses.
immune cells not only control the body health, but they also manufacture information chemicals that can regulate mood or emotion and respond to such chemicals incoming from the brain or other parts of the body.
Candace, P. B. Molecules of Emotion: The Science Behind Mind-Body Medicine (p. 265). Scribner. Kindle Edition.
Damasio, A. 2008 Descates’ error. Emotion, Reason and the Human brain,
Lascurain, M. 2017. https://doctormorella.com/
Lowen. A. 1958 The language of the body
McLaren K. 2013The Language of Emotions , Sounds True inc.
Upledger, J.E. 2017 http://www.upledger.hu/craniosacral-therapy/what-is-ser/