Feelings – Friends or Foes?

How do you feel about your feelings?

Might sound like an odd question at face value – odd enough that most of us have never intentionally answered the question for ourselves. Values, judgments, beliefs – we all have them whether we have them intentionally or unconsciously. There is no “neutral” or “undecided”. We all have reactions all the time. Which means that the answer to the above question is meaningful in how we live our lives.

Research on the human brain conducted in 2007 by Matthew Lieberman gives us powerful insight into the workings of emotions in the brain. The study took images of activity in participants’ brains as they watched pictures of people’s faces. Faces sporting a sad, angry, or painful expression triggered activity in the particpant’s amygdala – a limbic response similar to fight or flight. The amygdala is referred to in popular literature as the Lizard Brain, so called because it is lower level functioning. The amygdala motivates us to move away from perceived threats in an attempt to protect the system. Not always a bad thing, but it can get us in trouble.

That was not the most powerful finding in the study. Participants were then asked to name the emotions they saw. Fear, pain, anger, etc. The simple act of verbalizing the feelings entirely shifted how the brain responded. Activity moved from the Lizard Brain amygdala into the higher functioning prefrontal cortex. This is the executive functioning center of our mind – our language, planning, decision making, etc.

Participants moved from cave man fight or flight to conscious decision making simply by saying feelings out loud.

Which is why the above is such an important question: How do you feel about your feelings? Maybe they confuse you. Maybe you have too many of them. Maybe they get you in trouble or maybe they even get you what you want. The answer is less important than the process is of finding the answer. Searching yourself to find out how you react leads to more conscious living.

Feelings as a board of directors

Think of yourself as a CEO of a company and your feelings as a board of directors. They influence the company but you’re the one steering the ship so to speak. You’re the one making the decisions and leading your life.

A few things can happen when we look at things this way. You could rely too heavily on your board and let them guide your every decision. On the other end of the spectrum you could completely ignore your board and do what you want to do without the guidance of their reactions. Just like leadership in a company (or any other organization) there is a balance to be found and there is no right answer.

Sometimes your anger advisor will propose that you to scream your head off and sometimes he’ll think you should stand up for what is right. But no matter what you decide to do you are the one who will be held responsible.

How do you feel about your feelings? How do you interact with your board of directors?

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