Social Psychologist & Personal Advisor
Human beings are emotional beings by virtue of having physical bodies that adapt levels of arousal to meet situational demands; human beings are emotional beings by virtue of having bodily arousal augment and impact perception and action in the moment.
Because the Self is inherently emotional, you must correctly conceive the meaning of "emotion" to understand the Animal that You Are. This is not an easy task for two reasons: First, emotion is a multi-faceted phenomenon to which people pick out and emphasize certain aspects to the exclusion of others, and thus fail to perceive the whole. Second, the nature of language obscures clear communication; the very words we use to explain emotion also imply erroneous conceptions of its whole reality. Because emotion is multi-faceted, and because of the inherent weakness of words, there are dozens of diverging definitions of emotion:
* Explicit definitions found in the writings of science,
Practically speaking, emotion is understood by the way people talk about it. Common folk come to understand the meaning of emotion by social osmosis: Definitions seep into consciousness one conversation at a time; and most often, emotion is mis-defined and misconceived by the implications of common conversation.
Understanding Emotion through the Weakness of Words. Besides the raw recycling of erroneous ideas through everyday dialogue, the meaning of emotion is distorted due to the limitations of language. Paradoxically, the very words we use to describe emotion . . . are the same words that distort it. As we have learned previously, words are general and categorical, while the realities to which words point are particular and specific (see page 76).
The function of Word-Symbols is to describe or point
This is especially true when it comes to describing behavioral activity that is in perpetual motion. The living reality of e-motion is . . . ever-in-motion, and trying to find just the right words to precisely define it is futile; there are no precise and accurate definitions, . . . only adequate descriptions. Thus, in shaping realistic descriptions of emotion, we cannot arrive at accuracy, . . . we can only approach adequacy.
Words, and whatever words may suggest, are not the things they stand for, . . .
Expecting that the reality of emotion should parallel the implications of a word, is to conceive the world exactly backwards. Whatever the descriptive character we assign to the word emotion, . . . we need to let the living activity of being-emotional BE what ever it IS. In every effort to understand the meaning of words, we are trying to describe tangible, touchable reality and to wrap our words around reality, rather than vice versa. Hyperventilating in the abstract air of ideas, and being seduced by the erroneous implications of words, is precisely the kind of linguistic lovemaking that has given illegitimate birth to the illusory phantasm of metaphysical essence.5 The mirage of metaphysical imaginings is born whenever noun-words that really represent verb-activity are reified into things existing independent from the beings that conceive them.
Noun-Words that represent Verb-Activity. Because "emotion" is a noun-word, it is natural to think of it, and talk of it as if "emotion" were a tangible thing, like a rock or a chair. In a typical way of talking, notice how language constrains us to think of emotion as an "it." And when talked about as if "it" . . . were an "it," mental conceptions of emotion naturally gravitate to a thing-ish state. Our cultural way of talking constrains us to misunderstand emotion (not to mention numerous other notions), therefore, to perceive emotional reality for what it IS, we must frequently translate noun-words that really represent action-phenomena from entity . . . to activity.
Misconceptions of emotion are spawned and spread
Science-speak talks as if there is an actual “relationship” between variables; this way of talking implies that an “interaction” is occurring between scientific factors; thus, “Self-Esteem” is granted a thing-like existence, where “it” interacts with “Depression.” This so-called relationship is no more real than the Easter Bunny doing lunch with Santa Claus—while the scientific conceptualizing is real, the literal relationship between variables is not.
The truth is that Self-Esteem, as a scientific variable, has only a general existence in a person’s mind as an idea/construct/category. * Imagining that variables and factors exist as real entities that “interact” is an illusion sired by the implications of science-speak. The real referent to which the Self-Esteem variable points, is this: A particular person esteeming himself or herself in the moment. The directly-lived reality of “Self-Esteem” IS . . . the specific activity of evaluating oneself in the very moment of self-evaluation—to include positive or negative sentiment held by the self-evaluator. Similarly, the scientific variable of “Depression” points to . . . a particular person-being-depressed.
Disappearing the science-speak illusion involves continual translation from scientific terms, into specific realities; for instance, the Depression variable represents a category of consistent patterns manifest among multiple persons-being-depressed, and the Self-Esteem variable represents the consistent patterns among multiple persons-esteeming-self. Here’s an important point: The reality to which the word “emotion” points is always specific, and manifests in particular living moments as a person-being-emotional.
General Conceptions create a perceptual mirage
Undoubtedly influenced by the ingrained traditions of science-speak, our cultural way of talking creates and reinforces numerous misconceptions; for example, the way we talk about love demonstrates of how reality is distorted by the implications of words. “Love” is commonly conceived and talked about as a force or power; people speak of the “power of love” and the obvious implication is that power resides directly IN this “crazy little thing called love.”
The truth is that love only comes into existence as people “do” it and “be” it. Yet there IS a power of influence that occurs as people-are-loving, but that power manifest through the activity of being-loving—not IN “love” as an entity or essence existing apart from people-being-loving. The same is true of God’s Love: Power resides IN God and does not reside directly IN a “Love” that exists apart from God. The metaphor “God is Love” means that the Being-of-God is fully and wholly Loving in every expression towards His creations—particularly His children. The poetic phrase, “God is Love” translates to the simple reality of . . . God-Being-Loving.
Another similar misconception occurs with the word faith—a word that is regularly reified into an independent existence where “it” possesses portable power. Due to the implications of a way of talking about faith phenomena, the commonly coined phrase “power of faith,” leads people to erroneously imagine that there is power directly IN an entity-essence called “faith.” Contrastingly, the correct conception is thus: faith is a word that points to people-being-faithful, and in turn, that faithfulness invokes the Creator’s Power to bless and empower faithful-activity according to His promises. Just as with the instance of a person-being-loving, there is also a power of influence that occurs through faithful activity—more specifically a person-being-faithful.
While praying in Gethsemane, Jesus spoke these words to his Father, “Thine is the power.” The phrase “Thine is the power” is a literal description of reality, whereas the phrase “power of faith” is a poetic metaphor. To correctly conceive living reality, we must perpetually discern between metaphorical descriptions and literal descriptions; we must perpetually rescue reality from the abstract abyss of rhetoric.
The nature of language presents many more obstacles to correctly conceiving emotion than most people realize. The following summarizes impediments to understanding emotion due to the inherent limitations of language:
Even though the structure of our language often suggests otherwise, emotion is not an entity that has power to do or occur or be; instead, it is people who do and occur and be. When emotion is correctly conceived, people are the subject and substance of an emotional moment. The reality to which the word "emotion" points is not an object, or metaphysical entity, . . . it IS living activity. Emotion is a word to represent people-being-emotional.
More Distortions due to A Way of Talking. Correctly conceiving emotion (and other aspects of the world in general) is further deterred by the pervasive influence of what I call "science-speak." Within typical scientific discourse there is a way of talking that tends to reify factors and variables into "things" possessing causal power. For example, consider the seeming innocuous implications of a typical science-speak assertion: "Depression is negatively correlated to High Self-Esteem." This statement appears harmless enough, but the eventual implications of this type of science-speak assertion absolutely reinforces an erroneous image of reality.
The truth is that love only comes into existence, as people "do" it, and "be" it. Yet, there IS a power of influence that occurs as people-are-loving, but that power manifest through the activity of being-loving, and not IN "love" as an entity or essence existing apart from people-being-loving. The same is true of God's Love. Power resides IN God and does not reside directly IN a "Love" that exists apart from God. The metaphor "God is Love" means that the Being-of-God is fully and wholly Loving in every expression towards his creations, and especially his children. The poetic phrase, "God is Love," translates to the simple reality of God-Being-Loving.
Because emotion is a noun-word that really represents verb-activity, clouded conceptions
Failure to distinguish the difference between representation & referent, symbol & substance,
Getting stuck in a general/abstract realm of mental constructs
Accepting the illusion that separate words necessarily represent separate realities
"If our readers thing that we have written in ways that seem complex, impersonal, or abstract, we have almost certainly used to many abstract nouns, particularly nouns derived from verbs -- nouns typically ending in -tion, -ment, -ence, and so on. Such nouns have a technical name: NOMINALIZATIONS."
"The word illustrates its own meaning: When we nomimalize the verb nominalize, we create the nominalization . . . nominalization."
* * * * *
Verb --> Nominalization --> Reality being described --> Longer Description of a particular Reality
discover --> discovery REALITY = You discover something new, a new idea or a new place, etc.
* * * * *
Williams continues: "We can also nominalize a verb by adding -ing (making it a GERUND)."
"The frequent use of nominalizations instead of verbs results in the frustration of reader expectations. Their expectation is of the appearance of characters as subjects and their actions as verbs. Increased frustration results from dropping characters from sentences altogether."
For example, here's what happens when you nominalize the story of Little Red Riding Hood:
"Once upon a time, a walking through the woods occurred,
Here's the moral to the story: The most adequate description of REALITY happens as we portray People thinking, saying, doing, and being within the Context of tangible, touchable Earth Life. This is precisely why "stories" of real events are most captivating -- as opposed to abstract talk about concepts and ideas.
The REALITY of a Person Being Faithful in a particular moment in time, within a specific context, this whole REALITY -- which takes many words, sentences, and paragraphs to adequately describe -- is, for the sake of linguistic convenience, reduced to a NOMINALIZATION, reduced to one noun-word . . . Faith. And this is just one example, among others, of how our language inherently reduces and obscures the very Realities we intent to describe as we use language.
Making a Mammoth Paradigm Shift. To avoid being fooled by the false implications of words, a paradigm shift in the way we conceive our world is in order; a shift requiring frequent translations from the fallacious inferences of a way of talking. If we fail to get completely clear about this “shift,” our cultural way of talking will continue to blur the distinction between symbol and substance . . . and confuse the difference between object and activity.
Our failure to grasp this superior paradigm will lead to the continued tendency of reifying words into entities: where ideas, represented by words, take up space in a metaphysical realm and exist apart from the human beings that "think" them.
This major paradigm shift involves swimming against the constant current of erroneous assumptions that saturate behavioral science generally, and therapeutic approaches specifically: The idea that "thoughts are things" is one such notorious notion; a false assumption likely spawned by the thinking of Plato/Socrates, where consistent and perfect “forms” are more fundamental than the so-called “shadows on the cave wall”—or what we see empirically.
This means metaphysical imaginings become more important and primary than directly-lived reality, with this logic: mortality is imperfect and corruptible, but ideas are flawless and eternal.
From the quest to discover the perfection of “the forms” comes the reifying of “factors” and “variables” and “constructs” that are sometimes granted an eternal existence commensurate to the Creator—or worse, in place of the Creator. Thus metaphysics gone wild becomes philosophical idol worship, as people are persuaded to put their faith in (for instance) the perfect essence of freedom—instead of the power of the Creator to make us free.
To get a firm grip on WHAT IS, we must persistently ask pragmatic questions of every word: What is the reality to which this symbol is pointing? What does this Word “look like” in the World ? The answers to these practical questions will invariably “land” upon the solid ground of earth within two categories: Objects and Actions. This particular paradigm is not just a rhetorical re-arranging of words—it is not merely a word game—rather, what I am describing represents an enormous shift. A perspective that stands upon this premise: Reality is manifest by or through substance . . . or it is not manifest—it does not exist.
Everything that IS REAL is either
The shift boils down to the constant translation of essence-talk to tangible-talk—or at least tangible conceiving! You may be saying, “I thought you just explained how emotion is NOT like a rock or a chair . . . yet you want me to visualize all reality in terms of the tangible?” Yes, that is what I want you to do! And you may be further protesting, “but emotion is non-tangible energy that I cannot actually touch, for how does one touch jealousy?” This is precisely where the paradigm shift is needed. True, you cannot touch Jealousy as long as you imagine and assume that Jealousy is intangible energy—but you CAN DIRECTLY TOUCH the tangible substance of a Person-Being-Jealous.
When correctly conceived, Jealousy and all other emotional flavors must be translated from the subject of a sentence (noun) . . . to the activity that a living-subject is doing (verb). People ARE the subjects that make the verb come alive; they are the “living-substance” or “things-in-action” by which emotion is manifest.
Since “swim” is an activity that is done, . . . the word “swim-ing” more adequately captures the in-motion nature of this water activity. Different from swim-ing, “emotion” is more than outward physical choreography; it also includes inward motions of body physiology—motions that augment perceiving and behaving in particular emotional moments. Like “swim,” the word “anger” is a noun-word that really points to verb-activity; this explains why William Glasser suggested that the word “angering” is a better symbol for acts of “anger,” because the noun-word “anger” really represents a person-being-angry or a person-doing-angry. The word angering more adequately captures something that is "being done" and thus infers that people are doing it—now for the good news:
Since Emotion is
With a correct conception of emotion, you are better empowered . . . to retain your power, instead of giving it away to an illusory entity/energy/essence that is assumed to exist apart from you—the mendacious mental machination of metaphysical essence.
To avoid drifting off into the abstract air of “symbols” and land on solid ground of “substance,” it is essential to remember that the map is NOT the territory . . . and the word is NOT the world. It is curious to note that one of the ironic outcome of formal education is confusing rhetoric with reality; to think that a word IS its definition, rather than a representation of the real, is a tendency reinforced by traditions of schooling. By implication, when a word (or group of words) is the “answer” on a myriad of academic tests, then answers can become the conceptual ending point.
By assuming that answers are “the pot of Gold at the end of the rainbow,” students get stuck in an orientation of answers which in turn leads to the conceptual habit of hovering in the abstract air of “rhetoric,” instead of landing on the solid ground of “reality.” When multiple-choice-fill-in-the-blank education eventually culminates in graduation, some students are left with answers . . . instead of knowledge, they are better equipped to succeed on a game show . . . than in life.
Defining Emotion. To overcome distortions due to the limits of language, we must necessarily use more words/explanations to deconstruct false inferences. This is precisely why short definitions of emotion will inevitably impair an adequate conception of emotion. Consider the problems created by this tidy definition from a prominently published dictionary:
Emotion = "A strong feeling of any kind."
This definition is distressingly inadequate because it simply replaces one word . . . for six; and leaves us needing to define the word "feeling." But as definitions go, replacing one word for another (synonym swapping), or exchanging one word for a group of words, IS how definitions are done. Obviously, exchanging the word "emotion" for the word "feeling" moves us no closer to an adequate visualizing of emotion as it occurs in real life.
Defining "emotion" with the word "feeling" is called a tautology, a circular definition. The tidy tautological practice of synonym swapping is further illustrated by defining the word "salt" with the word "salty." But at least in describing "salt" as "salty" one important thing is accomplished: The word "salty" refers us to the experience of "salt"--which is where all definitions need to land. John Dewey maintained that human experience is the basis of all knowledge. Better said: human experience is the basis of all knowing, for the noun-word "knowledge" really represents the conceptual activity of perceiving and understanding the world.
"Go to the kitchen, find the white stuff in the shaker,
Similarly, to adequately define emotion, it is best to focus upon the tangible, touchable experience of emotion: Both occurrences of you-being-emotional and others-being-emotional. With this in mind, consider another definition of emotion from a 1903 edition of Webster's Dictionary:
"Excitement of the feelings, whether pleasing or painful;
This hundred-year-old definition identifies only two facets of emotion, . . . Mind and Body. There are actually four facets to what I call Whole Emotion. Which raises yet another reason why conceptual confusion commonly surrounds the meaning of emotion: Because emotion is a multi-faceted phenomenon, people tend to pick out and emphasize a single aspect of emotion, to the exclusion of other aspects. Defining emotion can be like the blind men who tried to "define" an elephant: Each conceived the elephant in terms of the part he was feeling, i.e., big floppy ears, a snake-like trunk, a whale-like torso, tree-trunk-like legs, or a wiggly thin tail. Similarly, when speaking of emotion, people may talk in terms of just the part to which they are privy.
By adding the context of behavior, we move closer to a more complete conception of emotion. The whole emotional experience of you-perceiving-the-world-while-feeling-inward-stirrings always occurs within particular life contexts, and never in a vacuum. What you-are-doing and how you-are-being, simultaneous to your perceiving and feeling, are ever-connected aspects of Whole Emotion. By adding the context of behavior, we move closer to a more complete conception of emotion. The wisdom of including behavior to the conception of whole emotion is obvious: The emotion of anger is notoriously known by its outward behavioral outbursts.
Indeed, an angry person is most often identified as angry directly because of observable behavior. Since the whole-emotional-moment includes what is being-done, all emotional phenomena must necessarily include the realities of expressive behavior--to include outward doings and inward ways of being. What is being done (behavior) occurs in holistic unity with the happenings of heightened physiology (body) and conscious awareness (mind).
Simultaneous to your thinking, saying, doing, & being,
Whole Emotion. To conceive emotions correctly, it is wise to perceive the whole context within which emotion is manifest. Thus far, three (3) aspects of emotion have been identified, but there are really four (4) aspects that comprise what I call Whole Emotion. To introduce the fourth facet, and make our conception of emotion most adequate, and firmly fixed on the solid ground of reality, consider the words of Candace Pert, from her book "Molecules of Emotion."
"Measurement! It is the very foundation of the modern scientific method, the
For those who have never experienced the directly-felt blowing of spiritual wind in this world, manifest as euphoric bliss, inspiration, and awe, . . . they must wonder about the sanity of those who claim regular and sometimes spectacular experiences of spirit. For the skeptic, my explanation of Whole Emotion can be considered a "theory" to be personally proved. The reality of spirit can absolutely be proven to yourself, while this personal proof is not instantly transferable others. Others must directly experience the reality of spirit for themselves.
If the real existence of spirit influence could be
For those who hesitate on this view of Whole Emotion, you may be saying, "why can't emotion simply be defined in terms of physiological energy, why can't emotion simply be . . . the inner motions of the body?" It can, . . . if that is the way people prefer to negotiate the word's meaning. However, the very best definitions will always hold up under rational and practical scrutiny, and the fact is that there is NEVER an inner motion of body physiology associated to an everyday emotion that occurs APART from an initiating perception (mind). Further, there is NEVER an instance of physiology (body) associated to an everyday emotion that occurs APART from a living context (behavior), and finally there is NEVER an inner arousal associated to an everyday emotion this manifests apart from one's way of being (spirit).
The holistic view of social interaction absolutely includes the interactions and influence of spirit. The richest meaning of emotion is embedded within this total context; whereas, a narrow conception of emotion as "inner physiology" only tends to tear apart Whole Emotion as it occurs in real life.
Separate Words, but not Separated Realities. The distinctiveness of emotion is manifest in life-moments when conscious awareness (mind) is augmented by heightened physiological arousal (body). Because body arousal occurs in concert with the conscious awareness of mind, thus mind is inseparable from body in occurrences of emotion. Mind and body are two aspects that happen together in one unified reality; they are only "separate" as word-symbols and as ideas that can be talked about separately. The same is true for the inseparable aspects of behavior and spirit; while they are also separate in word and idea, they occur in concert with activities of mind and body to make up Whole Emotion.
Referring to "Understanding Emotions" (below), a sequential flow of emotion is given: When bodily functions become heightened, that physiological response occurs because a prior perception has set that bodily arousal in motion. If there were no perception to begin with, there will be no heightened physiology to follow, thus no bodily feeling or behavioral expression. While it is possible to conceptually separate the unity of Whole Emotion by a way of talking and its associated way of thinking, the reality of emotion remains as it IS, . . . undivided and whole.
Aspects of Emotion can be "talked about"
In every act of symbolic reduction--reducing realities to words--there is inevitable distortion. Again, because the words describing each aspect of emotion are separate in symbol and in idea, we can talk about them as if they were separate, which in turn fosters the erroneous inference that these descriptive aspects occur separately--they do not! The living activity called emotion represents a plethora of particular people-being-emotional, enacting emotional-moments in a unified expression of Spirit, Mind, Body, and Being. Directly-lived emotion is always undivided and whole.
The Fountain from which Emotions Flow. The foundational source from which all emotions flow is not spoken of in psychology texts, or in scientific literature generally; that source is "spirit." Spirit is not as mystical as some imagine. It's no more mysterious than the occurrence of "wind." While we don't "see" wind--the substance of which is invisible air in motion—but we do empirically experience the effects of wind all around.
Be True to your Spirit Intuition of Truth
Human emotion is experienced and expressed in four aspects:
"You do not see the world as it is, you see it according to who you are" - S. Covey
"Your way of seeing is inseparable from your way of being" - Matt Moody
"It is in the darkness of their eyes that men get lost" - Black Elk
"That which you perceive as real, is real in its consequences" - W. I. Thomas
* Emotion: Life's Exclamation Point
Dr Matt Reminder: A Goal Within Your Control . . . Becoming Loving & True
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