Emotions, A Valuable Mental Experience

Cultivate positive emotions to fill life with a sense of meaning.

Once, watching a talk show, a miner who was buried deep underground for more than ten days due to a mining accident, later miraculously survived and a TV program brought him over as a guest interviewer.

When asked how it felt to be trapped underground, the miner said he wasn’t scared at all, and stressed that he had never experienced nervousness before. This answer inevitably surprised and impressed the host, as well as the audience below, who applauded him.

Perhaps everyone has longed to be able to handle changes without fear, and this miner’s calmness certainly fits such an ideal image, the question is: is he really not nervous?

Emotions include physiological reactions and subjective experiences, and the absence of tension and the absence of experiencing tension is not the same thing. The former is a real absence of tension, including physiological reactions and subjective experiences, while the latter is just emotional isolation: there is a physiological reaction to tension, but no experience of tension. Through a psychological defense mechanism, the feeling of tension is blocked out.

Having been a counselor for so many years and out of professional sensitivity, I suspect that the miner was just habitually isolating his feelings and was really not tense.

If there had been a device to measure blood pressure and heart rate, it might have revealed that his blood pressure had risen and his heart rate had increased, both of which are physiological responses to nervousness.

If my guess is correct, then the miner was too far away from his emotions to express them verbally.

Wouldn’t it be nice to be away from our emotions, wouldn’t that allow us to be less subject to negative emotions such as fear, anxiety, depression, guilt, etc.?

Wouldn’t we be able to get rid of these negative emotions and let our energy bet on something more worthwhile?

Or like this miner, didn’t the isolation of emotions allow him to avoid experiencing the fear of being trapped down the shaft and eventually miraculously surviving?

As a psychological defense mechanism, avoidance of experiencing emotions certainly has a protective function, but we need to see its costs more fully.

There is a book called ‘The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma’ that focuses on the emotional and physical effects of psychological trauma.

The book documents the research of psychiatrist Henry Kristal, who treated over 1,000 survivors of the World War II Holocaust who learned to shield themselves from their feelings as a result of their traumatic experiences. By devoting themselves to their work and thus avoiding experiencing painful emotions, many of them also achieved good work.

However, they have poor intimate relationships, often lack self-protective behaviors, have a high probability of becoming victims, and, more importantly, have great difficulty experiencing joy, sensory pleasure, and a sense of purpose in their lives.

Years of clinical practice have given me the perspective that shielding or turning away from emotions while having some adaptive value, reduces a person’s sense of well-being, damages relationships with others, and even presents a psychological disorder.

Therefore, we need to recognize the important value of emotions, improve our relationship with them, learn to live in harmony with them and use them as a resource for knowing ourselves, understanding others, and improving ourselves.

1. Identify and understand emotions to better know yourself and handle relationships

Every emotion that arises is an opportunity to know yourself, and emotions in a relationship help to know each other better.

Therefore, when emotions come, you may want to seriously experience the emotion, is it anger? Or is it aggression, sadness, self-blame, shame? What is your physical experience under the emotion: of chest tightness? Nausea? Headache? Tummy discomfort?

At the same time, you can also ask yourself: What is the meaning of this emotion? What is the point where I am hurting? Could it be that I am displacing my emotions about someone from the past onto the other person? This practice helps to get closer to your inner experience and prevents you from damaging your relationships with others when your emotions take over.

2. Experience and express emotions to enhance your life force

A man was overwhelmed by anxiety; he was pale, thin and bony, and ineffective in his studies. Upon deeper understanding, it was discovered that he had difficulty experiencing and expressing anger due to the effects of his early childhood experiences. Whenever others bullied or taunted him, instead of fighting back or seeking help, which he would normally have, he quickly fell into silence and never bothered to express it. Over time, the repressed anger transforms into some persistent anxiety.

Some people who are clinically disturbed by anxiety and depression are found to appear to have very strong emotions, but in fact, their emotional experience is limited.

For example, some people who are depressed after a breakup have difficulty experiencing anger toward the person who abandoned them; people who are easily frightened often have difficulty experiencing or expressing angry emotions toward an object; and when aggressive or sexual feelings may surface in consciousness, some people will experience intense anxiety without being aware of the repressed emotions behind it.

In counseling people with limited emotional experiences, when I ask them about an event, “What did you feel at the time?” Some of my clients will look confused, some will angrily retort, “Why are you asking me that question? Others will say, “I don’t see the point in talking about it! The reason behind this is that the question about emotional experience disturbs these visitors’ habitual defense of emotional isolation and makes them anxious all of a sudden.

On the contrary, visitors whose emotional experience is not restricted can report many emotions when asked about their feelings: anger, guilt, fear, shame, sadness, self-blame …… The counselor can grasp their emotions very clearly and bring a living impression to the person.

Generally speaking, people who can experience and express a variety of emotions can effectively relieve the physical and psychological discomfort brought about by emotions and tend to have a healthier body and mind and a more vigorous vitality.

3. Cultivate positive emotions to fill life with a sense of meaning

In the book “Optimism: The Biology of Hope”, author Tiger points out that people who adopt a realistic or pessimistic attitude to cope with the future and inevitable dangers, diseases, and death lack the motivation to survive, while optimistic people believe that things will always get better and have a strong belief to survive.

Clinical studies have found that cancer is more likely to occur in people who have been under stress such as mental depression, anxiety, frustration, bitterness, fear, and sadness for a long time after being frustrated.

On the contrary, people who are cheerful, open-minded, frank and open-minded, optimistic and humorous rarely get cancer. Optimistic people are healthier and happier, their immune system works better, they adopt more effective coping strategies such as valuing stressful events and problem solving, proactively avoiding some stressful life events, seeking social support networks, they have healthy habits and are less likely to get sick, and even when they get sick, they follow medical advice and implement it into their actual lives for early recovery.

Engaging in work, play, recreation, learning, exercise, healthy habits, and relationships all lead to a constant flow of positive emotions such as gratitude, pride, heart flow, love, etc.


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