Understanding Our Emotional Mind

by meditative - January 15th, 2016

Emotions seem to have their own reasons- their own logic. The emotional- the primal mind is far quicker than the rational/cognitive mind springing into action without pausing even a moment to consider what it is doing. Actions that spring from the emotional mind carry a particularly strong sense of certainty- a streamlined, simplified way of looking at things that can be absolutely bewildering to the rational mind. When the dust settles, or even in mid-response, we may find ourselves thinking- “what did I do that for”– knee-jerk and reactionary.

Since the interval between what triggers an emotion and its impulse to act can be virtually instantaneous, our attending mechanism needs to be ready and alert to the present moment otherwise our perception of what has just happened may predispose us to get carried away by its reactionary force.

Because it takes the rational mind a moment or two longer to register and respond than the emotional mind, the first impulse in an emotional situation is the heart not the head– sometimes referred to as the grip of emotion. The pathways for feelings and thoughts arising from emotional experiences- one preceding or following the other- is not necessarily predictable as some are more automatic, intense, and complex than others.

The rational mind usually does not decide what emotions we should have or not have in any given moment- instead our feelings often come to us spontaneously (fait de accompli). A symbolic reality- the logic of the emotional mind is associative- it takes elements that symbolize a reality or trigger a memory of it to be the same as that reality. This is why similes, metaphors, and images speak directly to the emotional mind- couched in the vernacular of the heart.

This logic’s process gives way to our storylines in which loose associations are strung together to determine the continuing flow of our internal narratives. What matters is how something is perceived- things are as they seem. What something reminds us of can be far more important than what it actually is.

While the rational mind makes logical connections between causes and effects, the emotional mind is indiscriminate connecting things that merely have similar, striking features. It also takes its beliefs as absolutely true, and discounts any evidence to the contrary. This is why it can be difficult to reason with someone who is emotionally upset no matter how sound one’s argument from a logical point of view. It carries no weight if it is out of keeping with the emotional conviction of the moment. Feelings are self-justified with a set of perceptions and proofs all their own.

The working of the emotional mind is largely “state” specific dictated by the particular feeling ascendant at a given moment. In the mechanics of emotion, each feeling has its own distinct repertoire of thought, reactions, even memories. These state specific repertoires become most predominant in moments of intense emotion. One sign that such a repertoire is active is selective memory – reshuffling memory and options for action so that those most relevant are at the top of the hierarchy and so more readily enacted.