Our Emotional Response System. Part six

Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. Proverbs 4:23

What happens when we feel an emotion? The latest theory explaining the inner workings of emotions goes like this: Emotions are composite experiences made up of many parts much like a puzzle.

”A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” Ecclesiastes 3:4.

Each part or emotion, like fear or joy, comes together simultaneously in a group of many parts such as body postures, brain chemicals, neurological or electrical signals, sensations, and thought forming a pattern that is recognizable.

Being able to feel emotions is part of what makes us human. In John’s gospel he gives us an account of our Lord Jesus and His emotions. In chapter eleven verse 33, and 38 we are told He groaned. The word in Greek is embrimaoimai meaning to express anger, Mark 14:5; also, to indicate a speaking or acting with deep feeling. In between verse 33-38 inverse 35 -Jesus wept.

Many people struggle to understand their emotions and the things that cause us to feel so deeply. Emotionally, we often experience a huge range of different things in response to any situation. For example,  If you are depressed the result of this is anger turned inward, forming a depressed state. Anger is often depression turned outward. We will be digging into these statements later in this series. The reason many of us struggle to identify our emotions properly is that they are often gone as fast as they appear. We are constantly experiencing new things which means our emotions are rarely static, which complicates being able to identify what is going on with our emotions.

Let’s have a peek at where this term comes from. The term emotions comes from Latin emovere meaning moving, this term is a combination of energy and motion, an expression of how life is constantly in flowing motion.

We may feel emotions from a situation, an experience, or from memories. They assist us to understand the things we are experiencing and to express the way those things make us feel whether they are good or  bad.

Primary and Secondary.

Imagine something has happened, anything, and suddenly you are feeling an emotion. It is strong; it is the first reaction to what has happened. That is a primary emotion. Primary emotions are the body’s first response, and they are usually very easy to identify because they are so strong. The most common primary emotions are fear, happiness, sadness, and anger.

These may also be secondary emotions given different situations, but when we first react, it’s usually with one of the above. If the phone rang and someone started yelling at you for no reason you would probably feel angry or afraid or if the phone rang and someone told you that your dog had died you would feel sad. There does not have to be a huge stimulus to elicit a primary emotion. Primary emotions are adaptive because they make us react a certain way without being contaminated or examined. They are very much an instinctual, primal, survival response.

Primary Emotions

Primary emotions are more transient than secondary emotions which is why they are less complicated and easier to understand. The first thing we feel is directly connected to the event or stimulus but as time passes, we struggle to connect the same emotion with the event because our emotions have changed.

Secondary Emotions

Secondary emotions are much more complex because they often refer to the feelings you have about the primary emotion. These are learned emotions which we get from our parent(s) or primary care givers as we grow up. For example, when you feel angry you may feel ashamed afterward or when you feel joy, you may feel relief or pride. In Star Wars, Master Yoda explained secondary emotions perfectly – “fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.”

Secondary emotions can also be divided into instrumental emotions. These are unconscious and habitual. We learn instrumental emotions as children as a form of conditioning. When we cry a parent comes to soothe us; so, we learn to use the facial expressions and response associated with crying when we need that soothing or sense of security.

How To Tell The Difference?

Aside from secondary emotions being harder to name, there are several ways to determine whether you are feeling a primary emotion or a secondary one. Firstly, ask yourself if the emotion is directly a reaction or not. If it is a direct connection, then it is a primary emotion. If the emotion came on strongly, but that feeling has begun to fade then it is also likely a primary emotion; if the opposite is true it’s more likely to be a secondary emotional reaction.

If the emotion lingers long after the event has happened or even effects new but similar or connected events, then it is likely to be secondary. If the emotion is complex, it’s almost always secondary. There is such a thing as tertiary emotions, but as elusive as secondary emotions are tertiary emotions are even harder to pin down.

What Use Are Primary are Secondary Emotions?

Primary and secondary emotions tell a person a lot about their emotional stability and integrity. Rather than blindly accepting an emotion, being able to understand where it comes from and the actions that led up to that emotion can act as a path to trace back to prior abuse or traumatic events that have left emotional scars.

Finding the real cause behind a person’s reaction means examining the primary emotion, while the secondary emotion will help to understand how we processes information. Also, by slowing down the thought process and consciously working through the internal reasons why someone feels a certain way, they are likely to understand more about themselves through a process that would have been entirely unconscious until now.

Another reason why identifying emotions is important is to be able to react to them properly. For someone who struggles with handling emotions or reacting appropriately being unable to express themselves can be frustrating. This, in turn, leads to anger and even rage.

Conclusion: Everyone experiences primary and secondary emotions

Let’s examine our two charts beginning with Primary emotions.



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