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How Emotions Are Made, Book Review, Part 2

Concepts, Goals and Words:

Our brains are experts at creating concepts and categorization to explain the world around us. As far as how this applies to the creation of emotions (which are concepts), Barrett says,

” . . . categorization constructs every perception, thought, memory, and other mental event that you experience, so of course you construct instances of emotion in the same manner.” (Barrett, 86).

Brains are also pattern recognition machines, this being a survival technique we have evolved to have, but most of the time our brains engage in pattern recognition in over load. Barrett states on page 90: ” . . . it imposes similarities between them [Concepts] in the moment, according to your goal in a given situation.”

So how and what we think has a great deal to do with how we will interpret the world around us. She also says, “Goal based concepts are super flexible and adaptable to the situation (Barrett, 90).” So as a simple example, if you think you are going to have a bad day, boom! You’ve created a bad day for yourself unless you changed your goal/thoughts/body budget.

Barrett points out this is due to our neuroplasticity and that concepts are highly malleable because your goals can change. (Barrett, 91). Because of this, we can change our neuro pathways, our emotions, and for example, the demons of PTSD, (more on Barrett’s thoughts on mental illness in Part 3) all dependant on our goals, using our thoughts.

One of the best ways Barrett recommends to do this is to pay attention to our self talk and the words we use day to day. As many of you may be familiar, the English language is very limiting in its conceptions of emotion and therefore the emotion words. According to Barrett, the better we can categorize our emotions with more exact words, the better we will be able to regulate and create them relative to our situations and goals. (Barrett, 95-111).

Barrett encourages us to learn emotion words from other cultures and languages to help us construct, understand and regulate our emotions (Barrett, 181). Here is my favorite example she gave:

“My friend Batja Mesquita is a Dutch cultural psychologist, and the time I traveled to visit her in Belgium she told me that we were sharing the emotion gezellig. Curled up in her living room, sharing wine and chocolates, she explained that this emotion means the comfort, coziness, and togetherness of being at home, with friends and loved ones. Gezellig is not an internal feeling that one person has for another but a way of experiencing oneself in the world. No single word in English describes the experience of gezellig, but once Batja explained it to me, I immediately experienced it. Her use of the word invited me to form a concept as infants do, but through conceptual combination–I automatically employed my concepts of “Close Friend,” ” Love,” and “Delight,” with a touch of “Comfort” and “Well-Being.” This translation was not perfect, though, because of my American way of experiencing gezellig, I used emotion concepts that focus more on internal feelings than those that describe the situation.” (Barrett, 105).

“Conceptual combination plus words equals the power to create reality.” This is a very bold statement but those with low emotional granularity have only a few emotion words to express themselves, clumping multiple experiences and feelings under a few concepts alone, and those with moderate emotional granularity might have a dozen or so. People with higher emotional granularity have more words to describe and then influence their thoughts and then the world around them.  Because no one is free of the influence of the other brains around them (more on this in Part 4). (Barrett, 106).

Barrett also suggests creating your own words to help describe particular instances around you or what you feel (Barrett, 181). Along with other tips and practises to help your body budget and your emotional regulation (Which will be the topic of Part 4), I took her advice and made a few new emotion words of my own to explain some things I was feeling but couldn’t describe in one or two words. Disclaimer: I am not a linguist, I just made words for my own use off of something that sounded good, so please understand, these may not follow grammatical rules etc. Here are just a few:

Disconstructful–To feel disdain toward a situation that isn’t going as planned and you can’t change it.

Employexity— 1. The anxiety one feels about having a job and being judged by their boss and/or their performance.

2. The anxiety one feels when speaking to one’s boss regardless of tone or outcome of the conversation.

Dispurrity–The feeling of loss from not owning a cat and missing the comfort and happiness cuddling with a cat provides.

Purrity–The feeling of comfort and happiness one gets from owning and cuddling a cat.

Parentally Helpless–Wishing you could talk to your parents and get advice, but you either don’t have parents or you believe they will disapprove of the choice(s) you may need to make.

Once I was able to pinpoint what more exactly was causing me distress or anxiety I was able to move beyond those broad terms and construct concepts specific to my situation or experiences. I was a little surprised that once I was able to put a label on theses complex emotions, regulating my emotion and thoughts became much easier. When I felt these things again, I either looked up or remembered my word, and I was able to know what I was feeling and move past it, either by acceptance the emotion/experience or regulating my body budget.

I highly encourage you to try this out for yourself, and to learn new words to expand your emotional granularity, as Barrett instructs. It’s just one step, but this alone can make a big difference in your life, the reality you create when exercised enough mindfully and correctly.

Take aways from Part 2

  • ” . . . categorization constructs every perception, thought, memory, and other mental event that you experience, so of course you construct instances of emotion in the same manner.”
  • “Goal based concepts are super flexible and adaptable to the situation.”
  • The words you use influence your concepts (and are concepts) and create the world around you.
  • “Conceptual combination plus words equals the power to create reality.”
  • Learn emotion words from other cultures and languages, and create your own to better describe, understand, and create the world around you.

Yours truly,

–C. Lake

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