Why Your Emotions Are Not “Things” In Your Brain

Emotions Are Not Things In Your Brain

In each of these statements, the items in italics are you portraying or characterizing another person’s action. This is your experience of the situation—without talking to the other person about how he or she sees it.

Others rarely, if ever, experience their own actions in the same way that you characterize them. The sense of “unfairness” in the example above is your personal experience of the situation. The feeling of being “ignored,” for instance, is significant for you on a personal level. This is your history of “being abandoned” playing out in the current interaction.

What To Do When You React Emotionally

When you are “reacting” emotionally, give yourself time to reflect—to defuse your reaction. Acknowledge the personal part of the reaction. Take whatever time you need to do this.

Once you defuse, you can assess how the situation is a problem for you. In the work situation, you may accuse your co-worker of not doing his or her fair share. While he or she is not doing all the work assigned, is not completing work assigned, or is doing other than assigned work, he or she will not see this as being unfair to you or others.

You Will Continues To Suffer If You Have An Emotional Reaction
Why Your Emotions Are Not "Things" In Your Brain

The feeling of being ignored when someone does not pay attention in the way you would like is significant for you on a personal level—perhaps relating to early experiences of being abandoned. The person not paying attention to you does not see what they are doing as ignoring you.

You must learn to describe the actions that are the problem, such as not doing all the work assigned in the situation above. Such descriptions of problems open that way for negotiation. It may not always work out; negotiation may not be possible because the other person reacts, does not want to negotiate work tasks, or is not accessible. You may have to go some other route, such as speaking to a manager, going to human resources, or deciding to move on.

Not resolving an issue after you have done all the personal work required, described the problems to be addressed, and approached the situation effectively is not a happy outcome. However, you have done your part, which makes a less than satisfactory outcome survivable. Kudos to you.

Also read 10 Types Of Physical Pain Indicating Emotional Problems

Takeaways From This Post

  • Emotions are not “things” in your brain; there is no such thing as “anger neurons.”
  • What you feel depends on your own history with others and the current situation.
  • Recognize your personal take on the situation.
  • Learn to describe, not characterize.
  • Once you can describe the situation, you can define the problem.
  • Make your best effort to resolve the problem.

1. Barrett, L. F. “What Emotions Are (And Aren’t)”. New York Times, Sunday, January 17, 2016.
2, Barrett, L. (2006). Are Emotions Natural Kinds? Perspectives in Psychological Science. Vol.1(1) 28-58
3. Barrett, L. (2006). Solving the Emotion Paradox: Categorization and the Experience of Emotion. Personality and Social Psychology Review. Vol 10 (1) 20-46.
4. Nussbaum, M. (2003). Upheavals of Thought. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Written by: Catherine Aponte, Psy.D
Originally appeared on: Psychology Today
Republished with permission
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Why Your Emotions Are Not "Things" In Your Brain
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Catherine Aponte

Catherine Aponte is a clinical psychologist who worked with couples for more than thirty years. She writes a Psychology Today blog and contributes posts to The Good Men Project. Throughout her career, she has been devoted to helping couples create and maintain a committed and equitable marriage. Her guide to achieving a committed, equitable, and vibrant family and work-life is in her book A Marriage of Equals (https://www.marriageofequals.com/). She trained at Duke and Spalding Universities and taught marital therapy courses at Spalding University as an Associate Adjunct Professor.View Author posts