well for me right now it would be ‘sleepy’. because the Wind Gods have been having a Knees Up Mother Brown party in the skies above my house and I’ve been awake since 4.30am. so you guys get an extra post from me this week!

but what about all the other emotions on that wheel? where do I live on it, most of the time? where do you?

I’m now on day 36 of the Headspace app. one thing I’ve found particularly interesting is that at the start of each meditation we are asked to check in on our current emotional state.

I’m finding, firstly, that there’s significant variation in that, from day to day, whereas if you’d asked me previously I would have said that my emotional state was a pretty constant ‘more or less ok but slightly harassed‘.

secondly, the descriptions I come up with are usually more of a cocktail than a single substance. say, ‘excited and slightly apprehensive’ or ‘fed-up and irritable’.

the version of the Wheel I’ve shown above is an expansion of Robert Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions:

the best explanation of it I’ve found is here:

‘When we think about our emotions, we tend to think of them solely as states of feeling. For example, we tend to describe happiness as the state of feeling joy or pleasure. According to the late psychologist Robert Plutchik, emotions are much more complex than most people realize.

Emotions have a long evolutionary history. Our emotions are not only adaptive, but they have evolved over time in order to increase our reproductive fitness. Emotion plays an important role in issues of survival. Emotion also involves both cognition and behavior. For example, let’s say that you were approached by a snake (threatening event). You would conclude that you were in danger (cognition), which would cause you to feel fear (emotion). Your fear activates the fight-or-flight response. As a result, you slowly back away from the snake in an attempt to escape (goal-directed behavior).

Robert Plutchik’s developed ten postulates on which his evolutionary theory of emotions is based:

  1. Animals and Humans: Animals and humans both experience the same basic emotions in similar ways.
  2. Evolutionary History: Emotions appeared as a result of evolution. Emotions were present in animals even before apes evolved.
  3. Survival Issues: Emotions have evolved over time in order to increase the chances of survival in the environment. For example, trust results in collaboration and sharing between humans.
  4. Prototype Patterns: Although there are several types of emotions that are present in different species, there are prototype patterns, or common elements, that are identifiable.
  5. Basic Emotions: A relatively small number of prototype, primary or basic emotions exist and can be identified.
  6. Combinations: All other emotions occur as a result of a mixtures, or combinations, of the basic emotions. For example, love is a combination of joy (primary emotion) and trust (primary emotion).
  7. Hypothetical Constructs: It is recognized that primary emotions are hypothetical constructs or idealized states which we describe in terms of their particular properties and characteristics. These descriptions can only be inferred based on several kinds of evidence.
  8. Opposites: The primary emotions are categorized into pairs of polar opposites.
  9. Similarity: All emotions have different degrees of similarity to one another.
  10. Intensity: Each emotion can vary in its level of intensity.

Plutchik’s eight basic or primary emotions are JoyTrustFearSurpriseSadnessAnticipationAnger, and Disgust. Each primary emotion has a polar opposite, so that:

  • Joy is the opposite of Sadness
  • Fear is the opposite of Anger
  • Anticipation is the opposite of Surprise
  • Disgust is the opposite of Trust

Plutchik created the Wheel of Emotions to show the relationship between the emotions.’

certainly in my own case I decided to get sober because I did not want to keep feeling the truly grim and hideous emotions I was experiencing, and I wanted to alter my emotional state in a positive way.

Plutchik’s is not the only system of classification of emotions: there are more systems described here and here, for example, if you’re interested. however it is the only one with a pretty coloured picture to accompany it! (I am continually astonished by how visual I am – it’s not something that I’d previously recognised.) and as well as the pretty picture, I also find it scientifically satisfying and that it ties in very well with everything I’m learning about neuroscience.

and what I also find fascinating about it is that the core emotion is often masked by the secondary or tertiary ones, which can make it difficult to see what’s beneath.

from the first link above:

‘(from Robert Plutchik’s diagram)…you can see the shades of colors change with respect to the various emotions felt.

Plutchik included this in his wheel because he stated emotions are felt in different intensities, the most intense being rage, ecstasy, vigilance, admiration, terror, amazement, grief, and loathing. Plutchik also stated that “fight or flight” plays an important role in feeling emotions. Both animals and people experience emotions due to survival needs. Some examples of this are threats to safety, attacks, or even seeing a mate.

Plutchik believed that the purpose of emotions was to create an interaction between the individual and the stimulus (an event or person) in such a way that the emotion could be resolved to bring the person back to equilibrium. Therefore, a person sees a bear. They are afraid. The fear serves to protect the individual and prompt action such as running from the bear. The purpose of the fear is to get the person to act so he or she can reach safety and thus return to a calm state.’

I remember being very struck on the Bubble Hour when one of the speakers (Ellie?) said that if we get to the bottom of any troublesome behaviour or emotion, the root of it is often fear.

so is fear my (and, perhaps, your?) attempt to return to equilibrium?

how does fear actualise itself in your life?

and what can we learn from this, to change that?

well, I’m going to refer you to two very wonderful posts from the fantastic Lou at ahangoverfreelife, before you read any further: this one, on giving yourself a self-compassion break, and this one on the science of flipping your lid. thank you as ever, Lou, for all you do to spread the word and increase our understanding of ourselves!

if you’ve seen those posts then they are very key to understanding what I’m trying to get at here: that if we can identify an emotion, then we can insert a pause by naming the emotion.

doing that naming is also called affect labelling. one study in particular has shown that naming a feeling can quieten the amygdala activity that causes the flight-or-flight response. for example from this post on the excellent blog insidethealcoholicbrain,

‘In early recovery I did not have a clue what emotions I was experiencing. I was not able to identify, label or process them. As a result of this failure to process emotions I seemed to be constantly distressed and and, as we have seen in previous blogs, this distress leads to a distress-based impulsivity and a negative urgency to either engage in “fight or flight” behaviour, i.e. running away from fearful situations or ignoring the Big Book of AA’s recommendation not to fight anybody or anything.

Putting feelings into words (affect labeling) has long been thought to help manage negative emotional experiences. Affect labeling or naming emotions diminishes the response of the amygdala and other limbic regions to negative emotional images. A brain imaging study by UCLA psychologists reveals why verbalizing our feelings makes our sadness, anger and pain less intense.’

and in this article, for example, it would also appear that meditation helps us to get our front brain, the prefrontal cortex, on board with this task:

‘Mindfulness meditation, he added, appears to promote the same process. “You monitor your experience moment by moment,” Creswell said of this type of meditation. “That might involve paying attention to your breath, or a more general type of open monitoring. You notice experience as it happens. If you feel anger rising, for example, you simply note it. Through these labeling practices you’re teaching emotion regulation via affect labeling. We find that mindful individuals show better recruitment of prefrontal regions during affect labeling, and greater deactivation of the amygdala. So the more mindful you are the better able you are to turn on this affect regulation circuit.”

Creswell’s latest work attempts to link mindfulness training to improvements in emotional regulation. In research reported in NeuroImage: Clinical, 26 subjects diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder showed significant improvement after eight weeks of “Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction,” a combination of mindfulness meditation and yoga developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. “Eight weeks of mindfulness meditation training seems to help the brain recruit the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex during an affect labeling task,” Creswell said.’

bingo! but how to do this, in practice?

  • by ourselves – by regular meditation or mindfulness practices. in the moment, in a journal, in a diary, in a blog. pinning those emotions down, allowing them form and existence rather than hiding from them
  • with others – by giving ourselves permission and safe structures to express emotions, whether with a single person, or a group. realising that just expressing emotions enables us to process them, and getting the other person, if necessary, to appreciate that we don’t need to be ‘fixed’.. (twenty plus years of marriage, and I have nearly trained Mr P in this!)
  • finding a specific one-to-one relationship where these emotions can be safely voiced in a healthy and balanced space. I think – hell, I know – that the value of a sober penpal cannot be underestimated. and also considering a counselling relationship, if you feel ready.

if we can identify, name and experience our emotions, rather than trying to drown them in booze, then we can make our emotional responses more appropriate and increase our emotional resilience, which will make both being sober and even just damn well being a human being, both easier and more fun.

which pretty much sums up everything I’m trying to do, here. I’ll meet you in a cereal box later, okay?! happy Tuesday! Prim xx

the best possible use for a box of Special K…