"It's like we're designed to make choices around pleasure." -- the late Dr. Candace Pert, Molecules of Emotion
Through the social and emotional intelligence graduate coursework I'm studying at Wright Graduate University, I'm diving into my emotional awareness at a whole new level. The curriculum includes studying emotional expression and neurology on how the body relates to emotions. Part of my Wright studies includes weekly performative learning assignments. We practice what we are learning about, which helps us solidify the concepts not only narratively and cognitively, but also on an experiential level. What I learned was insightful and powerful. What follows are my findings from researching this topic for my course, Foundations of Human Development, on human emotions and how they show up in the body. By recognizing how our bodies transmit emotions, we can increase our awareness about them and boost our emotional intelligence about the body, or body EQ.
"Your body is a wonderland." -- John Mayer
This is true not only in the way Mr. Mayer intends, but also in the emotional, neurologically and scientifically proven kind of way. One of my recent "assignments" was to boost my emotional intelligence and practice naming one of the five primary feelings throughout the day: fear, hurt, sadness, anger and joy (learn how to do this in my five-day EQ challenge).
What did I find out? I noticed that I felt more than one primary emotion at a time -- often fear and joy together. If I'm feeling one emotion, it is giving way to another one underneath it. For instance, right now I feel joy writing this article, but also sadness because I know I have a lot more to write, and I am not spending time on other ways that I also need to do. When I chose to notice how I'm feeling, the feelings are always there, waiting for me to tune in and discover them.
• Try it: Take three deep belly breaths sitting up straight. What primary emotion are you feeling right now?
"The body is the unconscious mind." -- Dr. Candace Pert
There is also the concept that emotions are physically stored in the body at a molecular level. I can assure you, this concept and the fact that there is scientific research behind it, blows my mind. Who knew? The late Dr. Candace Pert was a pioneer of the field psychoneuroimmunology, or the study of psychological processes and the nervous and immune systems. In her 1997 book, Molecules of Emotion, she boldly claims through valid research that Peptides, or short chain amino acids/proteins, are key "information substances" throughout the body and each of them could affect our mind, our emotions, our immune system, our digestion and other bodily functions simultaneously. She made an unprecedented statement claiming that emotions aren't wired only in the brain:
"For decades, most people thought of the brain and its extension the central nervous system as an electrical communication system ... resembling a telephone system with trillions of miles of intricately crisscrossing wires ... But new research techniques for studying peptides and receptors show that only two percent of neuronal communications are electrical, across a synapse. The brain is a bag of hormones ... the body is the unconscious mind!"
Whoa! Pert is telling us that 98 percent of communication in the body is not neuronal or electrical, but hormonal and by other means. I'm no neurologist, but I know that is definitely different than what I thought happened. No wonder how we feel is so dependent on our every day interactions with others, ourselves, or with our environment.
The Human Body is a Tuning Fork
Pert goes on to explain that she sees the human body vibrating like a tuning fork. I love that! Emotions, Pert explains, are not simply a chemical in the brain. They are electrochemical signals that affect the chemistry and electricity of every cell in the body. In other words, our bodies are constantly flooded with emotions at a cellular level, and this in turn affects not only who we are but we are constantly altering our chemical programming depending on what emotions are felt, expressed, released, or suppressed.
Pausing to Tune Into Your Emotional Wonderland
Pert states that techniques like mediation or visualization also may act as forces to set these molecules in action. I feel like I've personally experienced this when I pause and shift my behavior, and notice what's going emotionally. The euphoric high after meditation, or the humble gratitude I've felt after pressing my forehead to my mat in child's pose after yoga class, make me think that my entire body is an emotional chamber at the cellular level. It's as if emotions are like currents, always running through us.
Meditation isn't only about regulating my breathing and quieting my mind. It's about pausing to create some space to feel what is going on inside of me. Part of my own commitment to my practice is to do this whether or not I like what I'm feeling. Of course I enjoy the more pleasurable feelings like joy and gratitude, but it also means that if I notice I am unhappy, stressed, or upset that I accept this, and feel it without judgment.
Is this why we respond so much to touch when we're in a heightened emotional state? Are our peptides actively responding at the cellular level and when our cells are moved or touched physically as well as emotionally, it allows for stronger emotional release?
This idea that emotions are stored and live throughout the body is revolutionary. Given our bodies are also made up approximately seventy percent water, it makes sense to me how we, as tuning forks, can generate emotions in our bodies and then release them.
So what do we do about all this?
Use it to your advantage and boost your Body EQ.
Here's some suggestions, which are taken from the Wright Integrative Model I am learning:
- Accept that emotions are here for our own good. They are data. They are an extension of oursevles. This includes the emotions we have trouble expressing, deny, or ignore.
- Express emotions fully and completely, without going into drama. Instead name your emotions, take responsibility for them and don't expect anyone else to fix them or resolve them.
- Comfort is always good. Ask for it if you want it. Don't expect someone else to read your mind.
When you see someone's expression change speak up and ask:
- "What are you feeling right now?"
- "What is going on in your body right now?"
- "Tell me what you're experiencing"
This helps others verbalize an emotional response, which is difficult when someone isn't accustomed to it.
Ask yourself these same questions to boost your EQ and emotional awareness. You may come up with something new you hadn't realized before.
Pert, Candace. Molecules Of Emotion: Why You Feel The Way You Feel. New York, NY: Scribner, 1997.
Freedman, Joshua. "The Physics of Emotion: Candace Pert on Feeling Go(od)." (2007). 6seconds.org.http://www.6seconds.org/images-static/Physics-of-Emotions.pdf.