Where once emotions were thought of as wild horses pulling our minds (the metaphorical cart they are attached to) this way and that, we now understand we have far more control over them than was previously supposed.
Horse being wild
Neuroscience demonstrates that such acuity and responsiveness is not an ‘intrinsic’ personality trait, but more of a skill that develops over time and can be worked at. In recent years, fMRI brain scans have shown us what emotional responses look like, how emotions are triggered in the brain and that they can be consciously moderated.
“Emotions arise in the limbic brain’s amygdala, the most primitive part of the brain. Once registered by the amygdala, the brain connects your emotional responses to the current situation to your existing memories, which are stored in the hippocampus. It is then the job of the prefrontal cortex to decide which of these memories are relevant to recall, and what sense to make of your emotions once they have been filtered through the pattern-recognition of your past experience. Based on this, your brain uses a combination of knowledge, and intuitive, emotional wisdom to formulate an interpretation and, when required, devise a course of action and behavior in response to what has happened and been felt.”
The emotional center of our brain can be harnessed by the thinking part.
Here’s one way to tame your emotional horses:
- Restrain – Don’t act on your initial emotion. The first and hardest step is NOT ACTING on the emotion you are experiencing. We try to teach this to children – don’t hit someone because you’re “angry”, don’t act on “lust”, don’t steal because you “crave” . . . . “think before you act” . . . “count to 10” . . .
- Reframe – Learn new point of view. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes, “What would Jesus say?”, How would _________(someone you admire/respect) respond?
- Review – Share new view with others. When you explain out loud you hear/see more objectively. Asking for feedback engages the thinking part of your brain.
“Working to develop greater emotional awareness and emotional regulation is hard work. But modern neuroscience proves there is plenty that you can do to get better at emotional regulation. Approach your aspiration for improvement as a long-term project, akin to learning a new language. This is because emotional intelligence has so many different aspects to it. It’s perfectly possible, with focused effort, to change your ‘internal landscape’ for the better, using the full spectrum of emotions available to you to enhance your experience of life.”
Calmer but still wild horse
“The end result is that rather than feeling overwhelmed by some emotions, and shut off from others, you can learn to tap into an emotional ‘palate’ in a way that is more helpful and within your control. This will take effort and practice to achieve as although the ‘wild horses’ theory of emotions is somewhat outdated, the idea that emotions ‘come upon us’ contains some truth.”