Scholars' Association News
Issue 38
May 2016


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The 'language' of emotions
By Nikos E. Degleris

The difficulty in defining emotion lies in the complexity of its very nature. An emotion is primarily defined based on the subjective experience of the person who feels it, coupled with specific thoughts which preceded it or arose from it, biopsychometric parameters characterising it, and a set of exhortations to act which are directed by that emotion.

Humanities researchers continue to disagree about what 'families' of emotions are primal for mankind and what the varying hues and shades that make up the emotional spectrum are. Paul Ekman, at the University of San Francisco, California, has stated that the four basic emotions (fear, anger, sadness, happiness) complemented by love, shame/guilt, can be seen with a great degree of accuracy in the aborigines of New Guinea who live is isolated tribes, are still in the Stone Age in terms of material cultural, do not use writing and have not been contaminated by electronic technology and the modern Western world.

Fear as an emotion has received particular attention from a psychophysiological viewpoint. In fear, the major role played by the amygdaloid nucleus in the brain as an alarm system has been recognised. Constantly intensifying fear, for example, has a real mission to perform: more than any other emotion it is a basic factor in survival. The problem nowadays is that in our day-to-day life there are many unjustified fears that act like 'poisons' and create excessive stress for no real reason. When stress emerges it can lead to personality disorders, or psychopathoogical conditions such as panic attacks, and various types of phobias, etc.

Anger is the most dangerous emotion and least adaptive, because it increases innate aggressiveness, 'blurs' one's objective picture of reality and allows us to fight like 'blind, lashed and beaten animals' as the Greek singer-songwriter Dionysis Savvopoulos puts it. Anger as an emotion has been studied since antiquity. In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle asserted that "Anybody can become angry — that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way — that is not within everybody's power and is not easy." Releasing anger and placating negative emotions requires intense, prolonged inner work on oneself, which leads to self-awareness and self knowledge, so that there is a harmonious balance between the emotional and rational brain. To paraphrase the well-known 16th century humanist, Erasmus, Zeus put anger and passion on the one side, and logic on the other in a ratio of 24 to 1, which is something quite clear from man's daily life.

Sadness, when associated with natural grieving (due to the loss of a loved one for example) is an adaptive emotion. However when it becomes excessive (transforming into depression or melancholy in its more serious form) then it is a serious psychopathological disorder which directly impacts in a destructive manner not just on the psyche but also on the immune system - the body's very own defence mechanism- and requires medical or psychotherapeutic intervention.

Happiness is directly related to satisfaction of man's basic needs (food, sex). However, it can transmute into higher forms of wellness and felicity when a human being is functioning fully from a biopsychosocial viewpoint. In extreme pathological states it is associated with mania.

Love refers to amicable acceptable, trust, tenderness and a matching dedication found on both sides of the relationships between parents-children, siblings, friends, partners and colleagues. It is affected by cultural, racial, religious and social factors. The erotic element coupled with strong sexual attraction changes how we refer to it by name.

Shame and guilt are negative emotions which develop due to a conflict between the acts of an individual and his own moral code or the code of established values in the society in which he lives. Excessive feelings of regret can also be due to the character and make-up of an individual, who feels intense guilt which objectively speaking does not corresponding to the situation. Cognitive psychotherapy directs individuals to render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's, because guilt with zero or non-existent causes can lead to sadness and depression.

Understanding the language of emotions can be achieved to a high degree by attending experiential groups which are intended to provide life-coaching, self-knowledge and the cultivation of social skills (NLP). Through group processes (which are by definition also individual therapy) the participants:

- identify those elements of their personality which make it difficult for them to come into contact with other people (including both verbal and non-verbal communication).

- find ways out of their emotional impasses.

- experience a sense of redemption, of things being put right, resulting in radical, positive changes to their quality of life.

(Nikos E. Degleris is a neurologist-psychiatrist, clinical professor of Psychotherapy and researcher [Paris V- CNRS]. He also facilitates life-coaching and self-awareness (NLP) groups).

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