Initial Hypotheses On Emotions, Trauma, and Happiness

1. We do not have executive control of what emotions are generated by the brain, and all emotions are valid.

2. Pharmaceutical approaches to mental health are necessary for acute treatment, but have reduced effectiveness for chronic treatment.

3. Variation in emotional states varies enormously across different societies. Underlying systemic and structural causes require evaluation according to empirical sociology, beyond the individual therapeutic proposals that follow (4-8).

4. Negative emotions are largely generated by traumatic experiences that have been done to a person where they lost control and consent (e.g., natural disasters, abuse, betrayal).

5. Positive emotions are largely generated by pleasing experiences where the person has had control and consent (e.g., emotional closeness, friendship, professional success).

6. An increased generation of positive emotions will result from increased good and successful actions motivated by kindness, respect, love, and communication.

7. A reduction in the generation of negative emotions will result from building emotional self-regulation when negative emotions strike, cognitive reality testing when they have passed, and conversion of traumatic past experiences into positive action.

8. We cannot control what emotions are generated, but we can learn to control what we do with them. We are what we do.

Some commentary

Re 2: Drug-based approach to mental illness has failed

Re 4: It is always worth remembering that whilst mental illness can provide an explanation, an understanding, and even diminished responsibility in some cases, it does not provide an excuse.

Re 4 and 5: Sometimes postive emotions are unhelpful. e.g., falling in love with an abusive partner, getting excited about a bottle of vodka when you have an alcohol problem, etc. Just because it's positive doesn’t mean it’s always good; just because it’s a negative emotion doesn’t mean it’s bad. Fear, disgust, grief are sometimes very helpful emotions. Perhaps the schema can be made more complex with positive-beneficial, positive-harmful, negative-beneficial, negative-harmful.

Re 7: Reliving the experience is not therapeutic. Developing strategies to deal with the impact of negative experiences is what is needed in many cases. Directing emotional output makes you more detached from the emotion itself, which makes it easier to control, which makes it easier to generate a more positive response.

General: Processing trauma can be very helpful to move memory from sensory fragments (ie flashbacks) to integrated semantic memory without emotional overwhelm, but it’s the last stage of trauma treatment and a whole lot of other things need to be in place for it to be done safely and effectively.

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lev.lafayette's picture

1- Kinda true but they aren’t exclusive- it’s an interactive system.
2- False- Depends on the aetiology and complexity of the issue. Goes both ways.
3- Again it’s grey- there’s a lot of commonalities in brain structures and physiology of emotions but culture and most importantly language as a representation of culture plays a large part. If you want an academic challenge check out Lacan’s work in this area.
4-True for ongoing persistent negative emotions, but it’s also about stress response, and more about stress hormones as opposed to ‘consent/control’. The common denominator would be more the experience of ‘overwhelm’.
6. Primarily they result from positive relationships and activities which are rewarding for an individual. Sadly not everyone is wired for Eudaimonic morality, but for those who are service to others is a delight- largely due to a high level of empathy and understanding of shared experience.
7.- Emotional regulation needs to be developed before negative emotions prevail and is a developmental task. Cognitive reality testing needs to be considered carefully, it’s also used to gaslight and invalidate people’s experiences. It’s more about people becoming aware of their cognitive assumptions and evaluating the usefulness of them. Not all trauma can be converted into positive action- some things that people experience should never have occurred and can be debilitating, post-traumatic growth is amazing for those that experience it, but it shouldn’t be an expectation otherwise it’s victim blaming.
8. Partially true, very true, not true from a psychology perspective- we are much more complex than that and our experiences, epigenetics and relationships are three main factors.