The role that emotions play in keeping us safe

Seeing a beautiful flower, listening to sublime music, tasting a delicious morsel of food, inhaling a heavenly scent or feeling the titillating sensation of a gentle touch on my arm can send me into a state of bliss. But over the last year or so, I’ve come to understand that the sensations I’ve described are all collateral sensory benefits of a sensory system that evolved, primarily, for self defense.

We use our five senses to discern whether or not we’re in any kind of physical danger, polling our environment millions of times each day for potential physical threats – from heat and cold, harmful animals, toxins in our food, water and in the air, sharp objects sudden impact.

My first twenty years were lived in a dysfunctional home where it was terribly unsafe to show any form of vulnerability. In that kind of an environment, repressing your emotions evolved as an important survival strategy. As the result of my history, I’m only just learning what it feels like to acknowledge my emotions, so I have immense respect for something that many people might take for granted.

Have you ever considered the enormity of the role that our emotions play in keeping us safe from the emotional threat of isolation, social exclusion, rejection and alienation? I make the case in “Learning to Love – Your Guide to Personal Empowerment” that human beings respond to a fear of losing connection by initiating a fight or flight response that’s just as intense as their response an imminent physical threat from fire, airborne toxins or from the rapid loss of elevation in an aeroplane.

Here are a few examples:

Irritation is the emotion that we feel when forced to endure something uncomfortable. The emotion protects us by signalling an urgent need to alter something in our environment.

Envy is the emotion that we feel when noticing that someone else has something that we covet – possessing that thing would in some way enhance our connection-worthiness, thereby making us safer. (It’s helpful to inwardly check to verify whether this is true or not.)

Confidence is the emotion that we feel when we are acting in a way that (we believe) reinforces our social connectedness. Confidence sends a signal to our nervous system to continue doing what we are doing.

Suspicion indicates that something in our environment poses a threat to our social connectedness and provides us with pause to evaluate the risks that are present.

Sadness is a response to the absence of something or someone to whom we feel connected. Sadness is protects us by illuminating the need to seek connection elsewhere or to repair the earlier connection when that’s possible.

2017 is offering a fresh opportunity to tune into our emotions, repeatedly asking the question: “What critical safety information is this emotion conveying?”

Wishing you a stunning new year,

Philip Be’er

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