The Biology of Emotions

25th April 2012

emotions shutterstock_65835514This is a simple introduction to the biochemical process that creates the experience of feeling, that we classify into different emotions, within the physical body. I have based this on the work of Dr Candace Pert’s book “Molecules of Emotion”, which is an excellent guide to the science behind our emotions.

We experience in response to an internal or external stimulus. Internal stimuli are our thoughts – as our mind wanders and dwells upon different subjects (money troubles, relationships issues, sporting success etc) we trigger different emotional responses. External stimuli include food, touch, people, art, music, nature and the environment. Our mental awareness – at a conscious or unconscious level – of these external stimuli creates an emotional response. This is done through the release of chemicals called peptides throughout the body. The purpose of the peptide is to bind itself to a particular part of a cell – in doing so, the peptide changes the electrical charge of the cell and this creates a particular physical sensation that we recognize as the emotion of happiness, sadness and so on. The emotions then are a bridge between the mind and the body.

In the normal course of events we experience our emotions without difficulty. An external stimulus triggers a reaction within the nervous system. The stimulus can take any form, but here are some common examples: food; touch; art; music; relationships; thoughts (“I am angry / happy about….”); meditative state; chocolate etc.  As a result of a stimulus a chemical, called a peptide, is released throughout the body. Similarly, our thoughts create emotional responses as our awareness wanders from topic to topic.

Now what happens when someone experiences trauma or extremes of emotional stress? The trauma is equivalent to an overload of information – our body produces too many peptides which the body cannot physically process and the mind cannot mentally process the experience. In order to protect ourselves, the body suppresses part or all of the experience – the peptides do not arrive at their destination, instead they are buried within the deep tissues of the body (this is because they are toxic and the denser tissue is less sensitive). Areas of deep tension and physical stress in the body are often connected to these sorts of suppressed energies.  The mental aspect of the experience is buried within the subconscious. Some analysts call these buried aspects of consciousness the “Shadow”. Healers and meditators who are sensitive to energy will feel these blockages in the body as areas of dense and stuck energy, as opposed to energy that moves smoothly and cleanly through the body.

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