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Our responses to one another are essentially emotional. Our emotions are automatic responses to the emotional states of others, which we infer from their appearance, smell, ideas, beliefs, and behavior. The inferred emotional-motivational states of others, in relation to our own perceived ability to cope, tell us when to approach, avoid, or attack.
Long before the development of sophisticated language, humans used emotions to communicate and as a social alarm system. We sensed in one another important messages like:
- “The sabertooth tigers are coming!”
- “The elk are leaving!”
Steven Stosny, is the founder of CompassionPower in suburban Washington, DC. Dr. Steven Stosny’s most recent books are, Soar Above: How to Use the Most Profound Part of Your Brain under Any Kind of Stress; Living and Loving after Betrayal. He has appeared on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” “The Today Show,” “CBS Sunday Morning,” and CNN’s “Talkback Live” and “Anderson Cooper 360” and has been the subject of articles in, The New York Times, The Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report, The Wall Street Journal, Esquire, Cosmopolitan, O, Psychology Today, AP, Reuters, and USA Today.
Editor: Arman Ahmed
Each emotion retains primitive non-verbal display characteristics that inform the world that the emotion is occurring. These include facial expressions (smiles, frowns, glares), vocalizations (cooing, moaning, sobbing, screaming, roaring), changes in posture and muscle tone (slumping, tensing, imminent springing, or fleeing), and various expressive behaviors such as stomping feet, beating one’s breast, and pulling one’s hair.
With the development of sophisticated language and thinking, the communication need for display waned, and so did our tolerance of it. Similarly, as developing language skills and emerging independence reduce children’s need to broadcast their wants and fears, they face increasing adult rebuke, implicit and otherwise, for emotional display. The uninhibited display of emotions is rare in people older than three.
Most cultures tolerate raw emotional displays by adults only under clearly defined circumstances of ceremony or extremity. The display of anguish, for example, includes weeping, wailing, and flailing, with a sharply down-turned mouth forming the ancient mask of tragedy. A shame display includes slumped head (neck muscles weaken making eye contact difficult), flushed face, and constricted muscles, as the exposed self contorts to the smallest space possible. (The root of the word means to cover or hide.) The display of anger includes bulging, dilated eyes, tightened jaw, exposed teeth, tense, swollen muscles, inflated body posture, and either deepened or shrieking voice.
When shame and fear of consequences are associated with the experience of the emotion itself, more complicated problems of living develop. Joy causes shame, love smacks of fear, sex disgusts us, or sadness depresses us.