Emotional Systems

During every moment, we have a choice;

to notice our internal experience

or to run from ourselves.

 Emotional systems help us survive and thrive.

– Follow our urge to seek and find so we meet our needs – SEEKING system

– Respond to danger when it approaches – FEAR system

– Set limits when our physical and emotional needs are challenged – RAGE system

– Express sexual desire and what feels good – LUST / SENSUALITY system

– Grieve our losses and working to prevent loss where possible – GRIEF system

– Build relationships by showing care for those we are closest to – CARE system

– Learn and develop by playing and laughing with joy – PLAY system

This site is designed to help you connect with the core emotions that you need to live well and thrive.  It is a simple fact that you can’t create a life worth living if you avoid how you feel.  Here we focus on the most primal emotions, some that are as old as the dinosaurs (SEEKING, RAGE, FEAR and LUST), and some are common to all vertebrates (CARE, GRIEF and PLAY).  These emotional systems have played a role in life for millions of years because they are all necessary for surviving and thriving.

Our emotional systems have evolved with clear and separate functions to help us navigate the opportunities and difficulties in our world.  As the early systems evolved within animals with less complex brains, like reptiles, they function to help the individual live, to seek out much needed resources like food, water, shelter, and warmth, and to reproduce.  Independent offspring at birth and solo hunting meant that they used were primarily focused on survival of the self.  As animals evolved into social creatures who hunt, live, stay safe and rear young together, thus the emotional systems that evolved later function for both the survival of the self, offspring and community, where working together and cooperating are prioritised over competition.

This understanding works well with the idea that we have two drives that motivate our emotional systems, to be autonomous (independent, being ourselves, who we are) and to belong to be a valuable part of the community, family, group.  These drives can be attuned or in conflict and the way that we resolve these – flexibly or rigidly, compassionately or cruelly, can impact on both our personality and our mental well being.

All 7ES can be used in the service of our drive for autonomy or belonging.  RAGE to protect love ones, CARE to look after ourselves.  In the medium or long term, finding a felicitous balance will enable healthy development as well as building emotional and traumatic resilience.   Having access to emotions and emotional systems creates day to day experiences which are connected. Squashing emotions is more likely to lead to a feeling rollercoaster, with uncontrollable outbursts of feelings and periods of disconnection and flatness.  In addition, living a life which responds to the wants and needs of the self as well as the needs of others, instead of feeling selfish and self centred, is likely to be experienced as grounded, responsive and honouring all.

The situation for most animals is that when an emotional system is activated they get direction, motivation and clarity to respond to the situations they find themselves in.  We have a pre-frontal cortex that enables us to integrate information from all the parts of our brains, to use our emotional systems whilst also being able to pause and choose the response we want to give.  In this way, we are incredibly gifted, with an amazing cortex which can think a billion different things, and change innate behavioural responses. However, our thinking can helps us disconnect from our feelings for weeks, months or years on end, prevents us connecting with our direction and motivation, then the gift we have is turned against us.  To use our mind to connect our capacity for thought and creativity with the feelings we have inside is truly what enables us to thrive.

There are sections on each of these seven emotional systems where I will try to give a brief overview about:

  • what it is for
  • what happens in our bodies when it is activated
  • how we express most directly this emotional system
  • what can happen when a system is constantly blocked or over-activated.
  • ways to use this system effectively, where it is regulated, valued, allowed and safely expressed.

We will also write posts about the systems to bring them to life, to encourage healthy connection and safe expression, lively engagement and creative exploration.