Learned feelings with a focus on anxiety

Each of the seven emotional systems described is innate – SEEKING, RAGE, FEAR, LUST, CARE, GRIEF, & PLAY – we do not learn them, they are part of our genetic inheritance to help us survive in the world. However, our experiences shape how our systems are activated – if our dog licks us with joy each time we throw a ball, our PLAY and CARE system will activate when we see pictures of our dog. In this situation, we learn to be excited about seeing our dog at the end of each day and we plan to take it for walks (SEEKING). If our dog regularly bites us – very different systems would be activated based on our experience in the world.

Our emotional systems have evolved to make the best use of our environment but we use additional processes that work with the emotional systems.

These are:

– Learned Feelings & Learned Behaviours

– and they work with, and against, our emotional systems to help us survive and thrive during our lives.


Learned Feelings

Learned Feelings that encourage us to approach situations – Confidence, Empathy, Trust, Pride, Courage, Compassion, Love.

Learned feelings that encourage us to avoid situations – Shame, Guilt, Hurt, Anger and Anxiety.

First, because it can cause such havoc in peoples lives, and because it is so similar to fear, we will focus on

AnxietyMo with emotional systems causing anxiety

Anxiety is similar to fear but, unlike fear, it tells us about a threat inside us. Fear tells us about a threat outside of us.

If my dog that bites is with me – my FEAR system may be activated. If I am thinking about my dog that bites and I have a fear type response – I am anxious because there is no actual physical danger.   We are responding to a feeling we find threatening – which in this case may be anxiety about our FEAR or RAGE system being activated or of having mixed feelings.

Being in touch with what the anxiety is about is vital for us to live in an attuned way and for our overall wellbeing.

We need to be interested in our emotional truth; in knowing, feeling and sharing what our anxiety is about, and in considering how best to act upon what we feel and learn.

So if I have mixed feelings (which is often the case in our relationships), I first need to realise the anxiety highlights something underneath and to be open to what it is…. This can be hard to do on my own, especially if our feelings are very buried.  But under the anxiety, I may come to experience loving feelings for my dog as well as angry  feelings about it biting me.

Mo - activated RAGE system

Now I’ve noticed that I love my dog and I’m angry, it can be a relief – I’m not anxious any more, I am now in touch with my desire to protect myself and others (RAGE), and my yearning for theMo - CARE system activated connection with my dog that seemed possible before it started biting (CARE).  I then experience enthusiasm about sorting this situation out (SEEKING),  realise I need to do something and in this situation advice or dog training lessons could help!  I may find that I feel positive and optimistic, as well as hopeful about the future.

The key with our learned feelings is not allowing them to cause us to be rigid or chaotic and to dictate our life unhelpfully; instead finding ways to be flexible and keep learning.

Mo - FEAR system activatedIf we just pay attention to the anxiety or see it as FEAR – we are more likely to find ways to avoid or block whatever is driving the anxiety.  If I just think I am anxious about my dog, or if I try not to think about it, I might find myself avoiding the dog, not taking her for walks or not stroking her.  Ironically, this may make it more likely to bite me as the dog gets more frustrated and lonely.  When I take the time to notice that the anxiety is about the emotional systems activated underneath, and to allow myself to be aware of the way I feel, my behaviour is more likely to get action oriented or goal directed in a way that fits with my emotional systems.

One of the hardest things for people who get very anxious is how they can end up doing things that they don’t want to do.

“I don’t want to get rid of my dog but I have to.”

“I want to have a new relationship, I really do, but I’m too afraid to get close to anyone.”

“I love my wife but I continually let her down and now she wants a divorce.”

The more we can listen to the feelings underneath our anxiety, the more we become attuned with ourselves.  We don’t always know what we will find, so its important to step forwards with interest, compassion and a non judgemental attitude.  Sharing with others who are also interested, compassionate and non judgemental is vital to really learn to face buried, scary or challenging feelings.

Flexibility, openness, sharing feelings with compassionate others and life long learning are the keys here.