Saturday, March 24, 2012

Emotional Intelligence (2): Thought, Feeling, Behaviour

The Dharma Wheel, representing Buddhism's Noble Eightfold Path

The counselling technique of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is founded on the belief that it's our preconceived / learnt / inculcated thoughts and ideas which strongly influence our emotions, and that it's our emotions which strongly influence our actions. Did not Shakespeare's Hamlet say to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern:  ". . . for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so?" If this is the case, then it follows that our emotions and therefore our actions can be reshaped by rethinking our thoughts and views about ourselves / others / the world. Not always easy — but it can be done, as the success of this counselling approach has proved (it's particularly effective in dealing with problems such as phobias, addictions and depressive illnesses).

Even though emotions often seem to arise independently of thought, thought can be used to reconfigure these emotions and thus our behaviours. (To me this at once brings to mind Buddhism's Noble Eightfold Path of Right View, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action etc. According to Buddhist teaching, the random, involuntary stream of thoughts and feelings which runs through our minds much of the time can be consciously stilled and controlled with a little effort, practice, mindfulness and meditation.)

Let's now look at some actual feelings and emotions . . .


  1. How liberating it can be to realize that we are not necessarily who we have been conditioned to become. The wonderful thing about the Noble Eightfold Path is that it provides very practical advice on how to overcome our deepest problems. I have often thought that the world would be a much better place—less neurosis, fewer killings, less harmful gossip, more personal happiness—if the eightfold path were taught at part as our early educational curriculum. Isn't right view as important as math, right intention as important at history, right speech as important as grammar, right action as important as reading?

  2. it's certainly possible that we can examine the thought itself, but to address the core emotion, respect it for what it is telling us, and then choose wisely our response to the emotion is another path to consider. i don't believe there is such a thing as a negative emotion - emotions themselves are pure. again, it is how our human mind is domesticated to respond to the emotion in often kneejerk behavior which gets us into trouble.

    but nonetheless, as you so correctly say - this is very difficult stuff.

  3. Thanks for your comment, George, I agree . . . and Amanda, that's a thoughtful and interesting response. To address the emotion (whether potentially harmful, beneficial, destructive whatever . . ) and to recognise its purity, the fact that it's welled up from somewhere, and must be recognised and respected. I understand this. Yes, perhaps the terms "positive' and "negative' in categorising such emotions is indeed too simplistic, I agree. Yet, in dealing with strong emotions, "thought" must come in somewhere along the line, e.g jealousy — do I take revenge, or do I take some more considered action? E.g. hate — do I let it consume and destroy me, or is there a way I can contain it, and keep my dignity and sanity? Difficult and fascinating issues, which I hope to explore in greater depth — and from a more personal point of view — later.

  4. Do emotions come about without thought? It seems to me that when I feel something there is the processing of some quick thought and then the emotion. If I feel envy, I've usually seen/thought something someone else has, and get envious that I don't have it. I can then recognize the emotion for what it is and rationalize my way out of what is seen as a negative emotion.

  5. Rubye — thanks for your thoughts / feelings. I think it's often difficult to know which comes first, the thought or the emotion. I've certainly had emotions after the thought; then again, I feel I've also had irrational, wild emotions which don't seem created by any thoughts at all. Thought and emotion seem inevitably and inextricably interlinked. Whichever comes first, however, is probably not the most pertinent issue. What's more interesting, I think / feel is how we deal with our emotions, whether thought-provoked or not . . .

  6. Have you been listening in on my conversations with a couple of friends? No?

    There's an interesting movie called "What the Bleep Do We Know" (in more rowdy company substitute the F word for Bleep) in which a neuroscientist talks about brain synapses that are patterned and conditioned through habit, and how you can reroute them with intention. If you don't like an emotional response you have, you must change your belief (thought). I learned this before seeing that film, but after seeing it, having the physiological basis for it helped me visualize it. I totally agree that "feelings are friends" and we can accept them, even welcome them (which disempowers them).

    There's so much more to say, and follow up on your post and the interesting comments!

  7. Thanks for your comment, Ruth. I haven't come across that movie, but I've read about how the brain can be synaptically "rewired" in this way. It all makes such sense to me, and it's a wonderfully liberating feeling. As George hints above, we can change, we are not pre-destined!

    The initial welcoming and acceptance of feelings — all feelings — which both you and Amanda are talking about, I want to explore in greater depth later . . .