Do you remember the old live action Incredible Hulk TV show with Bill Bixby and Lou Ferigno? Dr. Bruce Banner was a mild mannered fella, going from town to town doing good. Then he’d cross paths with someone who would antagonize and assault him. We all know what happened when he got angry. His face turned beet red, his eyes pop out, the vein in his forehead starts throbbing, he stutters and sputters. Then he transforms into the green monster known as the Incredible Hulk. His anger, like all humans, manifests itself physically and our anger affects our body more than we realize.

 When humans become angry, our body prepares itself for a crisis. We prepare for fight or flight. Our adrenal glands start to secrete hormone, giving us energy in the form of adrenalin. Our digestive system shuts down, and our heart pumps faster to get blood into the extremities where it is needed. Cardiac researchers have discovered that it isn’t only the erupting volcanoes like the Incredible Hulk that suffers from anger related physical disorders. People who silently fume over past abuse are also undergoing these bodily changes.

The distinction between bodily feelings and emotions is not altogether clear cut. Emotions do seem to involve bodily feelings. For example, people say that someone feels a stab of fear, a surge of anger, or a flutter of joy. This might make you wonder how nausea differs from disgust. On the face of it, being startled does not look like an emotion. It seems to be a reflex action. A sudden noise triggers the automatic response of freezing and turning towards the sound. But the startle response has some important features in common with states that could be classified as emotions. Say you’re in a crowed restaurant and the noise of chatter from dozens of conversations fills the air. Suddenly a waiter drops a tray with several glasses, which crashes and shatters as they hit the floor. Automatically, the restaurant comes to a dramatic halt as everyone simultaneously comes to a hush. There is an instinctual reflex to stop and freeze when there is a sudden loud noise. The same thing happens when you are on the street and two cars are screeching as they collide. Some argue that the startle response is a very primitive kind of emotion, a precursor of fear or surprise. If you do not agree, you might ask yourself: in what way does the startle response differ from an emotion?

Experts in the field of emotion, have identified four core emotions that are universally experienced and recognized: fear, anger, sadness and enjoyment. However, most researchers believe that there are many families or dimensions of these emotions that result from the myriad blends, variations and nuances that are possible. This is to say; there are many types of love, sadness, fear, etc, because emotions consist of a cluster of feelings and not merely a single one. For example, sorrow, loneliness, grief, dejection and despair are associated with sadness while happiness, joy, delight, contentment and amusement are associated with enjoyment. Your grief may involve emotions of anger, guilt, and sadness; anger may be associated with fear; love may incorporate jealousy, hope, and admiration; or hate may be connected with fear and envy. Hence, great love and joy are associated with jealousy and fear, which stem from the possibility of losing the beloved. These combinations are not accidental; rather they are due to the fact that your emotional state is unstable and in flux. The rapid heartbeat, upset stomach, headaches, muscle tension, shortness of breath, flushed face, sweaty forehead, fidgety legs, is how your body lets you know its time to make a choice for urgent action. These emotional messages take a physical form that can be seen as literal, gut feelings. These sensations arise from experience, warning you against lethal danger or alerting you to a golden opportunity.

Unfortunatly, people rarely trust this inner knowledge because they are told in so many ways to focus on objective facts instead. A pervasive distrust of your unconscious intuition and emotions is evident in stock phrases like “Sorry I wasn’t thinking.” I have never heard anyone say, “Sorry, I wasn’t feeling.” You do yourself damage when they think of yourself as exclusively logical and fail to pay attention to the role of emotions. These two systems are enmeshed because of the way your brain has been put together by evolution. While strong feelings can create havoc in reasoning, the lack of awareness of feelings can build up over time and this can also be damaging. Scientists now realize how important your emotions are. Placing reason first and emotion second really overstates that value of reason. It is kind of like the Wizard of Oz shouting, “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.” Your logical brain has deluded you into believing that it has been pulling the strings, but it is your emotions that are directing your decisions.

\\Woman behind broken glass image available from Shutterstock.