The Nature of Emotion



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I am in my room, which is very comfortable one. The light is excellent. It is a bright morning, I feel fresh. I have been preparing for this moment in order to do the best that I can to write down my personal reflection.

I take sometime to be silent and work myself slowly, since I do not want to be in a hurry or feel rushed. At the end of my writing I am energized and comfortable.

I have the strong belief that although emotions are amorphous and uncontrollable they can still be managed and experienced consciously. My experiences in practicing an hour-long meditation each day help me to be more aware of the movements within myself. My body posture and the silence within me enable me to experience my capacity to be alone. It is a valuable resource for understanding the “self.” It is the stage where I create a mirror to see and to listen the deepest reality of myself. The relaxed body, the quiet heart, and the space within, helping me to observe and to experience the dynamic of my inner self.

What is Emotion?

Cornelius (1996) in summarizing the central beliefs of James and his followers states, “The body is central to the generation and experience of emotions (p.59).” According to him, James believed that each emotion must be accompanied by a unique pattern of bodily response. There are thousands of physiological responses, such as palpitations or sweating that can equally accompany positive emotions such as love, or negative emotions such as fear, or they can take place without any emotional tinge at all. He also believed that “the feedback we receive from our bodies is such a major determinant of our experiences of an emotion that it could… (p. 64).” The important point for James and certainly for the generation of his followers was to lay emphasis on the idea that each emotion must be accompanied by a unique pattern of bodily response.

These ideas have led me to the central concept of the cognitive perspective that believes that thought and emotion are inseparable, and every emotion has associated with it a particular pattern of appraisal. If this appraisal is changed, the emotion does so as well. The statements stated above were enriched for me by my own personal experiences. I have experienced in solitude, through every minute of the day and night the thousands of sensations that trigger positive emotions such as happiness, or negative ones such as sadness, or just no emotion at all. I have listened clearly to the voice within me and observed the movement within too. A trace of perfume, a light touch, a fleeting shadow, a strain of music, the voice of the wind, all of these give me strong stimulus to get to my past, or to be in the present, and these include my dreams, hopes and wishes.  The capacity to be in the solitude is a valuable resource, which facilitates learning, thinking, innovating, coming to terms with change and maintaining contact with the inner world of one’s imagination.

Probably the most famous description of sensation triggering emotional memories is that of Arnold and quoted by Cornelius (1996) “a person’s past experience and his or her goals are important aspect of the way that person appraises a situation (p. 166).” In the light his perspective, I believe that the same sensory input can trigger a negative or positive one, depending on the perception or memories associated with it.  The voice of the wind have trigger for me warm and peaceful childhood feeling of when my father and mother took me for holidays to Puncak, one of the mountains near Jakarta, or have also led me to the aching sadness of feeling alone after losing my father and also my youngest brother.

From a different point of view, Cornelius (1996) explains how Averill and other social constructionists believe that “part of what we learn by virtue of our being socialized into a particular culture is sets of rules that implicitly govern our emotional performance (p. 154).” It explains also how a social role is a characteristic pattern of behavior, which is found in a particular society. Emotions are cultural products that owe their meaning and coherence to learn social rules.

Leading Questions

Now it is the time for me to ask, (1) how can I apply both these perspectives to myself or to clients who are both of us either in a situation of hopelessness, unable to support ourselves or in a situation of powerlessness, wherein the support systems of spirituality, economics and culture do not work well? And (2) how can I as a pastoral counselor have a prophetic ministry in order to be able to offer to my clients and myself an alternate perception of reality and lead ourselves to see our own present experiences in the light of God’s Grace and discover His will in freedom and justice?

The Connectedness Between Emotion and Solitude

The dictionary defines solitude as the stage of being alone. I believe it also carries rich connotations that suggest so much more than that. Solitude often implies a sense of contentment and joy in the experience of aloneness. It is the inner quality of self, the attitude, and the ways of being. Solitude is the inner quality and the inner dynamic of self where we experience the internal and external worlds. It is a pre-condition, which enables someone to experience the emotions even deeper. Through solitude, we can become present to ourselves and we can pay attention to the movement within our inner self. We create a precious space and experience the development of our inner sensitivity; and we can discover the hidden voice of emotions, which is always telling us about our inner necessity. The experiences of solitude need to be followed up with practical action to transform the world. The “hero” who has done battle with self and selfishness to discover the deeper true self beyond ego then returns to the world bringing boons.

Integrating to Therapy

As I study the science of emotion and confront it with my spiritual path while experiencing solitude, I acknowledge that they need to be understood and applied at the same time. Who we are, who we are capable of becoming, and how we fit into this world will requires us to step back and look at the larger picture. Through four major theoretical points of views of emotion, we can experience the present and perhaps the hidden emotions of the clients more comprehensively through their body movement, their facial expressions, the tone of their voices, their ways of thinking and their reactions. The aim of every moment in the therapeutic alliance is to put the clients in touch with as many of their true feelings and experiences as they can possibly bear.  Clear, accurate, objective, brief, honest interpretations and empathic emotional understandings are necessary. When the clients are encouraged to get in touch with and express their deepest feelings, in the secure knowledge that they will not be rejected, criticized, nor expected to be different, some kind of rearrangement or sorting-out process often occurs within the mind which brings with it a sense of peace; a sense that the depths of the well of truth have really been reached.

Dealing with clients, especially the clients who are in the situation of powerlessness and who have been alienated and rejected from the society, the therapist needs to understand their hidden feelings and be able to offer the inner solidarity that they have been cast into solitude in its most horrendous meanings. The experiences become the numberless, faceless and nameless person in their life and can be understood as a turning point that enables them to lead the clients to seek for a meaningful life in their desperate experiences. The experience of aloneness will help and enable the therapist to discover the pains of the world of the clients and respond to them accurately. In this sense the therapist needs to know his role that what he can give to the clients is reality. It might not be pleasant but it will make them experience freedom. This process is in itself contributes to healing.

The dynamic of movement from the high rage of anger and self-blaming to peace and from loneliness to solitude can make possible to convert slowly one’s fearful reaction into a loving response.  The clients learn how to not to run away from their feelings of loneliness or alienation or of constantly looking for distractions.  They learn how to be alert and aware of their internal and external world and accept the invitation of becoming free persons with fearless responses.


Cornelius, R. (1996). The Science of Emotion: Research and Tradition in The Psychology of Emotion. New Jersey, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc.

verified by Psychology Today

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