Can We Change Our Emotional Style?
Do you find yourself fall mostly to one emotional trait since young? Is it genetic? According to this neuroscientist , our emotions can be measured through brain activity! And through his decades of research and practical exercises, nurture trumps nature.
We may be born with a certain personality or emotional trait but through life experiences we can change that trait. Currently reading this book by neuroscientist Dr Richard J Davidson, it’s intriguing to read about how his research on brain activity has shown how emotional style can be measured.
In one of the study on toddlers at age three on the behavioural inhibition trait which displays how shy a person is especially in unfamiliar situation. And later when the child is nine years of age, they took measurement again of brain activity – less behavioural inhibition, more bold, more positive has more left than right prefrontal cortex activity. The research results showed that when the toddler behaved shyness towards an event and more inhibited, he or she could be completely different as he grew older, and on further research and analysis, when the child was nurtured with comfort by simply more physical touch and hugs, the initial behavioural inhibition can be eased and built bolder emotional trait when faced with unfamiliar situation. Similarly, when a child is born displaying bolder behaviour and less inhibition, through experiences, for instance, being met with a tragic lost of a parent, he then grew up to display more inhibition.
So nurture trumps nature!
Now how about managing emotions like anger and sadness? How can we effectively change from one who is often angry and depressive to one of more peaceful emotions and positive outlook? Before we attempt to transform ourselves, first, let’s understand about these emotions.
To better understand about emotions, we can categorise emotions into six different dimensions –
- Resilience: how slowly or quickly you recover from adversity.
- Outlook: how long you are able to sustain positive emotion.
- Social Intuition: how adept you are at picking up social signals from the people around you.
- Self-Awareness: how well you perceive bodily feelings that reflect emotions.
- Sensitivity to Context: how good you are at regulating your emotional responses to take into account the context you find yourself in.
- Attention: how sharp and clear your focus is.
I can personally relate to some of the dimensions mentioned here, for example by being aware of my bodily reactions during anger or intense emotions, I manage it better by regulating the bodily reactions, consciously aware coming mostly from chest, or head, then relax myself and thus the emotion. Most of us do not consciously aware of how we recover from stressful situations (except for extremely traumatic events). For instance, you have an argument with your partner in the morning, and feel irritable the entire day and not aware that you have not regained emotional equilibrium pertaining to that incident, being “slow to recover” style. By understanding the different dimensions of your Emotional Styles, is the first and fundamental step towards any attempt to either gracefully accept who you are or transform it.
This is not to say that one emotional trait or style is preferred over another, bold being better than shyness. Only if it deters or affects a person’s life negatively, then could one attempts to transform it.
By understanding these different dimensions of emotional styles, we can deploy exercises and actions to each area, instead of just looking at emotions as just a primitive reactions.