THE NEUROBIOLOGY OF EMOTION
“Despite that we’ve learned a lot about healthy exercise practices, healthy diets, and good medical care, the bottom line is that the most significant way of contributing to our own good health is through the quality of our thought processes. This power is a valuable gift, in light of the lack of control we have over other aspects of life,” Every thought and every perception you have changes the homeostasis of your body. Will it be the brakes or the accelerator, a health account deposit or a health account withdrawal?”
Christiane Northup The Wisdom of Menopause
The ancient Romans thought the seat of emotions was in the liver. Later, the heart was thought to be the organ of feeling. In modern times, emotions were associated with emotional centers in the brain, such as the amygdala, the hippocampus, and the hypothalamus. But the story doesn’t end here. Emotions travel through our bodies and bind to neuropeptide receptors on the outside of cells. Our emotions are constantly being processed by our bodies. Emotional development is a dynamic process involving both nature and nurture. The more senses are involved in an experience, the more the brain remembers, and the more deeply the memory is imprinted onto our emotional network.
The limbic system is the custodian of our emotions. According to Dr. Daniel Amen, it “sets the mind’s emotional tone, filters external events through internal states (creates emotional coloring), tags events as internally important, stores highly charged emotional memories, modulates motivation, controls appetite and sleep cycles, promotes bonding and directly processes the sense of smell and modulates libido,” Our neural network carries our emotional sense memories. A chance encounter with a familiar smell or other stimulus can unleash a cascade of memories with their associated emotions. In the case of good memories, this is a wonderful gift. In the case of traumatic ones, it forces us to re-live ancient pain until we resolve it once and for all.
Psychotherapy and healing relationships re-pattern our limbic systems. Both the limbic system and the neocortex are involved in processing emotions. The neocortex collects facts quickly and processes them logically. The limbic system, which pervades the whole body, works slowly, responding to the insights of the neocortex as well as the healing relationships in our lives. Healing requires new relationships which provide a safe container where we can explore new ways of seeing ourselves and practise new behavior patterns. We need to be patient with ourselves as we inscribe new neural patterning, which will allow us to feel and behave differently.
Emotions are like the wind. Scientists can study how they affect the brain, the neural network, the limbic system, and every other system in the body. But seeing the effects of something is not the same as unveiling the thing itself. Will we ever know exactly what an emotion is, or assign it a precise physical address?
I hope not. Some mysteries are best left unexplained.
Fascinated? Check out the article below. Then perform an internet search for neurobiology of emotions.
An excerpt from The Magic of Forgiveness by Tian Dayton PhD TEP, Health Communications