EI Theory Part Two – Emotion and Biology


There are a number of brain structures that can be identified as the physical homes of emotion.  The limbic system, a region located approximately in the center of the brain, can be viewed as your emotional neighborhood. The limbic system consists of a series of interconnected brain structures that includes the frontal area of the brain, the hippocampus, amygdala, hypothalamus (anterior thalamic nuclei), septum, limbic cortex and fornix.  It is believed that these structures support a variety of functions including emotional behavior and the long-term memory related to emotional behavior.  It is NOT essential for you, the learner, to know these structures to any great extent – although it could benefit you.  Knowing that there are anatomical, electro-bio-chemical and hormonal correlations between your emotions and your brain is, however, critical to improving your EI. Although you may decide not to know these structures, you will have to remember where your emotions live – at minimum.  You will be visiting the limbic neighborhood a lot, as you endeavor to improve your EI.

It is best to know your neighbors.

The limbic neighborhood, when in balance, can be described as resting – but has the potential to come alive at any moment in an all-out effort to protect the body from real or perceived harm or threat of harm.  This automatic response (which means it happens without your consent) involves the release of neurochemicals and hormones into the body that are intent on protecting you from your perceived threat. You can expect a sudden increase in heart rate, perspiration, flushing of the skin, hair standing on end, etc. All designed by Nature to give you the strength, energy and focus to run away very quickly or fight very bravely (or just to freeze, motionless, in the hopes you will appear unthreatening to your attacker).

Let’s find a more familiar image to understand this phenomenon.

Imagine that you cut your finger.

Blood flows from your cut, no matter how much you are against that from happening.

It is automatic.

The blood flows until it either stops on its own or you commit to do something to stop it yourself.  If you commit to attending to the cut, you might wash it, put it in your mouth or cover it with a Band-Aid (or plaster).  Your effort to stop the bleeding will likely shorten the time the wound is active. While attending to the cut, you tell yourself how to avoid such accidents in the future.

The essential factors in this scenario is that the blood flowed without your consent; and it will continue to flow until you commit to do something about it; you took reasonable steps to stop it, and you committed to better handling the same or similar type of danger in the future.

We can use this same analogy to better understand what happens when you make yourself angry, depressed, enraged or infuriated.

Of course, the whole process begins with perception and thought.  For example, “I am being disrespected and I cannot stand it!”

That thought is interpreted by the brain as a threat to your wellbeing and begins the automatic flow of neurochemicals and hormones into the bloodstream, flooding major organs, activating the flight or freeze (stress) response.

  • the heart rate and blood pressure increase;
  • the pupils dilate to take in as much light as possible;
  • the veins in skin constrict to send more blood to major muscle groups;
  • blood-glucose level increases;
  • the muscles tense up, energized by adrenaline and glucose;
  • the smooth muscle relaxes in order to allow more oxygen into the lungs;
  • the digestion and immune system shut down to allow more energy for emergency functions; and
  • trouble focusing on small tasks because the brain is focused on big picture in order to determine where threat is coming from.

Like blood from a cut, the flow of neurochemicals and hormones happens without your consent.  Like tending to a wound, you must commit to providing your thinking with immediate attention. Applying new thinking, thinking twice, is much like putting a Band-Aid (or plaster) over the wound.

Keep in mind that the stress response was only designed by Nature to last as long as it took to manage the threat.  Traditionally, no more than thirty to forty-five seconds.  Your stress response was not designed to last days, months and years. Prolonged exposure to the neurochemicals and hormones that activate the stress response burdens vital organs, i.e., heart, liver, kidneys, adrenal glands, etc. that are taxed with pumping these dangerous chemicals through your body.  These substances will also begin to deteriorate your body’s major organs, resulting in a number of compromising health problems, e.g., heart disease, obesity, a weakened immune system, muscle, joint, skin and stomach problems.

It is best to apply that Band-aid to your thinking, as soon as possible, to prevent whole-body infection.

EI is a process of commitment to conscious negotiation with the quiet neighbors, the aggressive neighbors and the mediator who all live together in the limbic neighborhood.  Suffice it to say that more often than not, before you emote (have emotions) you think.  There are few exceptions to this rule. It is your second thought, when you choose to think twice, that your EI will intercede in the negotiations and help settle on a more self-preserving, less aggressive response to disturbances to your balance.

Nothing can better bring you peace than yourself.

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11 responses

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