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Emotional Coping Brain

Emotional Coping Brain


Introduction

The emotional coping function is also known as the mammalian brain since it is common to all mammals whose babies are born live and completely dependent upon their mother for survival. Neuroscientists, refer to this small but essential brain function as the limbic system. As we will see, without our emotional brain mothers would not feel an instinctive need to nurture and feed their young. Nor would babies recognize and sense that their survival depends upon staying close to their mother for protection. This relatively small but important brain function serves a variety of coping and sensory purposes including our capacity for emotional attachment to others. When we talk about our “feelings” we are describing sensations and impulses arising from our emotional coping brain.

We can’t help think of our emotional coping brain without realizing its connection to reptilian instincts that also help us to survive. But emotional brain does much more than keep us alive. It is the link to our thinking (neocortex) brain that allows humans to know and name what they are feeling (like happiness or sadness). We need an emotional brain to help us form judgments, preferences and attitudes – that tell us who and what we like or dislike. When we feel we really like a certain movie star or character in a book, our emotional coping brain urges us to see that actor's movies or read books about our favorite characters.

Feelings and Emotions - The connection between Coping Brain functions

We often use the words “emotions” and “feelings” as though they are the same thing. When it comes to coping skills and brain tools, we can see they are the result of different brain coping functions. We have an immediate response when our emotional brain senses we are having an emotional experience (like having fun spending time with a close friend). However, our feelings go beyond sensing an experience. Feelings result from our thinking (neocortex), emotional (mammalian) and reptilian (survival) brains' reaction to what we are feeling inside. Thinking brain is always working hard to understand what kind of experience emotional brain is sensing or processing. Neocortex is also connected to reptilian brain since it's like an emergency signal (stress) we need to respond to. Emotional brain is also sensitive to reptilian warnings when something seems like a threat or sign of danger (upsets our feelings). Here is another way of explaining the relationship between “emotions” and “feelings”: Feelings are the subjective, inner meaning (or interpretation) we give to our emotional experiences. Two people may have the same stressful experience (like their pet dying), but inner feelings are determined by each person's own neocortex, which gives meaning to an emotional experience and considers the best way to cope with an upsetting situation. One person can become sad and cry. Another person, who might not feel so attached to their pet , might decide to go out and replace it with another one. Brain timing is important. Reptilian impulses tend to lead us to respond quickly using anger or avoidance. Thinking brains take a while to “figure out” why we feel the way we do and what we should do about it. Neocortex provides meaning (that we call our feelings) by explaining to us what emotional brain is experiencing -- whether it's happiness or hurt feelings.

10 Human Emotional Brain Coping Characteristics

1. Instinctive survival when dependent upon others
2. Emotional expression
3. Social identity and emotional connection with others
4. Mutual love and emotional bonding
5. Compassion and empathy with others
6. Joyful feelings of happiness and excitement
7. Enjoyment of play
8. Our sense of emotional distress and sadness
9. Our emotional preferences, likes and dislikes
10. Our sense of shame, rejection and acceptance

 1. Instinctive survival when dependent upon others

Human emotions are needed for a baby’s survival since helpless infants are completely dependent on someone upon their parents for protecting, caring for and feeding them. This is one reason fathers and mothers have different instinctive brain capabilities when it comes to protecting their young. Fathers have strong reptilian brain impulses to physically protect their children, while mothers’ emotional brain functions focus more on nurturing behavior that includes emotional displays of love and hugging to reassure the helpless infant that they are safe and loved.

 2. Emotional expression

Without an emotional brain function our face wouldn’t show how we feel about things. Do we feel safe and comfortable with someone, or are we suspicious or afraid of them? All this is the emotional brain’s instinctive ability to express or show others what we are feeling. Some people are very good at reading “body language” and facial expressions to figure out how people respond to them. Others find it difficult to understand how others feel about them. Our emotional coping brain depends upon our thinking brain’s interpretation of our relationships with others. Without our ability to correctly interpret what other people think of us, we would feel lost in social situations. Some of our emotional brain instincts are more sensitive than others according to whether we're a male or female. Generally, female brains tend to be better than males at sensing relationships with others. Females also tend to react more emotionally than boys being more sensitive to feelings as well as capable of expressing them. For example, girls' brains often experience deep sadness or distress when they experience the loss or rejection of someone they have been close to. Males more naturally display anger, followed by reptilian brain aggressive behavior, when they are emotionally upset and unable to cope with such experiences. Our instinctive brains can send different messages that cause anger or sadness. Both responses require us to use neocortex self-control methods to get over our emotional brain sadness or reptilian brain anger.

 3. Social identity and emotional connections with others

Humans are social beings. This means we feel better when we have friends and do things that we enjoy together. The emotional brain senses being more safe when we belong and have a connection with others, because our brain has a basic need for security and protection. This emotional brain's strong social need also contributes to our sense of status and our ranking within a group. In personal relationships it is our emotional brain that senses how others feel or think about us. The way people respond to us is often a key cue for telling ourself “How lovable and acceptable I am.” As we move from being a child to pre-teen and later during teenage years we need far more social assurance that we are lovable and acceptable persons. Adolescence involves turning away from parents for our sense of who we are and what others think of us. We need and seek more approval from peers – our similar age friends and classmates. At this time we become far more sensitive to responses from those whose approval we need. It is a constant adolescent worry whether a person or group rejects or accept us.

 4. Mutual love and emotional attachment

Emotional coping functions are necessary when we are with those people upon whom we depend and who are important to us. This includes our parents, teachers and friends. If we didn't have an emotional brain, we couldn't have the warm experience when we are with close, trusting friends, or later in life enjoy the love and companionship of another person who we want to spend the rest of our life with. Our natural survival instinct drives us to seek close emotional attachment with others. This begins with the bond between mother and child that assures baby’s survival. However, as we grow older it is not enough to have similar interests or share the same activities with others, although this is an important way of forming social connections. From the moment we are born we feel the need to express and receive assurance that we are cared for by someone or some group. As we grow older, the most reassuring feeling our emotional brain provides us is that someone else loves and cares for me the same as I care for them.

 5. Compassion and empathy with others

Emotional brain provides us with the ability to understand and sense the deepest feelings of others. This gives us the ability to feel sad when others do; or share the joy of others in a group having fun. This connection to others' feelings is what makes us want to sacrifice ourselves in possible harm to help others ourselves for others we care about. Parents can have deep emotional attachment with their children. This means some parents are willing to sacrifice their own personal needs in order to help their children fill their needs. One example is a single mother who works several jobs at a time, while taking care of her home and children. She receives enjoyment just by feeding, caring for and bringing enjoyment to her children. A mother's or father's sacrifice can make it possible for her children to go to college. Compassion means we simply care about the welfare of others and want to comfort and assist them any way we can. The emotional coping brain connection to our thinking brain creates one of the most valued human emotional experiences: To truly understand and experience what others are feeling. This is more than sympathy, and people just feeling sorry for us. The deepest emotional connection with another person (or pet) is called “empathy.” The closest emotional relationships we have in life require empathy – the joining of two individuals' feelings. When they are happy, it makes us happy. When they are sad, so are we. Native Americans have expressed this sense of deep emotional connection with another by calling it “Walking a mile in their moccasins.”

 6. Joyful feelings of happiness and excitement

A major difference between reptiles and mammals is that humans and other higher mammals have an emotional brain function that is able to experience and express the excitement of joy and happiness. You don’t expect a lizard or alligator to wag its tail or lick your face if you pet it. Why? They have no emotional brain that provides this sense of enjoyment. Emotional experiences like birthdays or wonderful surprises are able to lift our human spirits. Without an emotional brain we wouldn't scream out in joy when our team or school wins a big game. In addition to joy, humans have the ability to laugh at our self. A sense of humor is a unique human coping ability that can help to reduce stress. Humor is the result of combining emotional brain and thinking brain abilities to not only sense when we are happy or sad, but to express our joy by laughing, or even making fun of what we fear.

 7. Enjoyment of play

Everyone loves puppies and small kittens because their emotional brain provides them with the unique ability and impulse to engage in play. As children we can’t get enough of play, for it is one of our most active and instinctive emotional brain functions. Sometimes we use play to divert our thinking brain worrying about something that upsets us. Play also makes us feel good since it engages or uses all of our three coping brain functions – reptilian, emotional and thinking. “Play” in the sense we use it as an emotional brain function, is different than “competitive activity” where there is a need to prove something by winning, and feeling terrible if we lose or don’t measure up. Emotional play is a light sense of enjoyment that reduces stress. Baseball and other competitive games we "play" involve “keeping score” and even “settling a score” by dominating and “beating” others. That is more a reptilian than emotional brain function. (See the previous “reptilian brain” section.)

 8. Our sense of emotional distress and sadness

Happiness and the enjoyment of play come from the same emotional brain that gives us the ability to experience sorrow, sadness and emotional longing for someone or something we have lost. Both of these emotional senses are involved when we feel betrayed or lied to and disappointed by someone we trust or care about. Emotional brain is particularly sensitive to betrayal because it can damage our ability to love and care for others. Some people carry grudges against people for weeks or years because they don’t have the emotional resilience to get over emotional hurt because of what someone said or did . It is important we learn the connection between stress, caring and coping since this helps us to get over an emotionally painful experience like rejection and humiliation. Knowing how our coping brains responds to these powerful emotional experiences helps us to get over our sadness, anger and other stressful periods in life.

 9. Our emotional preferences, likes and dislikes


When scientists study human brain and behavior connections they have found a direct connection between emotional brain functions and facial expressions. Higher mammals, particularly humans, come equipped with very sensitive emotional brains that give us a broad range of expressions to show our preferences, likes and dislikes. For example, look at the face of someone trying out a new food they find out they really dislike and you can see their instant “distasteful” expression. Compare this to the look on the face of someone enjoying a delicious, ice cream Sunday. Our face reveals which food or person we like. Just as our face reveals our disliking or disgust, emotional brain reveals when we are experiencing fun and pleasure. Emotional brain functions are highly sensitive to new, and possibly threatening situations when we meet new people. Being instinctive, our emotional brain responses are instantly displayed by our face. If we see a smiling and friendly person, we feel safe, and possibly attracted to them. When we see a stranger who seems mysterious, angry, and different from us, our emotional brain signals an alert to reptilian brain to be on alert that we may need to hide or attack. The result is we don't want to get too close to that strange or frightening person. Sometimes our neocortex struggles to unscramble different messages received at the same time from emotional and reptilian coping brains. This is when our brain becomes confused by "mixed feelings." For example, we may think: “Why is a smiling person doing or saying cruel things to me?” This is both confusing and upsetting to our coping brains. School bullies who are taken to the principal’s office may say in their defense, “I was only having fun.” This same double messages makes smiling villains in movies even more frightening.

 10. Our sense of shame, rejection and acceptance

Emotional brain is the center for recognizing or telling ourself when we are to blame for another person's emotional upset or pain. Even the emotional brain of our pet dog responds with a sense of shame when it is punished for unacceptable behavior like peeing on the rug. We use a strong and loud voice to say, “Bad dog” over and over to make sure our dog understands how much we dislike what it has done. Now dogs, and human infants, may not understand words, but their emotional as well as reptilian brain instincts immediately recognize a loud and angry tone of voice that feels like “I’ve done something wrong” and “I’m in trouble with someone who I need to care for me.” This is how we humans experience shame and guilt. Shame and guilt are the most primitive ways our emotional coping brain informs us that we need to change our behavior to be loved and accepted by others. During adolescence the need for social acceptance is so strong that we have deep emotional pain and shame when we experience rejection. Shame and rejection are two of the most difficult and painful experiences that teenagers must learn to cope with particularly during teenage years when emotional brain becomes far more sensitive to being rejected and ashamed.
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