Do we manage emotions with cognitive activities because emotions control behavior, or do we manage emotions with cognitive activities because emotions are a response to cognition – via cognition’s influence upon physiological biochemistry? Are emotions controlling cognitive and physiological/biochemical behavior because they are an independent construct…. or…. are emotions perceiving cognitive activities via physiological/ biochemical behavior? Are emotions a ‘power of influence’ or are emotions a ‘response of awareness’ with their ‘power of influence’ coming from a cognitive awareness and reaction to their presence? Is it possible for emotions to exist on their own, or is their existence dependent upon cognitive activities which create physiological biochemical behavior? Evolution has established a cognitive/physical/emotional correlation such that emotions provide consciousness with an awareness to the health and well-being of the body’s physiology and biochemistry.
Within emotional guidance is the cognitive construct of want and desire: more precisely, the pleasure one feels when perceiving and cogitating upon obtaining and having that which is wanted and desired. The foundation of a psychotherapy rehabilitation that asks, “What do you want?” reaches through to the core of our evolved DNA that creates pain when hungry and pleasure with fulfillment. The beginning of healing starts with reaffirming and strengthening the cognitive neural networks of an individual’s objects of desire and wanting, and the emotional feeling of pleasure.
“What do you want?” is a question that brings about an emotionally negative response if the patient is dwelling within the cognitive constructs of the ‘not wanted’ or ‘lack of’ that which is actually desired. Our evolutionary reflexes are to move consciousness into cognitive activities of ‘that which is wanted’. The therapist’s role is to aid in the understanding of this process and to train and to develop the cognitive skills necessary to pivot from that which is ‘not wanted’ to that which is ‘wanted’. Emotions are the guiding light regarding the success or lack of success in this change in cognitive activity. Neuroplasticity of the brain means that everybody has the capacity to realize a new and more beneficial reality because the brain can rewire itself and create new circuits of understanding and alternative healthy behavior.
This therapy reaffirms an evolved biological guidance system where emotions are used to evaluate cognitive behaviors via awareness of the bodies biochemical physiology. In stark contrast to ‘emotional regulation’, emotions are not being ‘regulated’ but are used to regulate, that is, guide cognitive behaviors. Also, in this context, emotions are not ‘out of control’ nor is there an ‘emotional disorder’. On the contrary it is the cognitive mind that is ‘out of control’ and there is a ‘cognitive disorder’. Deviant emotional behaviors are reflections of this aberrant cognitive behavior. Emotions are not dysfunctional in “emotional dysfunction” but are being very functional in that they are bringing to consciousness the dysfunctional aspect within the mind’s cognitive activities that are creating the aberrant bodily conditions we are perceiving as emotions. It is these cognitive irregularities that need to be addressed. Emotions are but the messenger.
It is the symbiotic nature of cognition and consciousness to ferret out that which is wanted from within that which is not wanted. It is also within this nature to acknowledge that which is not wanted from within that which is wanted. Cognition and consciousness also have a biological function to maintain a healthy and vital physiological biochemistry. Emotions have a function. Emotions bring an awareness to consciousness of the health, or lack thereof, of cognitive activities. Feeling good correlates with a healthy biochemistry and feeling bad correlates with an unhealthy biochemistry. Psychological and pharmaceutical therapy must honor these functions. Mental illness arises when healthy responses to the emotional system are absent. That is, an individual is lacking natural cognitive/behavior reactions to positive and negative emotional feelings. Yet a pharmaceutical therapy that asks a patient to tolerate its negative side effects is asking the patient to precisely do this, ignore the emotional guidance system. Taking medications with negative side effects runs contrary to millions of years of evolution where if something doesn’t feel good, it isn’t. Mental illness arises when healthy responses to the emotional system are absent and the individual does not have the mental/emotional capacity, agility, or wisdom to respond to his or her emotional guidance in a natural and healthy manner to ‘get his or her mind off of the hot stove’.
A useful definition of mental illness is the inability of a person to respond constructively to emotional signals. Individuals feel or perceive emotions and normally respond to their emotional guidance system by recreating mental activities that bring about positive feeling emotions. Negative emotions are a driving impetus to create and imagine a new and different chemistry of cognitive activities that bring about a positive biology with positive feeling emotions. If feelings are skewing negative, this is the brain’s signal to re-cogitate on this subject or to get off this subject entirely and refocus the mind and its activities onto something that brings a positive emotional response. The objective is to keep the mind and its cognitive powers of perception, recognition, conception, reasoning, and imagination, along with the body’s capacity of actualization, to be continually reaching for better, good feeling emotional responses which are indicative of a healthy physiological biochemistry.
The goal and practice of psychological rehabilitation is to utilize the brain’s power of neuroplasticity and to develop within a person the mental agility and reflexes to constructively respond to his or her emotional guidance system. At first, these steps may simply go from painful emotions to less painful emotions, but eventually, with the development of new habits and skills of mental agility, the steps will be from feeling good emotionally to feeling even better emotionally.