Should emotions be regulated by the mind or should the mind be regulated by emotions? Are emotions out of control or are emotions reflecting an out of control mind? Should psychological therapy focus on controlling emotions or on controlling thoughts, imagination, perception and other cognitive activities of the brain? Evolution has established a cognitive/emotional correlation such that emotions should guide cognition and physical behavior towards their emotionally positive characteristics.
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 neural networks of an individual’s 1) objects of desire and wanting, 2) the emotional feeling of pleasure, and 3) their actualization into reality.
“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 the presence of ‘that which is wanted’. The therapist’s role is to help move cognitive activity 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.
This therapy reaffirms an evolved biological guidance system where emotions are used to evaluate cognitive behaviors. In stark contrast to ‘emotional regulation’, emotions are not being ‘regulated’ but are used to regulate cognitive behaviors. 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. Emotional dysfunctions are signals to the consciousness that there is a dysfunctional aspect within the mind’s cognitive activities. It is these cognitive irregularities that need to be addressed.
It is the nature of the mind to ferret out that which is wanted from within that which is not wanted. It is the nature of the mind to acknowledge that which is not wanted from within that which is wanted. The mind has a function. Emotions have a function. Psychological and pharmaceutical therapy must honor these functions. 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 signals. Individuals feel or perceive emotions and normally respond to their emotional guidance system by avoiding mental activities that bring about negative emotions. Negative emotions are a driving impetus to create and imagine a new and different chemistry of cognitive activities that bring about positive 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.
The goal and practice of psychological rehabilitation is to utilize the brain’s power of neuroplasticity and to develop within a person mental agility to constructively respond to his or her emotional guidance system. At first, these steps may simply go from painful to less painful, but eventually, with the development of new habits and skills of mental agility, the steps will be from feeling good to feeling even better.