You’re about to embark on an innovative, logical, and simple way of looking at emotions. You will learn their purpose, the way they came to be, and how you can use them to improve yourself.

This work attempts to place all known emotions into groups to simplify them into one framework. A framework refers to a larger picture; by considering all aspects of the topic, we can form a simple but biologically consistent view. If you are young, you are about to become the smartest person in your class.

The way I present this information is called constructivism. I use known information, existing knowledge, and theories on specific biological areas, and I reorganize it and articulate it neatly to create one model or a picture.

Conventional information will be included, but we will go beyond that to form theories of why emotions exist, where they come from, and how to best manage them. By the end of this book, you will have some practical techniques for managing your emotions.

The Sympathetic Nervous System

Your sympathetic nervous system is responsible for your preservation. It’s like that crazy paranoid relative who looks for anything a little suspicious or dangerous. Thankfully, your parasympathetic system is like a wise grandparent who says, “Calm down. Everything is going to be fine. Breathe slowly again. Your heart will settle and your mind won’t be racing anymore.”

We can observe various bodily responses in an event where survival is in jeopardy. I will focus on the apparent differences created by the sympathetic system, which is in charge of survival. The sympathetic system generates fear responses, grief responses, and combat responses, which are generic terms that describe three clear survival strategies. Thus, they are part of the survival function, and the thread of this sequence is stress.

We could also add that an accumulated number of responses, from response one to response three, may exist. Imagine a car with three gears that begins injecting petrol to the engine while in gear one, and it continues injecting petrol when the engine moves into gear two. In gear two and gear three, the car continues to burn petrol, but now it travels at a higher speed. Using the same analogy, a human experiencing fear in gear one would have their blood supply redirected to legs and arms. In gear two, the blood supply is still redirected, and verbalization takes place as an expression of pain. In gear three, all previous behaviors are true, but the person enters a combative or defensive state. A natural anesthetic will be secreted that may create an increased tolerance for pain, and the person may disengage and become careless. Verbal or physical aggression may occur at this point.

A series of other responses are also involved, like cognitive effects including pre-frontal lobe shutdown, which takes place when people are distressed. This is where rational thinking, some emotional regulation, and the planning for movement, actions, and words takes place. So, if a person in distress has gone from fear to combat mode, you can expect loss of control. It is not uncommon that a simple argument can turn badly when someone goes into combat mode. A person in a state of combat (defensive or offensive) is capable of saying or doing horrific things to people they love. Later, they may explain that at the time, they perceived their actions as justified and accurate.

Another example that helps explain accumulation response is an unnerving situation like leaning over a cliff. There is no pain or need to respond defensively here; the person leaning just experiences a sense of danger or vertigo. Of course, if the person accidentally loses his or her balance, immediate painful memories of other experiences are summoned and the person will probably vocalize (i.e., ask for help and scream). If this person is hurt, another program will override the previous behavior and the person will fall into a state of numbness or shock, which is a naturally more intense response. In some cases, there would also be emotional and physical numbness, disorientation, and memory failure. No attacker exists in this scenario; however, a physiological response emerges that is not pure fear or pure sadness. Perhaps it is a defensive state of combat in disguise. Most people resent having to go through predicaments such as accidents and misfortunes, but not everyone. What about those people that learn something and incorporate the event into their learning? Well, this is when emotions get interesting.

How Objective Real Experiences Translate into Subjective Experiences Like Emotions

Fear can be experienced if you encounter someone in a dark street; as a species, we have learned to assess potential danger so our nervous system would trigger a response similar to that of leaning over a cliff.

The mind can even play more complex tricks, especially if you have been mildly or severely traumatized in the past. A smell, a color, or even a sound can trigger a fear response, which might cause a panicked state or, if unresolved, a condition we call anxiety. As a note of interest, people with anxiety disorders have reported benefits from sniffing handkerchiefs filled with pleasing perfumes or aromas. This adjacent piece of information tells us how important our senses are when it comes to recovering from a reaction.

Sadness is also comparable to concrete biological events. For instance, consider a pain response. If you trip down the stairs and break your arm, you would vocalize your distress by screaming or crying. If you lose someone close to you, you would also voice anguish and grief. Although the two situations differ in context (one is physical pain and the other is emotional pain), both responses look pretty much the same. Emotions are more instinctive than we think; we know they are a part of nature, because they are present in other species. Common behaviors like shouting, crying, screaming, and calling for help have been observed in other species.

Finally, when comparing anger to a concrete defensive physical situation, pain seems to disappear, and a number of involuntary behaviors emerge, which include physiological and psychological responses, like increased blood pressure (physical) or carelessness (psychological).

I wrote this book because emotions are much more than just a group of pleasant or unpleasant experiences. It seems that research about emotions has been neglected for a while, and I hope this work can inspire discussions of self-awareness and emotions.