We don’t just have emotions, but emotional systems, evolved to help us meet our needs. All life forms need to move away from danger and towards food, and our ways of doing this have evolved in a complex way. These systems can cease to meet our needs in times of particular stress, and the answer is hearing and valuing what our emotions are telling us.
First is the Seeking system. It finds the resources we need, both basic such as food and shelter, and more sophisticated needs such as learning and challenge.
The Safety system moves us towards safety and away from danger: either through fear of the dangerous thing or attraction towards the safe space. Fear, even chronic anxiety, may be a sane response to a particular situation, rather than a disorder. As Steven Moffatt wrote for Doctor Who, “There’s so much blood and oxygen pumping through your brain, it’s like rocket fuel. Right now, you could run faster and you could fight harder. You can jump higher than ever in your life. And you are so alert, it’s like you can slow down time. What’s wrong with scared? Scared is a super power!” Fear protects us, related to our situation and our level of control.
In an apparent anxiety disorder, what danger is present or has been present that the system stays in survival mode?
The Assertiveness system allows us to compete. We speak up with a strong voice when our needs are not met. I note that some people are more assertive than others, and ascribe this in part to status and pecking order: people of higher status are affirmed for being assertive, people lower down are criticised, attacked or subverted.
The Feels good system makes you feel good when you get what you need. So it interacts with all the other systems.
The Care system motivates you to care for your partner and offspring, so they may grow and flourish.
We are social animals, and our Connection systems help us work together with other people and symbiotes such as dogs.
Finally the Play system encourages us to learn new skills before we need them, through play.
I took this from Jessica Bolton’s article on Mad in the UK. It is a great way for a layperson like me to understand the concept, and Dr Bolton applies these systems to her experience of the Covid-19 response. She got them from the work of Jaak Panksepp and his 2012 book The Archaeology of Mind. However Wikipedia names Dr Panksepp’s “primal emotions” as ‘PLAY’, ‘PANIC/GRIEF’, ‘FEAR’, ‘RAGE’, ‘SEEKING’, ‘LUST’ and ‘CARE’, and Frontiers in Neuroscience, an academic publication, in 2019 named them as SEEKING, CARE, PLAY, and LUST on the positive side, whereas FEAR, SADNESS, and ANGER belong to the negative affects. I feel an “Assertiveness system” is more complex than “RAGE”, and “LUST” might map either to the Seeking system, the Care system, or the Connection system. It seems more of a difference than translation. “SADNESS” might be a negative correlate of the Feels good system, but is only a part of it.
Frontiers maps the primal emotions onto the five personality traits: Agreeableness correlates positively with CARE and negatively with RAGE. Its concept of Emotional Stability suggests that rage, fear and panic/sadness show low emotional stability, but I would say they are healthy in their place.
I feel liberated by my acceptance of sadness. It seems to me I can know what I desire, better, if I know what I mourn. If I accept I am sad about loss I know what I want. If I cannot admit sadness then I cannot admit I wanted what I have lost. I can only leave sadness behind if I accept it. I don’t feel particularly sad, now. On Monday I went to the supermarket, and as I was thinking about going I felt very sad. I thought, well, yes I feel sad and I might listen to a Shostakovich symphony later, but now I have to go to the supermarket. So I did, and in the afternoon the feeling had gone.