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Two Peas in a Pod…Emotional Expression and Cognitive Reappraisal

For those of you who read this week’s newsletter, “The Anatomy and Physiology of Hope,” you’ll recall my emphasis upon the relationship between our emotional and cognitive selves. And I talked about hope being grounded in the power our thoughts can have over our emotions. By the way, if you haven’t subscribed to our newsletter you can do so in the sidebar (had to throw that in).

Now, I’m thinking we’re all comfortable as to what emotional expression is. But what about cognitive reappraisal? Well, simply put, it’s a technique that directs us to keep a finger on the pulse of our negative thoughts, and provide positive replacements, even images, as indicated.

Bottom-line, it’s all about a change in interpretation. And God only knows how many times I tout interpreaction, my terminology for our reactions being based in our interpretations.

So this cognitive reappraisal business is a good thing. But you don’t have to take my word for it because functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) actually shows its positive impact on the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex. And back to this week’s newsletter. Guess the two brain structures that I said were primary in the emotion/cognition relationship? That’s right, the amygdala and the cortex.

It’s important to discuss negative emotions for a bit. Whether we know it or not, most of us, in one form or another, have heard of something called “The Ventilation Hypothesis.” It proposes the expression of negative emotions (sadness, fear, anger, etc.) is good for our emotional, mental, and physical health.

And that’s because negative emotions are energy vacuum cleaners, put the kibosh on our coping potential, wreak havoc on our immune functioning (can you say, “cortisol”), and, ding-ding-ding, they undermine cognitive reappraisal.

And that last one is a major problem because it keeps us from coming to know we’ll be just fine after expressing intense emotions. And it’s also a downer because it robs us of the opportunity for self-exoneration with regard to a long held, deeply painful, emotion.

Now, as much as I believe in the power of expressing negative emotions, I have to point out that well-respected research suggests it may actually increase their intensity, doing absolutely nothing for our overall well being. And this is especially an issue when spewing forth negative emotions generates guilt or shame. Anger is famous for that.

Another potential “shoot-myself-in-the-foot” of expressing negative emotions is the possibility that the person we’re dumping upon will turn a cold shoulder, instead of showing empathy. And yet another factor to consider is the expression of negative emotion being harmful to someone who isn’t used to sharing how they feel, or simply doesn’t experience all that much in the way of emotion.

Well, okay, which is it then…to express or not to express? I believe the expression option is best. But it’s a matter of learning to experience and express emotions of moderate intensity, so we’ll feel better managed and more secure as they come forth. Which all the more encourages working with our new friend, cognitive reappraisal. And that’s a good thing.

So the best strategy is to experience and express our emotions, negative as they at times may be; and move on to reappraise the thoughts behind them. Yes, two peas in a pod.

I’d like to know how you feel and think about emotional expression and cognitive reappraisal. Why not click on the COMMENT link just below the post title and let me know?

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  • klv

    Well said. However, I think you might have minimized an important piece- picking how and who to express the negative emotions to. Often the person who needs to hear your emotions is the last person it is safe to express them to. Physical abuse, belittiling, being told they are happy, you aren’t, therefore you are crazy are all common. And so often, we bottle up the emotions and feelings until the straw that breaks the camel’s back, and let them out in unsafe place. thooughts?

  • I’m with you, Karen. You’re absolutely right. Kind of hinted at it with the risk of being turned away by the person in whom we’re confiding, but it is a separate area for sure. And I think a discussion of why we elect to hang with such toxic people merits discussion.

  • klv

    And so many of us never learned how to express emotions in a healthy manner, or learned early that it was not safe to have feelings or emotions that weren’t acceptable to the toxic people who grew up with, and then usually married or whatever. And, there are toxic people we don’t elect to hang out with, but are stuck with anyway….. an unhabitated island or a country where I can’t speak the language seems best. :) However, it has been my experience, a truly toxic person would become marooned with me!!!!

  • You are too funny…though I know it’s really not a laughing matter. But why not???????