Emotions Revealed: Themes & Triggers


In his book, "Emotions Revealed", Paul Ekman talks about unlearned emotions, learned variations and triggers.

Unlearned Emotional Themes: These are the themes we come hardwired to react a certain way to (like when we experience feeling block or thwarted from our goals we are hardwired to become angry and aggressive in order to be able to have a better chance at achieving our goals). Ekman proposes that these themes are products of our evolution (i.e. They've stuck around because they've helped us survive and thrive. Like if we needed to get the limited food source there was and we were being beaten out by another person getting angry would help us have a better chance at getting to the food first and therefore surviving). Ekman has observed seven groups of themes across all cultures (meaning there are seven groups of emotional themes that everyone is hardwired to percieve and react to with set emotions). Each group is connected to a primary emotion: sad/anguish, disgust/contempt, excitement/joy/other positive feelings, anger, surprise/fear.  

Learned Variations: These are the emotional stories we've developed from our own personal experiences. They are linked to the universal themes but are nuanced by our subjective take on life. So, a person who experienced cruel teasing from their father growing up might store those experiences as, "I'm being bullied because I'm not worth much". This could be connected to several unlearned themes (themes of fear and anger and sad/anguish) but most readily it's experienced as the "I'm being mistreated because I'm not worth much" story or sensation.  

Triggers : These are moments that have enough of an echo in them from an emotional theme (un-learned or learned) that it activates our automatic reaction to that theme. Ekman gives the example of a person who believes they are worthless (a learned theme) and because of this they are hyper vigilant to others abandoning them (a theme of sadness/anguish). Because of this they snap into sadness/anguish at the slightest sign of rejection from lovers.  

Ekman says there are six factors to how strong a trigger will be (and consequently how hard it will be to soften it). That will be the next post.  Then in the final post on triggers we will move onto an exercise of mine based on this and other research to help dampen and control triggers.