Emotion and behavior are intimately intertwined. Often we are unaware of this connection because our experience of ourselves is truly our only reality. Feelings become rather like an old shoe, familiar although not always as comfortable as a shoe should be. We can easily lose the ability to label our feelings and to make the mental connection between emotions, behavior and feeling.
It is easier to call a feeling which comes on suddenly by name. Feelings that we have lived with for many years become second nature to us. Yes, it is possible to be sad, lonely, guilty or angry and not process the feeling or be aware that this feeling is lodged in your consciousness. It is also totally possible to not know how this particular feeling affects your behavior.
I was speaking with a woman recently who complained that she consistently overeats. This woman is health conscious and she hates being overweight. She is embarrassed by her weight and distressed that her efforts to reform herself have not taken effect. When she and I talked I was struck by the pattern she described. She overeats and afterwards she experiences a great deal of guilt. She consumes what she considers to be an appropriate amount of food for a few days and then begins the overeating cycle once again. She doesn’t gorge herself on food, just overeats to the extent that she cannot meet the goal of her ideal weight.
As I listened to this lovely woman describe the disturbing pattern which exists in her life I pondered this question: What emotion is she addicted to?
Emotions are powerful, very powerful. When we experience a feeling our physiology releases neuro-peptides. These bio-chemicals which are released vary according to the emotion experienced. Our mind-body becomes familiar with specific neuro-peptides and we repeat certain behaviors which release these particular bio-chemicals. Bringing awareness of this phenomenon to our conscious attention can go a long, long way to helping us to change our patterns.
I asked the woman who engaged in overeating a few questions and she and I came to believe that guilt was the emotion which she was addicted to. Her behavior brought the emotion of guilt soaring through her mind-body and with this experience the neuro-peptides associated with that particular emotional state were released. Her problem wasn’t about eating. It was about guilt and the connection between her emotions and her behavior. Her problem was her addiction to a specific set of neuro-chemicals which her thoughts and feelings about her behavior released. The over-eating was simply a side effect of this process.
Emotions are signposts along the path of life. They offer information about the direction we are taking. Do we need to alter a behavior? Perhaps our communication with a significant other needs attention? We need to experience the full depth and breathe of our emotional life.
We also need to remember that our emotional state affects our physiology and yes, our mind-body becomes accustomed to certain feeling states. We repeatedly return to behaviors which trigger these familiar feeling states. The body and mind are not separate entities. Our physiology is referred to as the mind-body for a good reason: it is one seamless energetic system. Each emotion does release a cascade of neuro-peptides which surge through the physiology. Ask yourself if you need to bring the realization of a buried emotion to your conscious awareness. If you find yourself engaging in unwanted behavior take a good look below the surface and identify an emotion which might be buried deep but still getting in your way.
Pick up your copy of Healing Depression the Mind-Body Way and learn about ways to enhance your emotional health and your physical health!