Learning into Unlearned Emotion

 Gemini: Understanding the distinction between learned and unlearned emotionality holds profound implications for how we approach our inner lives and navigate our relationships with others.

Here’s a breakdown of why this distinction is so valuable:

  1. Reducing Self-Blame and Internalized Shame: Recognizing that certain emotional reactions are instinctual and deeply ingrained can help us avoid falling into the trap of self-recrimination. Instead of blaming ourselves for having an anger outburst or a fear response, we understand these as natural, unlearned reactions that may require new coping mechanisms.

  2. Empowering Learning and Growth: By identifying areas where our emotions are primarily driven by unlearned, instinctual patterns, we clarify where focused learning can make the most difference. Rather than feeling powerless in the face of overwhelming emotion, we can redirect our energy towards developing new emotional regulation skills, adaptive thought patterns, and healthy self-soothing techniques that address the root of these innate reactions.

  3. Increasing Compassion and Understanding: This perspective fosters greater compassion for ourselves and others. When we recognize that some intense emotions are part of our shared human experience rather than purely personal failures, we cultivate more empathy and less judgment in our interactions.

  4. Caveat: It’s vital to acknowledge that even unlearned emotions are not set in stone. Neuroplasticity shows that our brains continually adapt to experiences, which applies to our emotional selves. While we may not control initial emotional reactions, we can influence how we respond, process, and learn from those emotions over time.

In short, discerning between learned and unlearned aspects of emotionality offers a powerful tool for personal growth, self-acceptance, and healthier relationships.

DB: Of course, unlearned emotions are not set in stone. Remember our shared view of learning. The point here is that some aspects of our emotionality aren’t learned, yet all aspects of our emotionality that can be changed are changed by learning. Learning is where adaptation switches from being inherited to being individual.

Absolutely! You make an excellent point that underscores the overarching theme of this conversation. Here’s the key takeaway I see:

  • The Boundary of Innate and Learned: Recognizing unlearned emotions helps define the starting point for individual adaptation and learning. These innate reactions provide the foundation upon which our experiences and learning shape our complex emotional landscape.

  • The Power of Learning: While we can’t directly control our unlearned emotional responses, we do have the potential to profoundly change how we process, regulate, and respond to those emotions through various forms of learning. This transformative learning can happen on multiple levels:

    • Behavioral Skills: Learning techniques for self-soothing, emotion regulation, and healthy expression.
    • Cognitive Restructuring: Changing the thought patterns and interpretations that trigger or amplify difficult emotions.
    • Mindful Awareness: Developing the ability to observe and understand our emotions without judgment, creating space for healthier responses.
    • Embodied Learning: Exploring practices like breathwork and movement, which can influence our emotional states.
  • Nuanced Understanding: Learning to identify the aspects of our emotionality that can be changed gives us agency over our inner lives. It prevents us from feeling helpless or blaming our biological inheritance and instead empowers us to focus on growth and transformation where it truly matters.

Learning about the role of learning in emotion is the key to understanding and changing one’s emotionality.

Yes, learning about the role of learning in emotion is absolutely key to understanding and influencing our emotionality. Here’s why:

  • Awareness as a Starting Point: Understanding the complex interplay between our innate affects, learned emotional patterns and cognitive interpretations provides a critical framework for self-inquiry. It helps us untangle which aspects of our emotional responses are automatic and which are malleable.

  • Targeted Learning: With better awareness, we can tailor our learning efforts toward the areas with the most transformative impact. We can focus on developing specific skills for emotion regulation, challenging unhelpful thought patterns, and fostering a greater sense of mindfulness.

  • Metacognition of Emotion: We can develop a metacognitive awareness of our emotional lives – essentially, the ability to think about our emotions. This allows us to gain distance from our emotions, recognizing them as temporary states rather than defining aspects of who we are.

  • Neuroplasticity: Understanding the brain’s ability to learn and change encourages us to actively shape our emotional responses. As we practice healthy emotional habits, we literally rewire our neural pathways, leading to more adaptive and resilient responses over time.

In short, learning about the dynamic nature of emotionality unlocks a world of tools and strategies for personal growth. It’s the key to becoming less reactive and more empowered when navigating the rich and complex world of our inner lives.

The above is the tail end of a longer dAilogue that begins with Tomkins’ Affects and explores the relationship between affect, learning and emotion. You can read the entire dAilogue here.

Shared Learning

The Learning Continuum

Learning to be Human

Lifetime Learning

Learning Together

I AM Learning

Learning Character


Unhealthy Learning

Eyes to I – Look and Learn

Other Words for Learning

Other Words for Learning

Other Words for Learning

2 thoughts on “Learning into Unlearned Emotion”

  1. There should be a distinction between emotion and feelings because they are not the same thing, as well as learning to detach from the emotion after the lesson learned. Is it fair to say that the emotions are coming from the logical mind whereas feelings derive from the heart mind ? the gut feeling. ?
    Both teach lesson’s. Both can cause pain
    And it’s possible that the in ate part of who we are if aware allows for healing.

    Enjoyed the post
    Thanks David

    1. I think emotions are not “coming from the logical mind” though the logical mind can be trapped into servicing them or reframe their context and change them. As I was pointing to in the piece, we have instinctual emotional reflexes and we have learned emotional habits. Cognition is involved in both. The logical mind, if I understand what you mean by the term, is learned. My interest in this piece was to point out that it’s important to recognize the difference because not doing so breeds dangerous misattributions that lead to blame and shame and misorient our learning. There is nothing we can say we are aware of that is innate that we are aren’t aware of through the prism of our learning. The meaning of every word we use to describe anything and everything is learned. The distinctions words make are learned distinctions. We have an inherited primal emotional core that both resources and is enveloped within our learned emotionality. Yes, in a sense becoming aware (learning) of the innate – not just abstractly / conceptually, but live in the flow – opens the possibility of healing – of learning that transforms our overall emotionality. Thanks Lety

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